Jose Mourinho's Lowry hotel room only vacant space in breathless year of Federer, France and Fury
As another year drifts into sporting immortality, Desmond Kane takes a look back at 2018, a year of comebacks, conquests and some astonishing levels of class.
Out with the old, and in with the old.
2018 was a sporting year bookended by two emboldened figures: Roger Federer continued to sprinkle his gold dust well beyond his natural shelf life in Melbourne, but Jose Mourinho found himself several years out of date on the cusp of Christmas, a bit like a shrivelled up nut roast without any meat to the method. By the end of it, Mourinho’s belief system left United stumbling in the dark after the club’s poorest start to a season since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.
Ironic, considering United’s role in turning the national sport into a televised gold rush for the nouveau riche. Good luck to the interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær in turning around such a tanking tanker.
It was a quite magnificent smorgasbord of success when you recall Didier Deschamps and France's World Cup winners, Geraint Thomas, Novak Djokovic, Mark Williams and Tyson Fury. The list is long and fabled.
Federer, playing a larger form of table tennis these days, progressed to a 20th Grand Slam in January after outlasting Marin Cilic over five sets that left him feeling like “age was just a number”.
If the Swiss was fabulous at a sprightly 36, the renaissance of Djokovic was something to behold.
The Serbian looked lost after being embarrassed by the unseeded Chung Hyeon in the last 16 at the Australian Open. He succumbed to Marco Cecchinato, the world number 72, in four sets in the French Open quarter-final. Form is temporary, class is permanent. Amid claims he was a spent force, Djokovic suddenly began to find himself in the second half of the season.
Novak Djokovic has emerged from his slump to return to the top of the world game.Getty Images
An epic duel with Rafael Nadal, refocused on grass after claiming the French Open for an 11th time, in the semi-finals of Wimbledon fell to Djokovic, who won the fifth set 10-8 before riding roughshod over Kevin Anderson in straight sets in the final.
With his gait firmly restored, Djokovic bludgeoned his way to the US Open, dropping only two sets in the first two rounds before roundhousing Kei Nishikori and finally Juan Martin del Potro for a 14th major.
The pace of change in men’s tennis continues to be glacial with world number one Djokovic a firm favourite to conquer Melbourne for a seventh time at the outset of 2019. Yet Federer will wash up in Australia knowing perhaps the last greatest landmark of his career is within swatting distance.
If he can coax out a 21st Slam, he would move ahead of Ken Rosewall as the oldest winner of a major title in tennis at the age of 37. Yet he is another year older, and there are younger vultures circling led by Alexander Zverev, who halted Djokovic’s perfect finale to the year at the World Tour finals in London.
For Serena Williams, history again beckons in January. Revived after losing the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber in July, astonishingly only 10 months after having a baby, she contrived to squander goodwill at the US Open final in New York.
Serena Williams yells at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the women's final against Naomi Osaka of Japan at the US Open.Eurosport
Amid sports people hell-bent on self-harming, cricket’s baggy green cap was trampled over by unsuspecting members of Australia's cricket team, whose lack of self-awareness was quite stunning during the third Test in South Africa in March.
“Bangers was around at the time and we spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage," said Smith.
Cricketer Steve Smith reacts at a press conference at the airport in Sydney on March 29, 2018Getty Images
Initially, Smith claimed it was down to a bad day in the field claiming that "it’s certainly not on and it won’t happen again, I can promise you that, under my leadership”. Farcically, Smith opined that Bangers and the squad would learn from their errors.
But that merely added fuel as the barbie burnt the whole house down back home with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull claiming the affair had "bitterly disappointed the whole nation". Smith and Warner arrived home were banned for a year with Bancroft walloped with a nine-month ban. Warner will not be "considered for any team leadership positions in the future,” said Cricket Australia.
Smith ended the episode looking like someone who had been found with drugs in his suitcase. Reduced to tears at a press conference in Sydney was a depressing sight, but one in entirely in keeping with such absurd, ill-conceived conduct.
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood embraceGetty Images
America’s Ryder Cup side paraded themselves in Paris with more single-mindedness than President Donald Trump, and largely performed like him: without any sense of self-awareness.
They paid a heavy price as they were ambushed by Europe, whose role of lesser lights did not stop them from disembowelling a visiting side chasing a first win in Europe since 1993. The 17 ½ -10 ½ win - inspired heavily by Open champion Francesco Molinari - bordered on embarrassing for the US, who surrendered the trophy in a pitiful fashion. The long wait goes on amid many recriminations about how the US can be better in a format where unity is all-encompassing.
Tiger Woods remains a man for the big occasion. It is just that team sport tends not be his thing. He was in his element which suggests that there is scope to add to his haul of 14 Majors in 2019.
At one point, he led the Open Championship before finishing two strokes behind Brooks Koepka at the USPGA Championship in August.
In the interim, Koepka has lifted three of the past six majors, and seems to have a penchant for Major golf.
But Woods fairly rejoiced in winning his first tournament in five years when he ran away from the field at the Tour Championship, an 80th PGA victory claimed by two strokes.
Wallowing in domestic bliss, Welshman Mark Williams regained his brush strokes on the snooker table to paint an unlikely victory at the World Championship.
It was a quite unbelievable return to form when one considers Williams won his first two world titles in 2000 and 2003, and was seemingly in terminal decline having failed to qualify for the tournament a year before.
He kept his promise to go naked in the press conference such was his state of disbelief.
