We live, as Jerry Maguire noted, in a cynical world.
Respect for institutions has disintegrated. Nobody trusts politicians, corporations, or journalists. There are few real heroes anymore.
Apart, that is, from the select few who break a Premier League transfer rumour that eventually becomes a ‘done deal’.
Five years ago, the gaffer — Irish Examiner sports editor Tony Leen — sat on the pedestal of the revered.
Search his name on Twitter and the scale of his contribution is preserved. For the gaffer was among the first — perhaps the very first — to link Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal.
As the transfer progressed to completion, his accomplishment was handsomely rewarded. He gained 10,000 Twitter followers overnight and his flock pressed him daily for more — “Who’s next, Tony?”
For the gaffer was now ‘in the know’.
Alas, his time at the very apex of the news-gathering profession was shortlived. Later that summer, he went again, notifying his congregation of Arsenal’s interest in Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho.
And his people believed. The testimonials are still there. “The man is reliable. Hinted Sanchez for AFC before anyone else. If he says Carvalho is on, then I trust him.”
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this deal never got done. And now if you search the gaffer’s name and ‘Carvalho’, you can enjoy a wide selection of choice and colourful insults. The flock became a mob.
And while the episode certainly hasn’t diminished the gaffer as an erudite, inspirational leader (no, not a hope of a pay rise — ed), he perhaps never recovered this capacity to spread hope globally. And sometimes, you can detect the restlessness in a man who still has more hope to give.
For that is what this time of year is all about. A time of great anger and unpleasantness, certainly. A time that generates more fiction than Penguin. And a time when a handful of super agents cream senseless profits for organising agreements both sides want to happen.
But principally it is a time of hope. Of renewal. Of pinning your dreams on a ‘45-million-pound ace’, even if his club values him closer to £75m.
In the years since Alexis Sanchez, the Arsenal faithful have been burnt too often, by too many in-the-knows.
Nowadays, until the BBC’s Arsenal man David Ornstein tells them a deal is done, they are slow to believe.
But even as their fury boils over and it dawns on them that all their frustrations weren’t just down to Wenger refusing to ‘spend some facking money’, the Arsenal faithful are as energised as everybody else by the most exciting time of the Premier League campaign.
It is a time of high drama. Of pieces in the jigsaw. Of speculation heightening. Of swoops and sagas. Of pouncing and prising away. Of come-and-get-me pleas and odds being slashed. Of unsettling players and turning their heads.
But also of derisory bids and failing to agree terms, and deals collapsing, and eventually of reviving your interest in Ever Banega, before Ornstein confirms it was too late to get a deal over the line.
In the years since they waited, from Finsbury Park to Finland, on word from the gaffer, there have been some subtle shifts in the mechanics of hope.
Once, all you needed to know was the size of your ‘warchest’, now any eight-year-old will lecture you on net spend, maximising resale value, and the need to keep the wage bill under control.
And for hope to flourish with any conviction, you should have a certain amount of confidence in your club’s ‘transfer policy’.
There should be a figurehead involved, a guru. A brilliant sporting director. Or an eccentric chief scout with a unique eye for talent.
Some brainiac who will have crunched many data points, and ideally created his own algorithm to find the player whose left foot confounds all expected goals models.
Indeed, we are almost at a stage when the brainiacs are in as great a demand as the players.
The hope will always come from somewhere. It is the great renewable energy that keeps the wheel turning, even among the most cynical.
This vital energy that powers the Premier League, even when there are no matches on, contrasts so sharply with the customary torpor around Gaelic football, even as its season reaches a peak.
With the news agenda dominated by what can be done to fix the game, the latest proposal is to give up hope altogether on half the counties and condemn them to some half-baked competition nobody will care about.
The other big idea, presumably on the basis that it once fixed soccer, is to ban the backpass to the keeper.
But if the gah is to borrow anything from soccer right now, of course it should be the transfer window.
Allow each county to wheel and deal for a maximum of three players. Remove red tape and parish laws to construct a transfer market, turning the usual blind eye to whatever ‘incentives’ must be put in place.
Instead of splitting Dublin to give another 15 a game, you could give another 90 Dubs a game!
And already, this season, we have a poster boy for this bright new future, in Roscommon’s former Kerry forward Conor Cox — proof that a few points from play will always trump petty concerns about where you were born.
The frenzy of speculation a transfer market would generate should also deliver a timely boost to the newspaper industry.
And with his exhaustive knowledge of inter-county cast-offs from Kerry and beyond, it might even coax the gaffer back into the business of hope.
Everyone’s a winner. At least until Dublin splash their warchest on David Clifford and Michael Murphy.
Adding hope to your cart
For many years Arsenal pinned most of their transfer window hopes on finding ‘the new Patrick Vieira’.
And according to new book Football Hackers by Christoph Biermann, they now have the software available to finally make this dream a reality.
“It follows the logic of Amazon’s algorithm,” Biermann writes. “Clubs who like this player might also be interested in these ones.
“Eager to add more resilience to Arsenal’s midfield, Sven Mislintat checked players with a similar data profile to the Frenchman N’Golo Kante. The system proposed Sampdoria’s Torreira.”
An Amazon that allows you add hope to your cart truly sounds like the final step in their quest for world domination.
The umpire strikes back
It was time to introduce the next generation to one of the great summer traditions.
As Wimbledon took place inside in the front room, it also began out the front.
A long skipping rope tethered to two dustbins divided a court and the twins duly delivered a tense first set, even if it failed to produce a single return of serve.
Your correspondent was perched at the net post, or the red bin, if you prefer, delivering warnings and code violations and the like.
And perhaps enjoying the role too much. Because just as a flurry of double faults threatened a critical break at 3-3, the inevitable demand came: “Can I be umpire now?”
Heroes & villains
Have identified the ‘motivator gene’ in horses, proving even thoroughbreds rely on The Savage Hunger.
The woman pulling the strings for USA. Her mother is Donnelan, her siblings are John, Nora and Mary. Surely we can file her under one that got away.
A phobia that first found expression railing against the brandishing of imaginary yellow cards has now turned its sights on simulated tea drinking.