All faith lost as football about profits, not prophets

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All faith lost as football about profits, not prophets

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It’s beginning to sound like any other outlandish ‘get-rich-quick’ promise now: that pitch Brendan Rodgers made Luis Suarez.

“I started to see that things were going to be different,” remembered Luis, in his autobiography. “He’s right, it is impossible in a 30-metre space, with the players Liverpool have got... for them to get the ball off us.”

Rodgers’ team would simply pass the ball among four defenders and the goalkeeper, bamboozling the two or three attackers that might wander into that precisely-calibrated launch area. Next a midfielder drops in to receive possession. The process begins again upfield, opposition once more hopelessly outnumbered. Soon, somebody finds Suarez. The rest is easy.

Luis was persuaded. I suppose you could say he bit.

On another day, Luis might have pulled out his credit card and invested €34.99 in the Millionaires’ Breakfast Club. Or maybe put down five grand in cash on the promise of fifty later, once enough people had signed up. At the very least, he’d buy the self-help manual, as recommended by Oprah.

“It seemed so simple that way but no one had ever walked me through it like that before.”

That is the surge of confidence, elation and trust great modern gurus can trigger.

Usually talking slowly, profoundly, dispensing truths in a mystical language spiced with seductive jargon, a decent guru can show you a way that sounds so simple, so attainable, if only you’d thought of it like that before.

The Unbelievable Belief, as we’ve come to know it.

Hope, of course, is the greatest gift of the guru.

“I’ve always said that you can live without water for many days, but you can’t live for a second without hope,” Rodgers has told us.

The surge of inspiration, that early flood of oxytocin, the best gurus can deliver often brings about impressive results. The audacity of Brendan’s hope last season certainly did.

But the downside to the modern fixation with transformative gurus can, perhaps, be summed up in one apocryphal magazine headline: The 100 Self-Help Books That Changed My Life.

When the 30 yards around Simon Mignolet has become a redzone of panic, when the midfield is bamboozling itself, and when you are giving it to Rickie, who is just made up to be out there at all; there is a temptation to turn to another guru for the next quick fix.

It is, as Greg Critser pointed out in Fat Land, the kind of bloom and gloom cycle that has seen a generation of lucrative weight-loss programmes produce the fattest generation of Americans on record.

“Only confidence has been knocked, belief has not been affected,” insisted Brendan lately. But he must worry he has joined the list of discredited gurus with one best-seller.

Hope will be in short supply, too, in the Ennui Derby this evening, at the Emirates.

“Newcastle is now a monument to the death of hope, a club which exists with the sole aim of existence, ” writes George Caulkin, in the latest issue of The Blizzard magazine.

Mike Ashley is not in the business of hope. His personal motto might even be Running It To Stand Still. Or Standing Still To Sell Runners.

“Arsenal should name their stadium after Wenger,” said Alan Pardew in the build-up to this one. Bullish enough, maybe, after recent results, to offer a small rebuke to the man who killed off hope when he briefly renamed their stadium.

Ashley has created an environment where the most enterprising guru — a category towards which Pards has his own aspirations — would struggle to get the oxytocin flowing. Where there is no simple way forward. Where even five wins in seven can’t lift spirits much.

That the Geordies — purpose-built to lie sedate in mid-table — arrive level with Arsenal, must further alarm the Gooners, growing more disillusioned and outraged at their own seemingly interminable inertia.

For a while, Arsene Wenger has traded on faith rather than hope. His work in spinning short-term guruism into a movement, a religion nearly, has probably earned him five or six Guru’s Guru Of The Year gongs.

In fairness, he partly achieved this by making his success more about players than himself, by refusing to sell seductive easy solutions. So while Arsenal remain a few players short, he might retain believers. When he eventually gets round to it, Arsene can be better trusted to find players than Brendan.

Brendan has also helped him this week by showing that finishing top four in the league and last 16 in Europe isn’t necessarily as easy as it looks.

But Arsene knows there are a dangerous number of agnostics now. Cunningly, he recently teased there might yet be a manifesto.

“One day, if I write a book, I’ll tell everyone why finishing fourth for all those seasons was so important.”

The key trick for any religion; keeping the pay-off until after you bow out.

Younger players in doping danger

It is impossible to avoid notice, however one tries, that there appears to be growing disquiet around just how it is how some top, top exponents of The Ugly Game are building those muscles in their eyebrows.

Another worry for parents already stressing over whether they should uproot their budding young prop — who just underlined his promise by shoving over the garden shed — from his friends and move him to a fee-paying school to fast-track his career.

Thankfully, all that hullabaloo should die down now after Alan Quinlan played down fears this week by writing that he’d only ever encountered the odd tub of accidentally-ingested ephedrine, an occasional half-time suppository and all the supplements you can eat.

In truth, Quinlan actually made a pretty convincing case that rugby chiefs here were conscientiously staying the right side of the line as regards medical assistance.

But, as always, when this page counsels against this ever-creeping scourge — the rugby, whatever about the drugs — it is the impressionable youngsters we are thinking of.

Even if controls are tight here within the pro game, UK anti-doping chief Andy Parkinson has warned the big growth area in doping is among rugby players seeking a first professional contract.

We will hear, for long enough, about these guys putting their bodies on the line at ruck-time. A tragedy if they must do so before they even get over the personal gain-line.

HEROES & VILLAINS

Stairway To Heaven

Robbie Keane: Knocked in the MLS Cup winner and impressively resisted any prospect of passing to Landon Donovan on the night of his big send-off.

Ronnie O’Sullivan: Shared the limelight with Robbie last Sunday night. But a glaring omission from the only prize that matters in UK Sport — tomorrow’s SPOTY.

Hell in a Handcart

Google: Responded to new Spanish ‘link tax’ by pulling all Spanish news stories from its listings. And the transfer window set to open in three weeks.

Jose Mourinho: One in five London children thinks Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea, claims a new survey. Not manages? His PR is slipping.

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