The naked truth for England’s footballers is that Gareth Southgate’s side were not quite classy enough to bring football home running into a Croatia side, who were too streetwise in a taut Moscow semi-final edged 2-1 in extra-time after Kieran Trippier’s early rousing free-kick. Yet with a Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands on the horizon, hope springs eternal in the home of football.
The world game produced a worthy world champion in France, whose young forward Kylian Mbappe emulated Pele by scoring in the 4-2 win over Croatia in the final. He was named the FIFA younger player of the tournament with Paul Pogba’s rampaging efforts in the final making a mockery of his travails representing United under the much-maligned Mourinho.
The French public should raise a toast to the coach who made it all possible while they bask in a sense of national pride that sounds more enchanting than Edith Piaf in her prime. Non je ne regrette rien.
For Deschamps, this World Cup was one of no regrets. For Pogba, it was one of no nonsense. This was the tournament when he finally came of age. Now 25, it is fair to speak of Pogba alongside Zinedine Zidane as a true icon of the world game.
Croatia’s Luka Modric provided football with the antidote to the decade-long hegemony enjoyed by Cristiano Ronado and Lionel Messi in lifting the honours at the Ballon d’Or.
Not so much a changing of the guard, but nice to know the pristine pair, protected by some sort of time-restraining emollient, manage to let their guards now and again.
Gareth Bale unearthed arguably the goal of the year with an overhead kick that sealed Real Madrid’s third straight Champions League success. A 3-1 victory over Liverpool marked the end of the road for Zinedine Zidane at the Bernabeu.
It seems his decision-making as a manager remains as sharp as in his playing career with Los Blancos fourth in Liga and suffering a 3-0 defeat at home to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
There are plenty who wonder if Mourinho will soon be reunited with Madrid. It would not be the most far-fetched reunion for a team whose defence is as brittle as a soggy rich tea biscuits, but the Portuguese has been scarred by the brutal blows his once gilded reputation has suffered in England, a league that seems to have passed him by.
Since returning to Chelsea from Madrid in 2013, he is viewed as a dour, defensive coach, who appears to have lost the winning feeling that made his style the acceptable side of digestible. He ends these five years in England richer, but the poverty of his musings make him a risqué appointment.
Arsene Wenger departed Arsenal after a splendid body of work over 22 years, finally overtaken by time, tide and expectations. Arsenal reached the last four of the Europa League, losing to winners Atletico Madrid, but another moribund performance in the Premier League finishing a distant sixth resulted in Unai Emery’s installation in the summer.
Britannia ruled the waves in cycling much to the chagrin of the traditional big beasts of France, Spain and Italy. Welshman Geraint Thomas wallowed in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France after Chris Froome conquered the Giro d’Italia.
Simon Yates had appeared likely to win the Giro until a massive collapse on stage 19 burned his hopes. He proved himself a quick learner by producing the perfect performance in the hills of Spain to carry off the Vuelta a Espana.
The finish of the year on two wheels came via the victorious Annemiek van Vleuten on La Course. With blood coursing through her veins, the imperious Van Vleuten defended her title by hunting down Anna van der Breggen in the final 25 metres after an exhausting climb and descent of Col de la Colombiere.
Van Vleuten considered settling for second, but her will to win summed up the Corinthian values on why we continue to revel in sport.
They were perhaps best espoused by Ester Ledecka at the Winter Olympics in February. The Czech athlete became the first person to win golds in two sports at the Pyeongchang Games.
Amid a myriad of weird and wonderful winter tales, including the marvels of Shaun White and Marcel Hirscher, Ledecka powered to quite astounding double gold medals in the super-G in skiing and parallel giant slalom in snowboarding.
The Czech woman’s title as Olympic Snow Queen seems very apt after upsetting the expected order winning gold on her Olympic debut and with skis borrowed from fellow golden girl Mikaela Shiffrin.
It is an achievement in which we should rejoice because it happened in our lifetime.
The noble art of boxing delivered perhaps the final telling knockout blow of the year as Tyson Fury, battling back from depression, suicidal thoughts and obesity, returned to the very top in early December.
He was laid out by Deontay Wilder in the final round of their world heavyweight fight in Los Angeles, the second time he had been down, but seemed to emerge from underneath the ring to finish off a fight that he largely dominated.
Deontay Wilder punches Tyson Fury in the fifth round, fighting to a draw during the WBC Heavyweight Champioinship at Staples Center on December 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, CaliforniaGetty Images
A draw did not reward his magnificent efforts, but he remains the lineal champion. Fury plans to hand over his £8m purse from the nonsensical draw to build homes for the homeless.
For Fury, a true gypsy king, home is where the heart is. He will expect a bout in Blighty perhaps against Wilder or Anthony Joshua in 2019, but it is dangerous to expect anything in the rarefied environs of professional sport when so much mayhem can be railroaded into only 12 months.
Rather than scoff at the sinister aspect of sport, we should all be thankful for such eccentric dedication to perfection in providing those little slices of distraction that make all our lives a whole lot more rounded. They all enrich our lives.
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming."
Error and shortcoming are more likely in sport than triumph. Like Jose’s room at the Lowry, there is a check out date for everybody in this great sporting planet of ours.
This year suggests that sometimes, just sometimes, there remains time to book a return trip, even for one long lasting look at the natural fading of the light. Even if only for one last nostalgic look at the time when they were in the arena, alive and daring among the possibilities.
Daring to dream amid the dark cynicism of these times.