LARRY RYAN: Gilesy applies spirit level to United

Many people were agitated on Wednesday evening, but to many others there was great comfort on offer on RTE 2.

To the vast swathes of the population who took a sabbatical from the Champions League last season, who suddenly found the whole thing a sideshow from the bread and butter; these people, these followers of Man United, must have taken great solace in finding nothing much had changed while they were away.

But we should deal with the agitation first, which was quite evident across places like Twitter.

Josh Linkner topped the New York Times Bestseller List not long ago with a book called The Road to Reinvention.

Setting his stall out, Linkner assures us that in these times of frantic change, hugging the status quo is a surefire path to collapse and that we must all get comfortable in a state of ongoing flux.

Linkner had two key pieces of advice for us in the battle against stagnation. 1. Create a plan Z. 2. Go trend spotting.

Here is a man who has never watched Champions League football on RTÉ 2.

Others, who might be disciples of Linkner, find it difficult enough to tune in. They see Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher fielding tweets and swiping gadgets and embracing radical new ideas such as research and knowing the names of footballers.

They notice BT Sport assigning four commentators to a match, presumably to dilute the effects of Michael Owen.

They clock the rise of stats and data and heatmaps and develop a great thirst for this kind of information.

And they grow anxious for change, even if most of them will still draw the line at getting on board Fletch and Sav’s “Banter Bus”.

Perhaps RTÉ sport chief Ryle Nugent, with twisted dreams of a post-Gilesy future, is among the restless. Maybe he has flicked through The Road to Reinvention.

Gilesy applies spirit level to United

On Wednesday night, Linkner, Nugent, and the rest slumped defeated. A formula, winning or not, hadn’t been tampered with. No trends were spotted.

It was all still there for the prodigal Man Utd fan. Almost. An insular enough bunch, some of them may only have noticed the sad loss of Billo from the mix and doubtless took a moment.

But all the rest was in place.

George Hamilton recently told us he regards commentary as a jazz performance. For George, there is no plan A, B or Z. While Michael Owen was rasping away on his kazoo over on BT, George was still riffing magnificently on the metaphors and analogies like they’d gone out of fashion, which, let’s face it, they have.

“Man United have been rather like the swanky train that goes through the Channel tunnel… while what we’ve been watching from Bruges equates to a two-carriage commuter train.”

Beside George was Ronnie, filling the familiar role often performed by Razor Houghton, reassuring us that everything was terrible.

In studio, Eamo breezed through the full repertoire. Memphis Depay played the sacrificial role as the highly regarded, expensive young footballer who “doesn’t know what he is doing”; United’s defence obliged with enough first-half mistakes to qualify as “a shambles”. Louis van Gaal was this evening’s “spoofer, bullshitter”.

For his part, Darragh Maloney reprised Billo’s “ah no, Eamon” mock-horror to a tee. Chippy mooched, occasionally lending presidential approval to an argument, or knocking one on the head.

If we sometimes get the impression that hitting all the right notes in his performance is rather more important to Eamo that any search for the truth, that is not the case with Gilesy.

So we waited for the true inquest to kick off, to find out where it all went wrong for United, where the swanky train was derailed. Whatever the scoreline’s deceit tried to convince us of, we were left in no doubt that this was another night when things truly went awry for the Red Devils.

Even as we waited, we knew the reason it went wrong, of course. Because it was the same reason as always.

If Gilesy might fundamentally disagree with the philosophy of Josh Linkner, there was another, more important, best-seller a few years back  that better captures the essence of Gilesy’s analysis.

In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found that every single social problem in developed society — crime, drugs, mental illness, child mortality, obesity — had a single root cause. They concluded you could address all the problems individually — and do as much reinvention and trend spotting as you like — but you would largely be wasting your time.

Indeed, all the analysis and datasets and trend-hopping might only obscure the real problem. It might even facilitate those keen to maintain the status quo.

The root cause, the reason for everything, Wilkinson and Pickett found, was inequality.

The root cause of everything, as far as Gilesy is concerned, is the lack of a midfield player making himself available to receive the ball.

In the act of making yourself available to receive the ball, in midfield, moral courage and an ability to take each game on its merits is implied, whether or not that’s identified by the heat maps.

Sure, once this core fundamental is in place, there are other minor details that can be attended to. An avoidance of zonal marking or excessive use of the high line would be the most important, in Gilesy’s view.

After that, “a little bit of magic” might be required somewhere along the way.

He was never a fan of plan B, Gilesy, nor presumably plan Z. If it’s the right thing to do in the first minute, it’s the right thing to do in the last minute, he’s often told us.

And it was the right thing to say 30 years ago...

Covering the Serena slam

Gilesy applies spirit level to United

We sometimes have to feign, for the sake of renaissance man status, a complete understanding of the feminism. The basics are clear enough, but sometimes the devil is in the detail.

I read a curious sentence this week, in relation to Serena Williams’ cover shoot for New York magazine’s fashion issue.

“This cover is special because it’s not fully focused on her position as an athlete.”

There seems to be some rejoicing, out there, as Serena heads into the US Open looking for the “Calendar Slam”, that she is being finally appreciated for her glamour as much as her athletic ability.

Which seems, on the face of it, to be a curious switcharoo of the normal state of affairs.

But then, when we don’t fully understand these things, it’s usually best to refer back to Wilkinson and Pickett, and put it down to inequality.

Heroes & Villains...


Petr Cech:

Showed there’s still a little spring in the heels against Liverpool, but it is his natural diplomacy that will be appreciated by young men like Calum Chambers: “The lads who came in did as well as they could to play well.”


The Black Card:

Didn’t I warn them early doors this would end in tears? At least partially responsible for an epidemic in collapsing, high-tackling and retreating. Not to mention the total confusion.


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