Barcelona and Neymar’s hasty marriage signals ominous return of club’s worst practices

Whilst undoubtedly exciting, the signing of Neymar by Barcelona smacks of everything that is wrong about the club coming to the fore once again. No matter how alluring the raw talent of Neymar may be, any decision made to satisfy the ego and self-serving ends of one man – the president, Sandro Rosell -, rather than the more pressing needs of the football team will be tainted from the start. With the signing of an unproven starlet whose football career often appears to be suffocated by the sheer weight of public attention foisted on him, Rosell has single-handedly overwritten the importance of reinforcing the defence, providing Lionel Messi with a more reliable foil and prioritising the breakthrough of Barca’s much-vaunted La Masia graduates.

Worse, it shows a disrespect and lack of deference for the forces that have made Barcelona such a paragon over the last four years, by pursuing a trophy signing in a headstrong manner that presumably paid no more than lip service to the consideration that this new signing has the ability to unsettle the form and happiness of the most important player of this generation and many others in Lionel Messi. If Neymar struggles to adapt immediately, the circus that follows him may well coalesce into a chorus of disapproval for the way Messi fails to work with the players brought in around him – from Villa, Sanchez and possibly their beloved heir apparent. That would fail to take into account that the right type of player would find the correct mix of tactical awareness and range to flourish alongside Messi, and if Rosell had the team’s best interests at heart, he might have considered that Luis Suarez (now pursued by Madrid) or Eden Hazard would have been the better fit. Regardless, the paramount duty upon every Barcelona manager and president to attend to the needs of Messi – a true genius with whom they are fortunate to share such a special bond – should have been the first consideration in any signing, yet it is more than plausible that Rosell was thinking of his presidency rather than the needs of the club that he is supposed to serve in making his decision.

There are rumours that Pep Guardiola did not approve of the pursuit of Neymar, and it is no coincidence that Barcelona’s greatest period of success coincided with them ceding to the wishes of an astute manager rather than the normal modus operandi of allowing a president with delusions of his own grandeur to ride roughshod over everyone. Other concerns Guardiola had about Neymar have yet to be dispelled; his talent is indisputable but the question of the sufficiency of his strength of will to make the most of his gifts – raised by his reported tendencies to dive in difficult situations or fail to make the right pass at the right time – is open to debate. Barcelona have Gerard Deulofeu in their ranks, a player of similar gifts and growing problems, but have effectively just paid at least 60 million euros to acquire a player they still need to work on with no guarantee that it will bear fruit.

Even if he proves all the doubters wrong, it still does not shake the impression that the club are returning to the bad old days – reinforced by their inability to learn from their mistakes of overplaying stars, the fighting and scenes of drunkenness witnessed amongst players on their supposed open bus celebration, the contradication between players and management in Pique’s assertion that they needed reinforcements and Rosell’s dismissal of those concerns after the Bayern match, as well as the uncomfortable fact of the president’s business links to Ricardo Teixeira – a man of immensely dubitable integrity whose has been proven to abuse football’s privileges for his own benefit in the past.

O’Sullivan’s conflicted relationship with snooker adds gravitas to the game

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s latest instalment of his hate-love affair with snooker has been the subject of much debate within the game, compounded as it was by his inability to emotionally reset himself following his sabbatical from the table and a crowning as world champion that gave the fullest possible exposure to his discordant feelings towards his own sport. However, those concerned with the image of snooker need not fear; O’Sullivan’s frank and fascinating portrait of a man struggling to negotiate the vicissitudes of his own temperament is a resounding testament to the drama and poetry of sport.

