LARRY RYAN: The battle for lost Premier League souls

This week was all about Éamonn Fitzmaurice, a man of considerable dignity and wisdom, pointing out some uncomfortable truths about the way we support the games we love.

Before Éamonn got into all that, he also talked about the abuse GAA managers tend to get, often in the form of anonymous letters.

In his revelations, the departing Kerry boss clearly touched a chord, because every inter-county manager since canvassed has been able to refer to his own collection of bilious correspondence.

This surprise resurgence in the written word may mean fresh pay talks at An Post before the resumption of the Allianz Leagues.

And Fitzmaurice’s wisdom in raising the issue was obvious when the ensuing debate about the way we treat managers left little room in the ‘thought cycle’ for analysis of Kerry’s Super 8 campaign.

Éamonn was then able to move on to more pressing matters in an interview with offtheball.com, not only coming out as a Manchester United fan, but admitting to being a lapsed Manchester United fan.

Indeed, in just 12 words, Éamonn drilled into perhaps the most important philosophical and psychological topic of the age: “Since Alex Ferguson left, I wouldn’t have the same level of interest.” There is a lot to deal with in this statement. A lot to unpack, as they say.

It can’t have escaped your notice that there are a lot of lapsed United fans out there, that sometimes it feels like there is no other type of United fan.

All these people who were once a noisy, boisterous presence in your life have gone quiet, having misplaced their previously healthy appetite for the bantz. And for drawing your attention to goings-on in the Best League in the World.

When you meet them, you will soon learn that they don’t have Sky any more and how they believe the money in the game is gone ridiculous altogether. You may even hear they have found another calling — probably Munster rather than, say, Cork City.

And sure, some of this is down to Mourinho’s ability to suck anything that is positive out of human existence. And much more of it is down to that notoriously tricky adjustment from winning all the time to not winning.

But perhaps there is something else at play too, because even at this traditional time of great excitement there seems to be a lot of that listlessness about, certainly in men and women of Fitzmaurice’s vintage.

There are scales falling from the eyes of other fans too, people suddenly alive to the inherent lunacy in pinning their emotional well-being on the fortunes of a distant corporation.

People suddenly detecting an emptiness in an attachment that was once their identity.

There are Chelsea fans imagining some previously noble ‘soul’ that they have now apparently lost. There are Arsenal fans stirring after years of ennui to find they no longer have the stomach for it.

There are Tottenham fans unable to summon even the patience to wait until the year ends in a one to dream of a trophy.

And if you can find a Manchester City fan, you might even find one wrestling with the morals of the geopolitical project that is currently playing out in his favour.

It could be easy to counter with the packed houses at the Aviva Stadium in recent weeks to watch Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool in friendly action. But the Pope will soon fill Croke Park and the Phoenix Park with many people who don’t necessarily go to Mass. Who may not even entirely believe any more.

There was an important development at the start of summer when the Premier League’s ‘big six’ won the right to a larger share of international broadcasting rights revenue.

Our skin is in the game now. Fitzmaurice’s decision to subscribe or not may soon directly affect the title race.

Viewing figures were down last year but the Premier League has started to visit us again, on their world tours. They will want to urgently nip in the bud any decline in the level of interest.

So what could be causing this decline?

If you remove any organism from a delicate ecosystem, there will be consequences for other species.

Might the lapsing of hoards of United fans be damaging the entire environment? Must there be a call for conservation of United fans? Should MUTV be made free to air?

It is interesting that Fitzmaurice framed his own lapse in terms of Fergie’s departure.

Seemingly, he is drawn to the same cult of the manager that was ultimately his own undoing.

It is the gaffers that we look to now for meaning, to enrich our empty attachments. Conflicted as he is, the Man City fan you know at least has the teachings of Pep to preach. The Spurs fan probably has a tray of lemons in his kitchen, like Poch, to absorb the negative energy of a fruitless transfer window.

At Arsenal they only have a man who will be defined for some time as not being Arsene Wenger.

While Maurizio Sarri has had to confirm, early doors, that he is not a racist, sexist, or homophobe — never an ideal launchpad for a belief system.

But at Anfield they have cracked it. In Klopp they have the messiah figure everyone craves.

The charismatic, on-message hero in touch with his club’s soul. Who will drink a beer with the locals in Detroit while the cameras roll.

And who will tell Ireland that hurling is on his bucket list.

He is Coldplay singing a verse as Gaeilge when playing Croker. And the same verse in Oslo in Norwegian. Except Klopp somehow makes it all feel effortlessly authentic.

Prodigal sons have returned on his watch — as you have no doubt seen all around you, he has ushered many lapsed Pool fans back into the fold.

And he hasn’t even started winning yet.


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