IT HAS been an interesting fortnight of sport.
I tuned in to TG4 with high expectations last Sunday, ready to cheer on Cavan’s under 21s. Sadly, their own expectations were even higher, so high that they quickly collapsed under their weight. It is sad to see a really talented young team go to pieces. As they became more panicky, they lost all of the cohesion that had brought them this far, reacting a split second late to everything, hesitating as Galway confidently galloped through them.
After 15 minutes, I could no longer bear to watch, so flipped to something I couldn’t care less about, namely Manchester Utd v Arsenal. Arsenal played a bit better and even did some tackling, ending up with a 1-0 victory. Afterwards it was interesting to listen to Alex Ferguson’s odd analysis. He said they were robbed. He said they ought to have had a penalty when Michael Owen was fouled at the death but there’s no way they were getting it at the Emirates. “Why not?” I would have asked him, but Sky know he doesn’t really like questions. They know what happened to the Beeb when they tried that routine. Asked about the certain penalty that Arsenal were denied when Vidic deliberately handled a cross in the first half, Ferguson dismissed this as ‘nonsense’.
At 69 years of age, his odd perception of reality is so entrenched it will never change. The world is still against him and his team, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. He may be the gold standard for football managers, navigating the treacherous waters of the business like a magnificent long-lived shark but it is a curious anomaly that such a lauded genius has never developed broader shoulders.
When tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier kindly gifted him a half-share in the winnings of “Rock of Gibraltar”, he received £600,000 from them tax-free and gratis. Yet when the horse was retired, Ferguson took out his pick-up truck with the machine gun welded to the cab and instructed his lawyers to sue for half the horse’s stud income. He quickly withdrew the action when the duet’s lawyers took the canvas off their fighter jets. Beckham’s stitches followed, then the BBC went in the book for having the temerity to investigate his agent son Jason’s dubious transfer dealings. Ferguson senior threatened action but never put his money where his mouth was, explaining later that the BBC had ‘too much money’. Instead, he has sulked with the corporation for six years, sending out his underlings to tell us “it was a game of two halves” and “the lads’ effort can’t be faulted.”
In January, his son Darren was sacked as manager of Preston North End. They were five points adrift at the bottom of the championship and in an on-field mess. Daddy was furious. He retaliated by recalling three on-loan players from Preston. All three were vital players. All three said they wanted to stay with Preston. Ferguson knew that if Preston were relegated their very future was at stake. Instead of letting them play, he brought them back to languish in the reserve team squad. Last week, Preston were indeed relegated.
If Ferguson has a persecution complex, Jose Mourinho has a far more complicated psychology. Over the course of the Barcelona/Madrid fortnight, the most striking thing about it all was Jose’s refusal to accept any reality other than his own. Even when he has lost he has won. In truth, his tactics were no match for Barcelona’s brilliance, but Jose would self destruct if the thought struck him. Not that his own reality is a flimsy construct. He is not in the same category as say David Icke, the once respected BBC journalist who became a laughing-stock when he announced he was God and revealed the world is ruled by reptiles.
I digress... A friend of mine was in Glastonbury shortly after Icke had ‘come out’ . On the second morning, as he and his boozy group were starting into their second pint of the day, who did they spy only the Supreme Being himself, dressed in purple raiment and drinking a coffee. So they followed him, copying the famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. “ Master, Give us a sign!” they shouted. At first Icke tolerated them but eventually, he got up and walked away. They trailed after him, catcalling. “Speak to us Oh Lord” they demanded. As he broke into a jog, they jogged after him through the mud, as more and more people joined in. They even took off their wellies and waved them in the air. Eventually, they cornered him in a marquee he had retreated into. “F..... off” he roared at them. “How shall we f..... off Master?” they chanted back.
Jose isn’t that bad, but there are striking similarities between himself and those weird cult leaders that spring up from time to time. He never admits fault. “Zero” was his response last week when asked how much blame he accepted for the tactics that left Real with 27% possession and not a sniff of goal. He has the powerful charisma of an American TV evangelist, inspiring unqualified adoration from those he works with. More than that, they become brainwashed by him. To a man, the Madrid players parroted his absurd analysis of their defeat, namely that there was a widespread conspiracy involving referees and UEFA to ensure Barcelona reach the final, not to mention the preferential treatment Barca get because they sponsor UNICEF. One could almost imagine Jose leading the Madridistas en masse into some remote jungle and living there as their leader like the insane Colonel Kurtz in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” There, the thought that Barcelona were the better team would never enter his head.
The highpoint of the week was however Dublin’s stunning thrashing of the Cats. It is still hard to believe. 0-22 to 1-7. Who would have imagined it? Three years ago I sat in Casement watching Antrim annihilate the Dubs. Three years later, they are genuine All-Ireland contenders. The evidence of the extent of their uprising is this: Aside from Conal Keaney, I’ll bet you don’t know the names of any of their team. I looked at the photographs on Monday and couldn’t pick out a single one of those fresh faces. Afterwards, Brian Cody was as gracious as ever. The GAA hierarchy, Croke Park PLC, the referees’ association and the Dublin Board had not it seemed conspired against Kilkenny. His conclusion? “Dublin now have all the ingredients of a seriously good team. They were far better than us today. We have no excuses.”
Enough to make Jose faint.