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John Laverty

Saracens' hypocrisy has robbed rugby of the moral high ground

John Laverty


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Feet of clay: Saracens

Feet of clay: Saracens

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Getty Images

Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

Getty Images

Feet of clay: Saracens

Trolls existed before social media, you know. Back in the days when they 'took to Royal Mail', I got the poison-pen treatment after daring to suggest that Tiger Woods might not be the pristine icon his acolytes were purporting him to be.

The temerity extended to the hitherto outrageous claim (this was back in 2002, seven years before he was caught with his pants down) that, unlike openly flawed geniuses such as Bestie, Higgy or Gazza, Woods' wholesome, saintly image may have been artificially created by agents and maintained by sycophantic media disciples.

My piece was prompted by the hyperbolic garbage being spewed out by golf pundits as Tiger's Open challenge petered out on a disastrous third day at windswept Muirfield.

The relentless, subjective, preposterous comment being passed off as indisputable fact by myopic, tunnel-visioned observers included such gems as:

  • "Tiger can be anything he wants" (bookies had been taking bets on Woods becoming US President).
  • "Woods is unbeatable at Majors" (actually, he'd won only two of the previous 10).
  • "If anyone can master the elements, it's him" (on a stormy afternoon when most of Tiger's rivals DID master them, he shot a 10-over-par 81).
  • "In the end, Mother Nature won" (and there was me thinking it was Ernie Els).
  • "No one had prepared better than Tiger". Really?

It showed what a superb marketing job had been done since Eldrick Tont Woods was a cub.

Tiger's cupboard was, however, groaning with skeletons, and once the sex-crazed cat was out of the bag, the reputation was tarnished beyond what a 'fairytale' 15th Major a decade later could repair.

But although the public image was a sham, at least his cheating didn't occur on the field of play.

Unlike rags-to-riches Ben Johnson, who, for around 10 seconds, brought pride and joy to Canada by becoming the fastest-ever human, only to have illusions shattered when he was revealed as a lying, steroids-addled drug cheat.

And who can forget the humiliation of South Africans on discovering that Hansie Cronje, charismatic captain of the Springboks cricket team, devout Christian and devoted family man, was really a corrupt, match-fixing and money-grabbing individual.

The Black Sox, Tonya Harding, Michelle Smith… and don't get me started on Lance Armstrong.

As mere mortals, we really don't know why 'icons' do this; maybe it's simply because they can; at that ethereal level it's perhaps easier to succumb to hypocrisy, mass/self-delusion and temptation than resist it.

It was therefore with a familiar weariness that I digested the news about the latest 'feet of clay' exposé.

Saracens' sudden, sensational and dramatic descent from heaven was a major shock to those who'd bought into the rugby union club's holier than thou image, which was beautifully articulated in a series of videos released last year to celebrate a decade of 'The Saracens Way'.

To be as wonderful as their lot clearly are, it explained, you must adopt their beatific values - Honesty, Discipline, Work Rate and Humility - while simultaneously creating happiness and lasting memories for all.

The ideology, nay, the secret of their remarkable and sustained success isn't just in having good players at Allianz Park but happy ones; hence the training ground creche, friendly family atmosphere, frequent team-building jaunts to Germany and Hungary and ruminating on Rene Descartes philosophies with the club's resident psychologist.

"The Saracens Way takes the mentality, culture and values of Saracens both on and off the field" (it says here); "you will gain a unique insight into how Saracens transformed from a chronically underachieving organisation to triple European and five-time Premiership champions."

Wow! We are not worthy.

Of course, it was too good to be true.

The belated publication/leaking of Lord Dyson's report into Saracens' extra-curricular activity showed that they breached the strict salary cap in three consecutive seasons, made 'investments' into companies that would benefit star players and became evasive and obtuse when these 'anomalies' were queried.

There is no suggestion that any of the squad - superbly marshalled by our own Mark McCall - were complicit in the impropriety which saw the club ultimately "agreeing" to ignominious relegation.

Bizarrely, that "agreement" came after Premiership Rugby - essentially a gaggle of rival chairmen governing themselves - offered a plea bargain: accept relegation and you won't have to show us your damning books, thus leaving even more unanswered questions.

Go figure. Or, rather, don't.

Even so, there remain acolytes who'd have you believe that the repeated transgressions were merely due to administrative naivety - the sort of lame excuse Irish League clubs used to come up with in the Nineties after being caught fielding ineligible players.

Sorry guys, but that ship has sailed.

And don't hit me with the 'other clubs aren't exactly squeaky-clean' mitigation.

That's puts you in the Lance Armstrong bracket: "Everyone was doping, I was just doing it better than them."

In football management, an 18-month contract is more than enough

The offer of an 18-month contract is tantamount to insult as far as football managers are concerned.

To paraphrase the late Paul Daniels, "we like you... not a lot, though, and certainly not for too long".

The 18-month contract belongs to 'meh' managers such as David Moyes, who has once again been tasked with getting West Ham out of trouble but isn't regarded as sexy enough for the long haul.

Naturally, Moyes would have preferred a three-year deal, which is de rigueur for most Premier League bosses these days - but why?

He landed a mammoth six-year one at Man United yet lasted only nine months... and his last contract with the Hammers was for a mere six months; it wasn't renewed. Tim Sherwood was equally affronted when Tottenham Hotspur put him on an 18-month contract after a decent spell as caretaker following the sacking of AVB. He lasted six months.

No mind, Aston Villa handed him the coveted three-year deal after that - before getting rid eight months later. And Big Sam lasted less than seven months of the 18 Everton had deigned to give him.

Martin O'Neill had the right idea at Celtic: a 12-month 'rolling' contract - meaning that every morning he woke up, he always had a year left to go. Simple!

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