The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference — since Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book was published in 2000, we have watched for and puzzled over those pivotal moments. Mysterious thresholds when products or messages or behaviours ‘go viral’. When ideas catch on.
Business craves these boiling points. Chancers manipulate them. Sport is at their mercy.
The book was written before social media speeded up the whole process, before the internet might spark and spread and debunk an idea in the space of 20 minutes.
But its core message remains relevant: ‘Emotion is contagious’.
By the crests of these tidal waves of emotion, we can often chart the rise and fall of athletes and teams and even sports.
The goal or save or tackle that cemented a player in fans’ affections. Or equally the point where we reached one concussion too many, or one positive test, one bribe, one nil-nil draw, or one backpass to the keeper. Gladwell reminds us that the “dramatic moment… when everything can change all at once” may not, on its own, be that dramatic.
Jose Mourinho has arguably never entirely recovered from the Eva Carneiro episode at Chelsea three years ago, when he exposed himself as a preposterous bully. Though the damage may not have been so severe had he not already demonstrated such strong bona fides as a bollocks.
This was seen as a bridge too far and while Mourinho’s professional abilities might have survived the wave of revulsion for his antics, in the eyes of many he has since become a vaguely ludicrous figure. Surely he has paid a commensurate price in the ‘buy-in’ he is able to demand from his players.
This week may have brought another tipping point in the world’s relationship with Mourinho; the moment he became a figure of fun.
His transparent pantomime in front of the few lingering Manchester United fans following the defeat by Spurs was comical enough, before he insisted, in his post-match Sky Sports interview, that “from the strategic point of view, from the tactical point of view, we didn’t lose the game”.
Whatever about United, Mourinho may yet go the season unbeaten.
He then stormed out of his press conference, brandishing three fingers to mark his title wins and demanding respect, with the world quick to remind him he once respectfully branded Arsene Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’ for leaning on a similar CV.
In truth, the world is nearing another tipping point with Mourinho, is almost in a place it has already reached with Gaelic football.
Boredom. Perhaps the most contagious emotion. The ‘power of meh’ is strong.
It is not straightforward to identify the moment that spread indifference to tomorrow’s All-Ireland final.
Which of Dublin’s bloodless strolls did it? Which handpass tore the arse out of it? Was it that spell of keep-ball against Donegal? Or did one too many Tyrone or Galway ‘ball carriers’ double back from whence they came to circulate possession?
In a way, all of Gaelic football’s exhausting history of grousing and complaining and demand for change has been leading up to this moment, where nobody cares who wins the All-Ireland final.
We now await the tipping point that rescues a sport. It may have to come from something as old-fashioned as ‘controvassy’, because a Dublin defeat in a tedious match may not cut it. Although Jim McGuinness seems to want Tyrone to play for a nil-nil draw, which might at least be the sort of car-crash spectacle you can’t look away from.
Gaelic football’s solution need not necessarily come from improvement in quality or entertainment. In the case of Scottish football, Steven Gerrard’s arrival is all it has taken for the world to become energised again by the Old Firm derby and its intriguing cocktail of hatred and paranoia.
Irish football is also in desperate need of a jumpstart of energy from somewhere. So the FAI might be wise to acknowledge a rare wave of emotion splashing around its community this week.
We already have our Stevie G in Roy Keane but his press conferences can only entertain us so much. Amid the boredom with our predictable football and ennui over our modest products, Declan Rice was briefly a totem of hope.
Maybe he still can be, even in an England shirt.
We can have no grumble with Ricey — an Englishman who probably wants to play for England. And who wants time to find out if he has a chance of playing for England before settling for a career with Ireland.
We have often made our peace with that familiar scheme of things, as long as the optics are right.
These things are all about the optics. And playing for Ireland, kissing the badge, and declaring his certainty about playing for Ireland, before realising his uncertainty, wouldn’t be textbook public relations, from Ricey, when it comes to the optics.
All the optics needed this week was a tight hamstring, to kick the can down the road, but then Ricey wasn’t willing to miss a Carabao Cup tie for the sake of the optics. And why would he, if Gareth Southgate has promised him a call-up as soon as he can justify it in West Ham colours?
But he stirred a wave of protest from Irish footballers, led by Kevin Kilbane, and backed by James McClean and Paul McGrath and many others, including a host of League of Ireland players.
Gladwell emphasises the ‘law of the few’ — the role of a few key influencers in making sure an idea takes hold.
And our influencers were quick to reinforce the idea that the green shirt, whatever about pride and identity, must firstly be worn with total commitment. With pride and identity nice-to-haves too.
So since Ricey is almost certainly lost to us now, it might even make sense for the FAI to take this one out of Martin O’Neill’s hands, to step in and say ‘thanks but no thanks’, to wish the lad well and move on.
Because to let things drift might just tip ennui about the national team into indifference. Little things can make a big difference.
TV3 —those were the days
I notice our columnist has not changed his Twitter handle to @TommyMartinVirgin from @TommyMartinTV3 as promised, settling for @TommyMartinVM.
But we should mark, all the same, the ceremonial handover, and remember the good times TV3 have brought us from Ballymount, since 1998. Even if they are still with us in body, if not in name.
We should never forget Trevor Welch’s risky late-evening dabble with a phone-in element on Sports Tonight, which once or twice dissolved into a torrent of abuse.
We must remember Packie Bonner’s magnificent outings as an anchor of teak tough woodenness and the way Rico sometimes worried about the lack of “interdepartmental choreography” between Bohs’ defence and attack.
They are all as polished now as BBC commentator Conor McNamara’s accent, but Conor still had his native Limerick twang when he delivered this immortal line in stoppage time one Champions League night: “The trainers weren’t on the pitch at all... but of course the referee does have to take into account the minute’s silence.”
Heroes & villains
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Mayo: Always do their bit to spark a bit of old interest in the football.
George Hamilton: With the tongue for languages, nose for world capitals, eye and ear for culture, and lungs holding the nation’s breath, wouldn’t George make a better president that many on the current long list?
With no major tournament in 2025, a free run for his campaign?
Unai Emery: Took just 20 minutes of his first game to make Wenger look safety-first.
And just a little longer to paint him a dinosaur with no regard for nutrition, ridding Arsenal of the scourge of non-freshlysqueezed fruit juice.
HELL IN A HANDCART
Amazon: The online giants would be well aware of the danger of online tipping points as they build a sports streaming audience, but it’s probably pure coincidence their online review system broke down just as criticism piled up of their shambolic US Open tennis coverage.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved