18 May, 2019 - 00:05 0 Views

The Herald

MUHAMMAD ALI was blunt about it, fuelled by a raging passion to dominate a sport defined by its brutality, powered by an allergy to mediocrity and propelled by the quest for immortality, he simply declared, he was the greatest.

Just like that, the finest of the boxing cast, the one whose talent was a class apart, the thoroughbred athlete who fought from the heart.

“I’m the greatest, I’m the greatest thing that ever lived,” Ali told the world. “I don’t have a mark on my face and I upset Tony Liston and I just turned 22. So, I must be the greatest.”

But, Michael Jordan defiantly refused to be described as the greatest basketball superstar of all time even though his influence, and appeal, went beyond the boundaries of the NBA.

“I don’t want it in a sense because it disrespects Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, you know, all those guys prior to me I never got a chance to play against,” he responded when asked if he felt comfortable when people call him the greatest.

“If you ask me, I would never say I’m the greatest player because I never played against all the people that represented the league prior to Michael Jordan.”

However, the same humility which Jordan exhibited in that television interview, was in sharp contrast to what LeBron James said, after leading his Cavaliers to the NBA title, the first major sporting award won by a franchise from his hometown, Cleveland, in 52 years.

“I was super, super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year drought,” he told ESPN.

“The first wave of emotion was when everyone saw me crying, like that was all for 52 years in for everything in sports that has gone on in Cleveland. And, after that I stopped, I was like, that one right there made you the greatest player of all-time.”

When Cristiano Ronaldo picked his fifth Ballon d’Or, he finally told the world what he had been telling himself, and his close friends, for years as his superstar profile soared.

“I’m the best player in history, in the good moments and the bad ones,” he told France Football, the organisers of the awards.

“I respect everyone’s preferences but I have never seen anyone better than me.

“I have always thought that, no footballer can do the things I can, there is no player more complete than me, I play well with both feet, I’m quick, powerful, good with the head, I score goals, I make assists.

“There are guys who prefer Neymar and Messi but I tell you there’s no one more complete than me.”

R Kelly even sang about it in one of his all-time hit songs, back in the days when the light was being cast on his music before the dark arts of his private life, dominated by turning women into sex slaves, came tumbling out of the closet.

“If anybody asks you who I am

Just stand up tall, look them in the face and say

I’m that star up in the sky

I’m that mountain peak up high

Hey, I made it

I’m the world’s greatest.’’

The debate surrounding what constitutes greatness, especially in sport, has always been a very controversial one — purists argue that the status should only be reserved for those who soar highest, and that means winning big things, like championships and gold medals at the Olympics.

Those who come second, irrespective of the massive hurdles they would have cleared, are usually not accorded the respect they possibly deserve because, now and again, they are told the brutality of sport is that it only remembers those who come first.



It’s easy, using the traditional formula of measuring success and greatness, to dismiss Liverpool as a bunch of failures, and chokers, when it comes to their pursuit for the English Premiership title, a trophy they have not won in the past 29 years.

There is compelling evidence to support those who believe the Reds, who again missed out on the championship this season despite having a points tally that would have won them the championship in most of the seasons, have choked — at crucial times — when it comes to the quest to be champions.

And, given that this latest quest for the league championship, didn’t bring the one title they want better than any other, to Anfield, there will be many, with post-mortems laced with brutality, who will argue, that the Reds just can’t avoid choking when it comes to the league championship race.

There is a hint of fairness in that argument, but there is also another side that demands consideration:

  • How do we condemn a team, whose championship quest was eventually decided by just 11.7 millimetres, the distance that stood between the ball, and crossing the line, when John Stones cleared at the Etihad on January 3, as a bunch of chokers?
  • How do we condemn a team, whose entire season was defined by that defeat at the Etihad that day — the only one they suffered in the league all season in 38 matches — as a bunch of miserable chokers when we have spent years treating Preston North End as immortals because, in 1889, the inaugural season of the English top-flight league, they completed the campaign unbeaten?
  • That Preston North End team won 18 and drew four of their 22 league matches and, while Arsenal matched that feat of Invincibles in 2004, the very fact that we have been celebrating something that happened 130 years, when Preston did it, suggest that it’s something special.
  • How then do we treat a team that lost only one game, in 38 league matches, with disrespect, and label them the biggest chokers that ever existed, when they went toe-to-toe with a club virtually owned by an oil-rich Gulf country, which has a tendency of flouting Financial Play regulations?
  • How do we mock them as routine failures, simply because they didn’t win the league championship, by a single point, yet glorify Preston North End, for their invincibility 130 years ago, when the later was facing opponents like Hyde Park, whom they thrashed 26-0, in an FA Cup?
  • How do we blind ourselves, from reality, even if we are the worst merchants of hatred or the worst devils fuelled by jealousy, to pretend there is villainy, and not honour, there is choking and not bravery, there is shame and not glory and there is disgrace and not dignity, when we are dealing with a team whose title challenge fell by just 29.51 millimetres.
  • For, eventually, that — the distance which goal-line technology deemed the ball had crossed the line, when Matthew Lowton’s brave clearance for Burnley could not prevent Sergio Aguero’s effort from creeping in, at Turf Moor, was also what effectively made the difference between the winners and the runners-up in the English Premiership race.

