Easter Sunday proved a landmark day for fascists, sexists, egotists, cyclists, feminists.
“Paolo Di Canio is 45 years of age and his life speaks for him,” said Paolo Di Canio, on Monday, hopefully not misquoting Paolo Di Canio.
Whatever about the Third Position, you know a man has his back to the wall when he reaches for the third person.
Or you are dealing with a top-class display of narcissism.
In this case, probably both, as the great Premier League ‘controvassy’ addiction claimed one of its less sympathetic victims.
Di Canio had been one of those foreign eccentrics the English take to their hearts every now and again. An angry little man with a decent touch who might do a job for you for six months or so, but who fell out with just about every manager he had.
He has since begun a coaching career where honour in victory has tended to be his, while the ignominy of defeat has often been laid loudly at his players’ doors.
But 12 years ago, with goalkeeper Paul Gerrard down, Paolo caught a ball that was arriving, at an unworkable height, on the edge of a penalty area upon which three Everton defenders were also converging.
They called it an open goal and the finest act of sportsmanship they had seen. And they charged him with bringing the game into repute and fell in love with him.
So last Sunday morning Paolo woke up a legend with the odd daft idea nobody paid any heed to. He went to bed that night a Premier League manager and a clear and present danger.
By Wednesday they had broken him. But, then, when you look back at Paolo’s career, it is no great surprise that after an initial show of fiery defiance, he walked out on fascism pretty easily in the end.
American sportswriter John Tunis wrote, in 1936, about the growing fascination with sport among the dictators. “It keeps the younger and naturally insurgent elements of the community from thinking too much about internal political conditions and lack of employment.”
Naturally, in a week when a raft of austerity measures came into force in Britain — cuts which will have a particularly swingeing effect in the North East — the place debated itself to a standstill about the ideologies of a football manager. From somewhere down below, Benito — not Paolo’s old teammate Carbone — probably managed a smile.
At least, after a grim few days, fascists now know where they stand — and in which leagues they might be entitled to operate.
The sexist has no such clarity yet.
If we should have predicted that, in the panic-stricken badlands at the foot of the Premier League, someone would eventually turn to a lapsed, non-practising fascist to dig them out of trouble, we could also have foreseen the day when a cyclist would invade the personal space of one of the ladies hired to fawn over him at the end of a race. A sport always looking over its shoulder for excess testosterone.
So we woke last Sunday to a world in which ‘podium girls’ play an integral role, but we retired with everything in a state of flux, after Slovakian Peter Sagan celebrated his second- place finish in the Tour of Flanders by pinching one of these ladies’ backsides.
We might, in time, look back on it as another key moment in the treatment of women in sport. Or a Keys moment, if we recall the shift in attitude to female officials pre and post ‘Do me a favour, love’.
Just as we can’t reasonably deny Di Canio the right to employment for being an eejit; podium hostesses, pitlane babes, ring girls and the rest have a living to make too. Rosa Ogawa paved the way as the first ‘grid girl’ in the 60s, taking her stand beside a Toyota just a decade after her namesake sat down on a bus.
But when champions like Nicole Cooke are slipping away from a sport unheralded and unrewarded, it might be worth considering there are other ladies who deserve podium profile more. Like other ideologies though, it’s hard to make work, with self-interests to overcome. Like Sunderland pinning their hopes on a man who believes, chiefly, in himself.
No stopping march of the Cult of Beckham
“I think there’s been a lot of pavlova around the whole Beckham thing.”
Brian Kerr might have made a four-course meal of the analysis, but did Becks get his just desserts this week?
L’Equipe gave him a 3/10 rating for his surprise 70-minute turn against Barca, a little harsh considering Becks did his level best to stay out of the way until there was a corner kick to be taken.
The Daily Mail, on the other hand, viewed things rather differently, confirming he was the “talk of Paris”, since he had “inspired a fightback against the Spanish giants”.
Perhaps PSG might be wise to restrict Becks to a strictly inspirational role from now on, since he was sitting inspirationally on the bench by the time the home side mustered much fight, driven on by his replacement, Marco Verratti.
When attempting to make any sense of Becks and his contributions, we must remember at all times that we live in a world where Adrian Chiles can wonder aloud, with as straight a face as it is possible for him to muster, if people like Xavi and Iniesta might be star-struck on encountering Beckham.
So while you can probably rule him out of a Champions League win, maybe another England cap isn’t out of the question, even if they just let him wear it in the stands.
And remembering that he tuned up for this one with a promotional trip to China, you can’t quite rule out Eamon Dunphy’s prediction either: “Beckham might destroy the Chinese Communist party. He’ll introduce capitalism to China. He is a trojan horse.”
We might have put one flawed ideology in its place this week, but the Cult of Becks just grows and grows.
A little too ironic, don’t you think?
It was also a week rich in sporting irony — at least of the Morissette variety.
Con Murphy — now he has flown the Montrose nest — was free to lash RTÉ on Twitter last Monday, insisting it was “shocking” the station featured a full report on the Chelsea-Man United FA Cup replay on its evening news, but completely ignored the day’s Airtricity League programme. Within hours, the news wires were abuzz with interest in the national league, with the enticing whiff of chicanery in the air.
FIFA also provided amusement announcing — after all the pavlova about the Lampard robbery three years ago — that German firm GoalControl had got the nod ahead of English competitors Hawk-Eye to look after goal-lines in Brazil 2014. So we might not yet have heard the last of the grousing — never write off the German software.
And as Man United’s season dissolved into a bloodless procession to a single, there was more sad news from Old Trafford. It turns out Giggsy and Fergie may have distracted themselves in vain in those critical, hectic moments after Nani’s red card. For United have appointed an acoustic engineer to figure out why all the arm-waving in the world just can’t help the Theatre of Dreams generate any noise.
HEROES & VILLAINS
Stairway To Heaven
Our Villa contingent: Graham Burke was the hero, but Jack Grealish and Samir Carruthers also contributed handsomely as the Villa youths became Europe’s best. Reason enough to send good wishes Birmingham way in the relegation tussle.
GAA Communications dept: The announcement of Citeog – “a national initiative that will see the roll- out of left-handed hurls in the coming year” – took the plaudits as the best of this year’s sporting April Fool gambits.
Hell in a Handcart
UEFA: Hatching plans to leave the likes of Villa out in the cold with their own Youths Champions League – featuring only the underage of sides in the senior competition.
Joey Barton: Yet again. Just days after ex-Leeds winger Robbie Rogers explained why, as a gay man, he had to retire from football, Barton showed he might have had a point with a series of ridiculous ‘transphobic’ jibes at Thiago Silva.
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