I read The Circle this week, Dave Eggers’ novel about an internet company that has taken over Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest.
It is a cautionary, pre-apocalyptic parable about big data and crowd-sourced knowledge where one powerful enterprise dominates under the motto All That Happens Must Be Known.
Just a gentle wind-down after watching the same philosophy win the World Cup for the Germans.
In the minutes after that victory last Sunday, the official FAI Twitter account sent a message of goodwill: “Congrats to @DFB _Team_EN 2014 @FIFAWorldCup, and our opponents for #Euro2016 qualifiers in October ***Gulp***”
We could take two things from this much-criticised, self-deprecating broadcast, which was later deleted, possibly when Roy Keane took a hammer to some Abbotstown laptops. As a side issue, it was further evidence of the need for swift regulation of the banter industry, to save the operators of Twitter accounts from themselves.
But was it also a reminder that we might have as much to fear from the new world the Germans have created as the Germans themselves? We should reflect, firstly, on how much this one meant to the Germans and the efforts they put in to bring it home.
Before the tournament, England preparations were very thorough even if they hadn’t a hope of winning. They were, after all, bringing their own chefs and even duvets to their Rio hotel.
At this stage, of course, the Germans had long completed building their own hotel in Brazil. No, their own resort. We can probably take it that the balls and isotonic drinks were there as they arrived.
Meanwhile, long before construction started, 50 sports science students in Cologne were supplying the data to build the German game plan, crunching the stats of every team and player they might encounter in Brazil.
And every move made by Jogi Low’s players, in matches and training, was analysed by software provided by German giants SAP. Seemingly it was SAP, as much as Jogi, that picked Howedes. The numbers suggested two classical full-backs haring up and down in the heat wouldn’t be efficient.
If the Germans now know everything that happens and most of what will happen, none of this would have been any use but for the systematic investment in a purpose-built generation of flexible ball-players over a decade ago.
They were nearly there in 2010. Since that tournament, SAP has been eliminating waste, helping to speed their passing and shave 2.3 seconds off the team’s average time in possession. It’s nearly at the magic one-second mark. Jack Charlton’s record must be in their sights.
Everything has, more or less, been optimised, bar perhaps the unveiling of a new model Klose. There’s a bonus too; this precisely engineered team is as attractive as it is successful.
Before we even consider the financial cost of all this and try to put a sensible price on glory, we might note that The Circle’s work was successful and attractive too.
Everything that happens is captured on camera so no more crime or corruption. Everyone’s vital statistics measured constantly to eliminate disease. Every word read and test taken populating a league table that ranks the world’s brains. No longer possible for anyone to go missing.
But that was also the rub. It was no longer possible for anyone to go missing. To opt out. Eggers brought us to a pivot in history, where the individual becomes obsolete.
The World Cup final was billed as the best team versus the best individual. Individualism had its chance, on 96 minutes. It wasn’t the individual we expected, but a man practising individualism in the form of an off-centre rat’s tail at the back of his head.
He missed, as we probably should have known he would.
By the time Russia comes round, we might look back on it as the very last thing we didn’t know. Gulp.
Turning blue over Browne and black
The likes of Gok Wan and Trinny and Susannah and big Pat O’Mahony in his Head To Toe days have all gone blue in the face, I’d imagine, telling us about the marvellous versatility of black.
No surprise then that three of the great stylists of modern hurling punditry, men as sharp with a pocket square as they once were around the small square, are in agreement.
As far as Dónal Óg Cusack, Eddie Brennan and Ollie Canning are concerned, the black card is a signature piece that can work with everything.
They fitted out Clare’s Jack Browne for one last Saturday.
In Gaelic football, black has so far failed to shake off its funereal associations. It is a cloak of shame donned by the cynics and the cheats as they are banished in ignominy from our arenas.
But hurling, the lads believe, can make black the frisky shade of summer freedom. No stigma attached.
Maybe the black card could even have a tribute to the departing hero printed on it.
“Ah sure, you were only pulling a lad down going through on goal, you meant nothing by it. You were on a yellow already all right, but look it, we’ll leave on another good man instead of you. Don’t worry one bit about it.”
A deterrent in football, an incentive in hurling. The black card. Your flexible friend.
Gilesy big loser from Billo exit
If there is one thing we might miss about Bill O’Herlihy presenting RTÉ soccer programmes, it is his relationship with John Giles.
Billo has been acclaimed as a great stirrer of rows and disputes. Indeed, it is possible his ability in this area has been overstated, since there is every likelihood Darragh Moloney or any future incumbent of Billo’s chair will prove well able to coax Eamon Dunphy into rows and disputes, as almost anyone surely would. And they will have Kenny now too.
But how will they get on with Gilesy? Will they be on his wavelength?
“It’s like the old George Formby song Waiting on the Corner, Bill.”
“Leaning on a Lamppost, you mean?”
Will they tee him up for the odd gag?
“Carsley lacks a bit of skill in those situations. Let’s call a spade a spade.”
“Yes, Bill, he’s in there to dig.”
Will they keep Gilesy on message?
“I’ve no time for the Uefa Cup at all.”
“Hold on a second, John, we’ve got the final on Wednesday.”
“It should be a great final, Bill.”
They sat side by side, the senior analyst and the old pro. The football man and the media man, holding the centre while the rows swirled around them.
HEROES & VILLAINS
Stairway To Heaven
Sligo Rovers and St Pat’s: Would have been entitled to ‘gulp’ ahead of their European travels this week, but the one notable thing both performances lacked was fear.
Clare Shine: Wins over Spain mightn’t have the cachet they did six weeks ago, but we’ll take them when they come. The Cork woman scored the all-important goal.
Hell in a Handcart
Stephen Roche: Reinstate Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins? Remember at the end of Garda Patrol when they used appeal for the rightful owners of the ill-gotten loot they’d confiscated. Wouldn’t have happened under Stephen’s watch.
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