Welcome back to another edition of the Notebook, bringing you the to-ing and fro-ing from the world of sport.
Theatre of Dreams
Manchester United – one of English football’s most storied teams – believe they have finally found a replacement for the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson.
After cycling from high-profile international stewards (Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal) to local heroes and Premier League favourites (Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and David Moyes), Ajax manager and famed tactician Erik Ten Hag has been chosen as the man to lead the club into a new future.
The coverage has been wall to wall, but Ten Hag’s job is much bigger than even he might realise.
He spent time working under his new city rival – Pep Guardiola – at Bayern Munich, but rejoined Utrecht in 2015 and led them to fifth and fourth place finishes in the topflight, taking the club into Europe.
He was named the Eredivisie’s best manager and Ajax came calling in December 2017 after the Amsterdam club had dismissed Marcel Keizer.
Ajax have since won two domestic doubles and made significant strides in Europe.
Perhaps though, it is Ten Hag’s ability to change the culture of teams as much as trophies won that sealed his move to Old Trafford.
Either way, however, Ten Hag’s entire reputation in the game looks likely to hinge on the next three years. If he succeeds, he’ll be the man who brought the glory days back to Old Trafford.
Joe Root and Being Human
The last week saw news that England's most successful Test cricket captain – Yorkshireman Joe Root – had stepped down from the leadership role, after five years in the role.
Root led England in 64 matches, winning 27 of those, and during his tenure, he made headlines for memorable victories that included the 4-1 win against India at home in 2018, 3-1 triumph away to South Africa in 2020 and winning a Test series twice in Sri Lanka.
Among it all, meanwhile, he emerged as one of England’s greatest batsmen in modern history.
In recent years though, the Test team has struggled and – such is the nature of the job – pressure on Root from media and fans alike has grown.
The decision to resign from captaincy comes after the 1-0 series loss to West Indies in the Caribbean. Before that, England were dominated 4-0 by Australia in the Ashes series Down Under.
This is the nature of international sport, but one line from his resignation statement run truer than most…
"I have loved leading my country, but recently it's hit home how much of a toll it has taken on me and the impact it has had on me away from the game.”
Test cricket is surely one of the most mentally gruelling sports, but to captain within that cauldron of pressure is uniquely taxing.
Player welfare in cricket is reaching boiling point, a subject we’ve discussed at length, and Root’s resignation now casts a strong spotlight on the challenges the sport is facing.
Miller is here to support every and all athletes going through challenging times.
The Power of the Fan
To close, a curious case in the Football League this weekend as Oldham became the first ever former Premier League team to drop out of the professional structure entirely, as their home defeat by Salford ended a 115 year stay in the system.
What was more shocking, however, was a fan revolt midway through the 2nd half that saw the game interrupted for over an hour.
The pitch invasion at Boundary Park came from hundreds of furious fans who held a banner that read “Get out of our club”, aimed at the owner, Abdallah Lemsagam.
Earlier, supporters had chanted: “We want our club back,” and: “We’re not going anywhere,” as stewards struggled to maintain order.
Both sets of players were escorted off the field by the referee, Bobby Madley, with the last of the protesters then not leaving the pitch for 50 minutes. The match was then initially abandoned before the final 12 minutes were played out behind closed doors, eventually resulting in the Latics’ fourth straight defeat.
Oldham, who had issues with pitch invasions earlier in the season, are now likely to suffer both relegation AND punishment from both the Football Association and the EFL, but it goes to show the immense power the fan has within the modern game, and how teams across the sporting spectrum can never forget their most vocal, and important, stakeholder.