Sport Roundup Autumn 20173
Bony’s a hungry boy
While the signing of Renato Sanches stole the headlines, the return of a certain Wilfried Bony to Swansea City offers a narrative every bit as intriguing. The Ivory Coast striker played the best football of his career with the Welsh club, but has spent much of the last two seasons looking on from the sidelines at Manchester City and Stoke.
There is no guarantee he can repeat the highs of his first stint at the Liberty Stadium, but no-one should be doubting the hunger of a man who spent the summer doing gruelling additional training sessions on his own in order to be in the best shape possible.
“This is what I want,” said Bony. “I know it will take me a little bit of time as I need to get fit and play some games, but I worked really hard over the summer to be in good physical shape. I worked hard in training with Manchester City and I did extra work with my personal trainer so I hope it will not take long. “I want to do well for Swansea, my heart is here and I want to show my best for the fans and this team.”
Warnock shows his mastery
For far too long Cardiff City have been something of a laughing stock for football fans. Since their promotion to the Premier League in 2013 it has been one nightmare after another as the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Russell Slade and Paul Trollope struggled to turn around a club trying to cut its cloth yet still adamant that a promotion charge was an acceptable target in a fiercely competitive division.
It should come as no surprise that it has needed a man of Neil Warnock’s nous and savvy to turn things around. The Yorkshireman is a strong enough character to hold his own with those in the boardroom and is an astute builder of a squad, the unheralded success of summer signing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing is proof of that.
Tactically he will never ask players to do anything they are uncomfortable with and it reaps its rewards. With a sure touch and tight focus he has Cardiff back on the right track and - with the momentum provided by an excellent start - he has a foundation to make them genuine promotion contenders.
Big-time boxing is back!
Well what a fight that was! Carlos Takam made him work hard for it, but Anthony Joshua successfully defended his IBF and WBA world heavyweight titles in the ring at the Principality Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd.
It represented a major boon for fight fans in Wales; not since the days of Joe Calzaghe had the national stadium hosted a major championship bout of this stature and the rapid ticket sales - some 70,000 were scooped up in the opening morning of availability - should hopefully convince promoters of the Welsh capital’s status as a contender when it comes to the sport’s showpiece occasions.
It was not so long ago that Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno faced off at the old Arms Park, as did Steve Robinson and Naseem Hamed. It would be great to see such occasions played out again on the same site with more regularity.
For Wales football fans the experience of World Cup qualification woe is not new, but defeat to the Republic of Ireland should not be seen as heralding the beginning of the end for this crop of players.
Given the Dragons had lost just one of their 21 previous qualification fixtures, and were unbeaten on home turf in a competitive game in four years, the manner of the crushing reverse to Martin O’Neill’s side was an unexpected and a devastating blow.
The future of manager Chris Coleman remains up in the air at the time of writing but, whoever is in charge moving forward, there remain considerable raw materials available.
The likes of Gareth Bale, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey have at least another couple of campaigns in their legs, while the developing talents of Ben Woodburn, Nathan Broadhead and Ethan Ampadu will all soon come of age.
The landscape has moved for Welsh football on the back of that magical summer in France, one setback should not mean a meek acceptance of going back to how it used to be. They were agonisingly close to another major finals, no-one should be betting against them getting to Euro 2020.
Worrying signs for the PRO14
The Guinness PRO14 is only a matter of weeks old but there are worrying signs the new dalliance with South African sides is doomed to failures.
The Cheetahs and the Kings have conceded points at an alarming rate - often falling away alarmingly in the second half of games - and the embarrassingly sparse crowd that watched the Kings take on Leinster in Port Elizabeth suggests the South African rugby public are not too enamoured of the new product.
Chief executive Martin Anayi recently suggested this was just the start of an expansion programme that will see an American side join. He might be wise to hold back on the bold declarations and take one step at a time. There is considerable work to be done if he wants this season’s alterations to the championship to be considered a success.
Not that the Welsh sides have had a great time of it either, with only the Scarlets showing any sort of form during the early going.