Roger Alton

Is pro-golf eating itself? 

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Spare a thought for Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag. He’s got a fairly crummy, injury-hit team who appear to have given up running (apart from Alejandro Garnacho who is still young enough to think that it’s OK to belt down the left wing and then deposit the ball somewhere, though not in goal). His new owner is pictured in the stands with his head in his hands and he has to cope with the choleric visage of his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson watching on with an expression of scarcely controlled contempt, while two former United godfathers, Gary Neville and Roy Keane, fulminate in the Sky commentary box about how crap the manager is.

His new owner sits with his head in his hands and he has to deal with the choleric visage of Alex Ferguson watching on 

But let’s face it: in the past 20 completed seasons only two Premier League managers have done consistently well – Ferguson and Pep Guardiola at Man City. The two Manchester sides have between them won the title 12 times in this 20-season period, five of City’s seven wins achieved under Guardiola, and all five of United’s under Ferguson. In other words, Ten Hag might not have done well but none of the other managers apart from Guardiola and Ferguson – and Jürgen Klopp – have either.

So what is the triple-X factor that separates the best from the rest? All three have brilliant football brains. More, they have put extra emphasis into man management, with Klopp and Guardiola especially establishing strong bonds with each individual player, while Ten Hag is remote and critical. If the players don’t like you, they won’t play for you. Marcus Rashford seems to have stopped even pretending to show the crowd he’s trying when he ambles back.

Contrast that with the level of motivation at City who are now playing with such cool fluency they make even quite a good team like Fulham look like a pub team. I think whoever takes over at United is going to have his work cut out and whoever can build a team that doesn’t seem happy to nestle at around eighth in the table deserves to operate in a decent stadium, not some decrepit, leaky old dump that’s practically falling down.

Much more fun to think about the upcoming Champions League final. No English clubs but a tale of two English talents: Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Madrid’s Jude Bellingham. Jude’s rise has been smooth, steady and irresistible. He has a bit of everything: the class of Brazilian midfielder Socrates, the technique of Beckham and the fierce competitiveness of Roy Keane. Jadon’s journey has been more bumpy: much praised at first, he had a very rough patch at United and you can’t help thinking Ten Hag could have handled him so much better. But now he is flowering in Germany, and in contention for the Euros. What a game to look forward to.

On the eve of another major, it’s time to ask if pro-golf is eating itself. There is much blather about ‘growing the game’ but the game is already a bloated monster. Last weekend an American pro called Eric Cole finished last at the Wells Fargo championship, 35 shots behind Rory McIlroy, and trousered $41,000. Rory pocketed $3.6 million. The total prize money for this week’s PGA Championship is $17.5 million. In the ongoing schism with the Saudi-backed LIV tour, sponsors are pulling out of PGA events amid the continuing uncertainty.

McIlroy compares the split in golf to his homeland’s troubles: ‘I sort of liken it to when Northern Ireland went through the peace process in the 1990s. Catholics weren’t happy, Protestants weren’t happy but it brought peace.’ Quite how a plane-load of pampered golfers jetting off to Riyadh to pick up their millions is comparable to sectarian violence in Belfast is another matter, but that’s Rory for you.