There was an interesting piece by Barney Ronay in The Guardian recently, regarding the fact that, for the most part, there is approximately at most a 10-year cycle of success when it comes to considering the achievements of even the very best football managers.
The context of his piece was set around the subject of José Mourinho, a marvellously successful soccer manager who has nurtured narcissism into a personal art form. (The piece was written before ‘The Special One’ departed Stamford Bridge.) Counting only domestic championships and European trophies, Mourinho won nine titles between 2003-2010; since then, while afforded fabulous financial resources, there has been one league title apiece with Real Madrid and Chelsea.
It’s not only about Mourinho (although it would be if he were writing this). The current – but for how long? – Manchester United manager, Louis Van Gaal, won seven major trophies between 1992-9 but since then just a couple of league titles in Germany and Holland. Fabio Capello won seven such titles between 1992-2001, one league title since. Pep Guardiola has won seven with Barcelona and Bayern Munich (surely at least up to eight by the end of this season!) from 2008 until the present day. Closer to home, Bob Paisley won ten such titles at Liverpool between 1975-1983. You get the drift. Of course, there is one humungous exception. Alex Ferguson won 20 league titles and European trophies, beginning in Aberdeen in 1980 and ending at Manchester United 33 years later. But then Fergie time did always go on for longer than seemed normal.
Reading that article caused me to reflect on the dynamics in play when it comes to considering the major-championship winning years of top golfers. Thirteen of them have won six or more majors. Among these are Bobby Jones, who won 13 between 1923-30; Ben Hogan nine between 1946-53; Tom Watson eight between 1975-1983; Arnold Palmer seven between 1958-64; Nick Faldo six between 1987-96.
(Incidentally, just below this tally are Seve Ballesteros, who fits the mould with five majors between 1979-88, and Raymond Floyd, who doesn’t, having won four over a 17-year period.)
That’s five of the 13. Tiger Woods just edged the 10-year barrier in winning 14 major championships between 1997-2008, although I think it’s fair to say that as he limped away from Torrey Pines in June 2008 nobody – and I mean nobody – would seriously have been contemplating that that would perhaps be his last major. Two other American greats – Gene Sarazen with seven between 1922-35 and Sam Snead with seven between 1942-54 – also demonstrated decade-breaking longevity.
And so to the final five. Lee Trevino won five in seven seasons before winning his sixth 10 years later. South Africa’s Gary Player won nine between 1959-78, during which time he had to cope with the then much more rigorous demands of repeated intercontinental travel. There were 15 years and the First World War separating Walter Hagen’s 11 majors. And Harry Vardon collected seven between 1896-1914 before, at the 1920 US Open, aged 50, fatigue led to him squandering a five-shot lead with five holes to play. If that hadn’t happened, we might – at least in this context – be talking of him in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus, who won his last major aged 46.
As we all know, especially if you’re Tiger Woods, the Golden Bear won 18 majors between 1962-86. Among the many accolades he has been awarded, I guess that makes him the Fergie of Golf.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen