With an action-packed 2022 now just around the corner, Sportsmail’s Chief Sports Writer OLIVER HOLT has revealed what his wishes are in the sporting world…
1. There’s only one place to start: England to win the World Cup final at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar on December 18th, please. These days, it does not feel quite as outlandish a prospect as it might once have done.
England reached the semi-finals in Russia in 2018 and the Euro 2020 final in the summer. And they slew some demons along the way, winning a penalty shoot-out and beating Germany in a knock-out stage.
It would be perfect if England went on to win the World Cup final in Qatar next December
There is no outstanding European team but England will still face an uphill struggle to get past sides like France, Italy and Spain. And beyond Europe, it feels as if Brazil and Argentina deserve to start the tournament as favourites.
But England are growing together as a team and for once supporters can be excused some optimism. In Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling, England have players who can discomfort any international side and they are growing in maturity all the time.
And one last thing: after the way England lost against Italy in the Euros final, I’d like it if Bukayo Saka could get the winner in that final in Qatar.
After the way England lost against Italy, our writer also wants Bukayo Saka to get the winner
2. Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said earlier this month that she hoped that the recommendations arising from her fan-led review into English football would be included in the next Queen’s Speech and soon made into legislation.
The advent of an independent regulator, in particular, would be a big step forward but there is one other measure that is a must when it comes to our football governance this year: the next time either Steve Parish (Crystal Palace) or Christian Purslow (Aston Villa) says they are opposed to the greater redistribution of television money because they have never heard of supermarkets subsidising corner shops, they should be reported to the regulator’s new sub-committee for Crimes Against Choreographed Propaganda.
Purslow and Parish are bright men but they’re going to need a better analogy.
3. It would be welcome if we could get through the next 12 months without one of the so-called Big Six launching another attempt to kill off the rest of English football by joining a European Super League. Greed is at their owners’ core, though, so the chances of this happening are close to zero.
It would be welcome if none of the Big Six launched another attempt to kill off English football
4. Managers like Jurgen Klopp are right to complain about the crowded festive fixture list, particularly in the time of Covid. But instead of blaming broadcasters or the FA, wouldn’t it be refreshing if, just for once in the 12 months ahead, aggrieved bosses could direct their complaints towards their club owners.
John W Henry and Joel Glazer didn’t need to agree to the holiday fixtures in the league’s broadcast deal but, presumably in the interests of accruing more money, that’s exactly what they did. That’s not the broadcasters’ fault.
They paid handsomely for the right to show matches at agreed times and if the club owners wanted to protect the health of their players, the period of negotiating the deal was the time for them to veto certain dates.
The club owners’ greed comes at a cost and the players pick up the tab. My admiration for Klopp and Pep Guardiola knows few bounds as it is but it would go up a notch if they took the argument to FSG and Sheikh Mansour and told them enough was enough. Simply blaming the broadcasters is dodging the real issue.
5. Manchester United’s interim manager felt ready, after a few weeks in the English game, to lecture the rest of us about how we really ought to get rid of the Carabao Cup, one of the competitions that helps the lower league clubs survive.
Somebody at Old Trafford really ought to have told Ralf Rangnick that United have tried destroying the rest of the pyramid a couple of times already in the last two years and it hasn’t gone particularly well for them.
The Glazers will be pleased with him, I’m sure, for parroting their party line but when United finally get round to appointing a full-time boss in the summer – if that’s still the plan by then – I’d like it if someone could tell him to try to hide his contempt for the smaller clubs for a little while longer than his predecessor.
Ralf Rangnick lectured the rest of us on how we really ought to get rid of the Carabao Cup
6. Sport is a medium for unrealistic expectations being placed on its leading actors but it would be nice if 2022 did not become the year when everyone asks Emma Raducanu where it all went wrong whenever she loses a match.
Raducanu’s astonishing underdog victory in the US Open last September was one of the greatest British sports stories of all time but she has only just turned 19 and we should not expect her to carry the world before her in every tournament she plays.