Instead of reading with dismay negative connotations into his talk of “snooker not [being] for [him]” or how he can’t “keep putting [himself] through being unhappy”, the game’s well-wishers should treat these as articulations of the timeless, exquisitely cathartic negotiation between the blessing of a sportsman’s talent and the burden of his temperament. When O’ Sullivan, following a flat opening four frames, missed a simple red in his 2008 semi-final with Stephen Hendry and walked off, the initial reaction on his face to that error spoke volumes to the expectations human beings put on their talent, and the subsequent pressure that can swallow them whole if they allow the dam to break. O’Sullivan raised himself from the table ashen-faced, shook his head in an entirely instinctual expression of mingled frustration and self-loathing, and called it quits; his dam had broken, and so was he. Off he walked, leaving a nonplussed and aghast Hendry to also shake his head, collect his cues and walk off an unsatisfied winner.

Yet the regular sports viewers among us would have recognised that fury and frustration O’ Sullivan felt at his sport at that moment as a necessary component of the fierce desire of all artists to produce something of the sort of soaring quality that returns an intangible, almost spiritual satisfaction to its owner ; without this frustration at the immense difficulty involved in producing such virtuoso performances at one’s beck and call, the satisfaction accrued on the rare occasions on which it all falls sweetly into place would also be non-existent. The drama of sport owes much to these raw depictions of the psychological struggles that consume most human beings, whether it lies in O’Sullivan’s inability to cope with the frustration of inevitable dips in his flawless snooker exhibitions, or Luis Suarez’s primal, subconscious urge to bite Branislav Ivanovic following a perceived injustice, or Sergio Garcia’s collapse on the 17th hole of the Players’ Championship at Sawgrass under the knowledge that he could best Tiger Woods in a high-profile battle and surmount the mental hurdles that have haunted him throughout his career, or Richard Gasquet’s tendency to only unfurl his full repertoire of shot-making artistry when he has built a lead and the pressure has subsided.

Dr Steve Peters, the psychologist charged with exorcising Luis Suarez’s demons, has described how human beings struggle to overcome the negative emotions weighing them down as they are often unable to perceive the root causes of those emotions, yet the transparent depiction of this inner struggle through sporting contests is vital and compelling theatre. There are lessons to be learned in Adam Scott’s recovery from a traumatic abdication of his grasp on the British Open Claret Jug at the death, to win the Masters in a nerve-wracking play-off this year, or even the fact that O’Sullivan’s frustration stems from engagement with the highest forms of creative endeavour through the medium of snooker. Sport is a distilled microcosm of the struggles of human life, in which the goals to be attained are clearer and more morally laudable, making the efforts of the protagonists attempting to accomplish them more open to evaluation and reliable as sources of inspiration. Which politician’s success or failure, built on the back of wider forces than himself, can ever be regarded as sincerely or purely as that of the sportsman struggling to overcome his own person to achieve something he knows to be of intangible, immeasurable wealth?

In this respect, O’Sullivan has rendered a great service to snooker by placing it in that hallowed club of sports which by their nature demand the greatest engagement of human talent and spirit from their protagonists, and which carry stories of miraculous successes and heart-wrenchingly heroic failures that will continue to enthrall for generations to come.

Chelsea might pine for Mourinho’s return, but others may shake their heads in dismay at the prospect

If Mourinho really is going to come back to English football, and thus switch on the perfect and most wanton receptacle for his unashamedly debased circus act of mocking others, stirring up hostility and pettily reducing the vastly imaginative and enriching scope of football to nothing other than a beaten and flayed donkey by which to enhance his self-image, then British football fans could do worse than to read this Guardian article on the subject by Barney Ronay. There is a boorish, confrontational, divisive streak in a vast tract of football fans in Britain that is awakened and swollen by someone like Mourinho, and clumsily articulated in their monopolisation of the word ‘legend’ and strident attribution of it to him. Some of these so-called ‘legends’ who see their worst traits glorified in this demagogue occasionally pop up on Facebook or other online forums to post pathetically derogatory comments about other teams and fans. Reading this might serve as a much-needed look in the mirror for them, and an absolutely necessary pre-emptory sedative for the rest of us from the anger, recriminations and fractiousness that will inevitably follow the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’s’ return to England: