Sports Stars: What happened to their Je Nais Sais Quoi?

Don’t you miss the rivalry between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane back in the days when Arsenal were a half-decent team and capable of beating Manchester United? Don’t you miss the days when heavyweight champs like Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson were regarded as the best – and not mediocre fighters like David Haye? Those were good times, right? The thing is, one doesn’t have to go that far back in time to remember all of this; it was all less than 10 years ago. Sport just doesn’t seem to have the same feel.

Undoubtedly, sport is now better in many respects: athletes are bigger and stronger, technology has advanced, sport is being played at an all-time exciting and frenetic pace, and women’s sport is finally being taken seriously (sort of).

And look at the likes of Lionel Messi (Barcelona’s genius football player) and Usain ‘Lightening’ Bolt, who is, beyond doubt, the fastest 100m athlete we have ever seen. These sportsmen are extraordinary human beings – unparalleled to anything in recent history.

My beef isn’t with Messi or Bolt, though. Or even Cesc Fabregas for that matter – he is one football player who cannot stand accused with charges of greed. His tedious and long winded transfer from Arsenal to Barcelona which stretched almost four year had little, if anything to do with money; he even seemed willing to take a salary cut. My beef is with the dramatic commercialisation and greediness of other major sports stars.

Let’s take Samir Nasri, Manchester City’s new ‘prized asset’ (or so they tell him until he finds himself on the bench). His move from Arsenal to Manchester seems to be motivated by money – and although this may be a wild presumption – he wouldn’t be the first to move clubs because of avaricious purposes. Look at Samuel Eto’s move to Anzhi Makhachkala – purportedly the most lucrative footballing contract in history – and how many of us had actually heard of that club until recently? Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane’s moves to the American MLS side, Christiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid (to an extent), Fernando Torres’ move to Liverpool and most certainly Dario Conca’s move to the Chinese Guangzhou Evergrande have all been money-motivated.

The Argentinian and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez said recently: “I don’t want to play any more. I’m tired of football but also tired of people who work in football. Football is only about money and I don’t like it.” This heartfelt and honest discernment by Tevez is not just a problem in Football, it’s a problem endemic in many sports.

Floyd Mayweather’s reluctance to spar with Manny Pacquiao in the boxing ring only highlights one thing; he has enough (or too much) money. Mayweather knows that the title of the ‘best pound for pound’ boxer could be aggressively snatched away from him and given unequivocally to Pacquiao. The farcical pretext that the fight will not take place till Pacquiao takes a drugs test is a ludicrous excuse for saying ‘I have enough money and I’m too scared to fight’.

It’s obvious that a profound paradigm shift is taking place in sport when England are slaughtering India in a game of Cricket as we’ve all witnessed recently. The once unbeatable Austalian cricket team now fields a host of unknown players. Who else misses the likes of Glen McGrath, Shane Warne and Matty Hayden?

The reason why it might seem like I’m complaining so much is really because of one reason. My two favourite sports are Football and Cricket – and I happen to support Arsenal and Pakistan respectively. Supporting one of these teams is hard enough. But supporting both of them is a continuous catastrophe. On the one hand we have a football team with a miser of a manager who hasn’t won a thing in seven years. And then we have the corrupt-ridden, underperformers who time and time again squander their talent.

Sport is definitely changing and the emphasis on money and commercialisation is copiously increasing.  Although this isn’t the real problem, it could be the root cause. The real problem, it seems, is that the vast majority our biggest sports stars don’t possess that certain je ne sais quoi as those who preceded them.

This article first appeared on my Independent Blog.

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