She came from nowhere in women’s tennis to win at Flushing Meadows and is currently ranked number 19 in the world. I don’t expect her to win any more Grand Slam tournaments this season but if she can establish herself in the top 20 and perhaps push towards the top 10, that will be a platform on which she can continue to build the stellar career that beckons her.
7. Lewis Hamilton unfollowed everyone he used to follow on Instagram on Friday. This was variously interpreted as a sign of impending apocalypse, a fit of pique, an indication he doesn’t like his old friends and a hint that he is about to retire from Formula One.
I hope the last bit – and the first, I suppose – does not turn out to be true.
In fact, I hope that one of the great sporting storylines of 2022 is Hamilton returning to the track in a blur of vengeful glory, engaging in another magnificent duel with Max Verstappen next season and righting the wrongs visited upon him at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix earlier this month by beating his young rival and winning a record eighth world drivers’ title.
Never mind blanking your friends on Instagram, that would be a proper way to go out.
Lewis Hamilton righting the wrongs from the recent F1 year would be a great sporting storyline
8. I hope I don’t see Ollie Robinson bowling a spell of off-spin in 2022. Not that he bowled it badly when called upon in the Second Test in Adelaide. Just that it would be tantamount to sending up a distress flare in the middle of a series and admitting England had not learned the lessons of an Ashes tour that is already crumbling around them.
9. The Oxford Stadium squatted in the gloom on its site near the ring-road, dilapidated and half-forgotten amid the weeds of disuse and disinterest. I tried to visit it a couple of times out of curiosity but the path was always blocked by gates and padlocks.
Most people gave up on it ever staging sport again but next year, for the first time since it closed in 2007, it is due to host Speedway once more as the home of the reformed Oxford Cheetahs.
So often, we hear stories of sport shrinking and stadiums being allowed to fall into disrepair but this, tentatively, at least, feels like a sporting resurrection, new shoots appearing in a sport that has a dedicated, enthusiastic band of followers. I have never been to watch Speedway but I’m looking forward to putting that right.
10. It was four years ago when I first met Bryony Frost, on a cold day at Huntingdon racecourse, when her star had just started to shine brightly and the horseracing authorities were excited about using her as the crossover star who could widen the sport’s appeal. It was impossible not to be impressed by her and the lyricism with which she spoke about the horses she rode.
‘A human being will cover their emotions,’ she said that day, ‘but a horse has no worries. He doesn’t need to lie. They get nervous but they don’t get embarrassed. I would love never to be embarrassed. That would be so cool. Never be red-cheeked.’
Frost has been red-cheeked too often in the last few months in particular as details have emerged of a bullying campaign that was waged against her by fellow jockey Robbie Dunne. Instead of rallying around, the sport has shrunk from her.
Because Frost spoke out, because she broke the omerta of the weighing room to complain about her treatment, she has been shunned by her colleagues. It feels like playground stuff, the worst kind of playground stuff. It feels as if people are trying to drive Frost out of the sport so 2022 will be a critical year for her. I hope that good people stand by her side. I hope she thrives.
It feels as if people are attempting to drive Bryony Frost out of racing, with 2022 critical for her
11. I don’t like farewell tours in sport but for Roger Federer, I would be happy to make an exception. I hope the greatest player who ever swung a tennis racquet recovers well enough from his latest knee operation to be able to make some sort of return in the summer and grace Centre Court one last time.
Roger Federer, the greatest ever tennis player, will hopefully grace Wimbledon’s courts again
12. I loved listening to David Lloyd on Sky Sports. He was one of the reasons their cricket coverage has always been such a joy to watch.
Spending time with him at a bar or around a dinner table was always one of the great privileges of covering England on tour, too.
I hope Sky’s loss will be someone else’s gain and that in a couple of months’ time, we hear his voice again either on TMS or talkSPORT. He will not be short of suitors.