With a massive year of sport ahead, I’ve asked some top sports writers to gaze longingly into their crystal balls (as it were) and come up with some bold predictions (or inspired guesses). First up to the plate – broadcaster JONNY GOULD casts his eye on all things football in 2012…
Jonny’s first forecast may surprise many – he doesn’t think Spain will win Euro 2012. He told me: “I think they are in their absolute summer at the moment. When we beat them at Wembley, they were coming into the game without a win in three.
“I don’t think they will be as hungry this time, perhaps a bit like France after winning Euro 2000 [to become both World and European champions]. By the time of the tournament we might see a resurgent Germany and emerging Holland.
“I wouldn’t discount Italy or France but I think Germany will win it. In South Africa, they showed a real club mentality and I just fancy them to develop further, with players like [Thomas] Muller, [Mesut] Ozil and [Manuel] Neuer in goal.”
But what of England? Bucking the pessimism trend among the general public, Jonny believes England can surprise us all – but only if they ditch the old guard.
“If we pick the right team, and get rid of the embattled and elder [John] Terry and [Frank] Lampard, England might have a bit of a cup run. The likes of Kyle Walker and Danny Welbeck have got the hunger and want to play for England.”
Whenever England’s tournament comes to an end, it’s likely the FA will be requiring a new manager – and they should be beating a path to Daniel Levy’s door to ask permission for the hand of Harry Redknapp, says Jonny.
“He’s the stand-out candidate and he’d definitely want the job. He might consider his work done at Tottenham by then if they finish in the top three, which for me is a shame because he could take it a bit further.”
The year’s other main event is, of course, the Olympics. It’s fair to say the Games’ football tournament doesn’t normally set pulses racing in this country, but 2012 promises to be different, reckons Jonny, if the home nations’ key players defy their associations to take part.
“It’ll be great to have a genuine Great Britain side, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale in it. And David Beckham as well – the Olympic football is a circus, and the GB team is an invention, a bit like the Harlem Globetrotters, so it’d be good to have all the home nations represented.”
But there’s one player likely to miss out on a place in Stuart Pearce’s Team GB squad through illness.
“I feel very sorry for Darren Fletcher because he would have been part of that team,” Jonny told me. “I suffer from the same condition [ulcerative colitis] so I can empathise. He may come back in three months’ time but I doubt it.”
European club sides will be using this year to ensure they comply with Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules, which are aimed at reducing the debt burden in the sport. Financial data supplied by the clubs from this season (2011-12) and next season (2012-13) will be analysed by Uefa and used as the basis on which to crunch the numbers in season 2013-14 – meaning that this year’s transactions could come back to haunt clubs in the near future (clubs will be able to record maximum losses of £39.5m in total between 2011 and 2014, after which the target will reduce to £26.3m until 2017, by which time Uefa expects the books to be balanced).
However, critics have claimed there are loopholes which will be exploited by the bigger clubs, and the Premier League itself has complained it will be disadvantaged when compared to sides on the continent. Jonny admits European football’s governing body has its work cut out in enforcing the rules. He said: “Uefa will have to be very strong in what to implement. It goes against the will of Manchester City, of Real Madrid, of Chelsea and of Barcelona.
“There are certain elements that will fall outside of it, like stadium development and youth policy, so you might find 18-year-olds being sold for £30 million. If Manchester City and Chelsea have done nothing to prepare for it, what chance have Uefa got in implementing it?”
The bid to wipe out football’s debts may take a step further in 2012, but Jonny can’t see any more progress on goalline technology – even if it’s beginning to find favour within the sport.
“Goalline technology I don’t think will happen while Sepp Blatter is in charge at Fifa,” Jonny said.
“I think the technology will have to get better and better, until it becomes impossible for them not to use it. “My only concern about technology is that football is the same on the marshes as it is in the Premier League – and I can’t see anyone in the parks putting their mobile phone up on the crossbar!”
Jonny, an Aston Villa fan, is CEO of Sportsmedia Broadcasting, which supplies more than 160 radio stations with live and pre-recorded sports bulletins and specialist audio content. He also regularly appears as a TV and radio pundit and has previously worked for IRN, BBC World Service, ITV and Channel 5.
Wednesday’s crystal ball: Tennis commentator Chris Bowers on Andy Murray, Judy Murray and the rule change which could change the way tennis played in the future…