The Reds never lost at home all season, in the league, they erased a deficit of 25 points, between them and Manchester City, from last season, to just one point this season, won nine more games than last season, lost four fewer games than last season, scored five more goals and conceded 16 fewer goals.

To pretend that all this grand effort was not the stuff of greatness, simply because they didn’t end up winning the English Premiership title, is an insult to effort, a vilification to industry, an abuse to the virtues of a never-say-die spirit and a mockery to the purity of enterprise.

After all, excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well and, if you suggest, the Reds didn’t do all that, simply because another team ended just a point ahead of them, and you are prepared to classify that team as a symbol of greatness, then I have serious problems with your judgment even though I respect it.


Thanks to Liverpool’s extraordinary season, which is set to redefine the description of excellence and greatness, by challenging the myth that such identity can only be applied to those who come first, we can now view things in a different way.

That, after 20 years in which their status, as a very special team whose heroics should be celebrated, rather than mocked as has been the case in some sectors of our game in the past two decades, the Dynamos team of ’98, which reached the final of the Champions League, actually deserve a place in our football’s Hall of Fame.

That those who have been mocking them as chokers, simply because they came second, have been borrowing their hate from a hymn book whose lyrics — drawn from a script pregnant with hostility — and have, all along, been singing from a script plucked from hell.

They are the same people who have been telling us that Highlanders’ brave campaign in 2012 and 2013, where they ended with the same number of points as Dynamos, only to be pushed into second place because of an inferior goal difference, is not even worth mentioning.

The same people who have been telling is the Dream Team were a fluke, a mirage, an underachieving collection of individuals who messed up their hour on the stage and were then heard no more, a group that flattered to deceive on the big stage.

They didn’t qualify for the AFCON finals, they told us, they choked at home in that final qualifier against Zambia in 1993, they failed to make the final leap to book a place at the ‘94 World Cup finals and, for all the talent that flowed in that team, the bottom line remained that they were a bunch of flops.

The current generation of Warriors, who have now qualified for two successive AFCON finals, they argue, is far better than the Dream Team because these guys have made it and those guys didn’t.

That the Dream Team played in an era where only 10 teams on the continent qualified to join the hosts and the holders, in a 12-team AFCON finals, is conveniently ignored by those whose argument doesn’t factor that double that number, 24, now book their place at the Nations Cup.

And that, when we finally did it in 2003, the number of participating teams at the AFCON finals had been increased to 16.

Now, how can one surely dismiss those who failed on the final hurdle, not because they lost, but drew that match, to a team that later reached the final, as a bunch of miserable flops because they didn’t make a 12-team AFCON finals and then suggest those who routinely qualify for a 24-team AFCON finals are a superior group?

So, if CAF open the AFCON finals to all teams, where we don’t even need to qualify, will our participation there be deemed an expression of our quality, when compared to the teams that represented us in the ‘80s, and failed to qualify, when only six countries had to join the hosts and the defending champions?

How can a team that battled toe-to-toe with a Cameroon side which — just three years earlier had taken England to the brink of elimination in the quarter-finals of the World Cup — be dismissed as flops simply because they failed in their bid to reach the ‘94 World Cup finals?

We might have lost that match 1-3 in Yaoundé, but wasn’t the fact that we went so far, as to knock on the doors of those who open the way for teams that would have qualified for the World Cup finals, such a fine achievement especially for a team of our stature?

If Chapungu finish second, in the domestic championship race, to CAPS United, FC Platinum or Chicken Inn this year, they will get my Team of the Year vote and their gaffer will get my Coach of the Year vote because, given their stature, their second place would be worth more than the first place for the other three.

If TS Galaxy, a second-tier South African club owned by football agent Tim Suzuki, whose initials provide the identity for the team, lose in the Nedbank Cup final to Kaizer Chiefs, they will still be the Team of the Tournament, for me, in this year’s edition of Mzansi’s premier knockout tournament.

In July last year, tens of thousands of people clad in the Croatian colours poured onto the streets of Zagreb to give their team a heroes’ welcome from the World Cup after they reached the final only to lose to France.

Air force jets accompanied the plane carrying the team, once it entered Croatian airspace, amid outburst of national pride across the entire country and that they had slumped to a 2-4 defeat in the final to France, didn’t matter at all because, to them, for a country of about just four million people, to go that far in the World Cup, was very special.

That was heroism, that was greatness, and lucky them, because here, a Dynamos march into the final of the Champions League, is considered failure, the players are mocked, the coach is insulted, because they didn’t win the tournament.

Try going to Stanley Park in Liverpool and telling the Reds fans such a story, about their league championship campaign, and see if they won’t chase you out of their city.


To God Be The Glory!

Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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