HERE’S an authentic text exchange which took place between myself and a fellow football fanatic last Monday morning.
Me: “Do you be findin’ that the days do be awful long all of a sudden?”
Him: “Yes. It’s terrible. Life is meaningless.”
Me: “Not like you to err on the side of understatement.”
Ah, those damn post-World Cup blues. But then, a whole 12 hours had elapsed since Andres Iniesta had done the business for Spain so you can understand that the withdrawal symptoms were already kicking in with a vengeance.
There aren’t any obvious solutions. The tournament wall-chart, all poignantly filled in now, remains up on the back of the living room door but something – or, rather someone – tells me that it’s unlikely to survive four more years until Rio. And a small person, claiming to be my daughter if you don’t mind, approached me the other day asking if Dora The Explorer would be back on the telly having completed that month-long prison sentence for drug-smuggling I’d told her about.
You do your best to get back in the saddle, of course, but even the pleasing sight of the Hoops back in Europe the other night was not entirely free from South African associations. It turned out that Bnei Yehuda goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba had been Nigeria’s second-choice at the World Cup, a designation at least partly explained when, at one point in Tallaght on Thursday evening, he allowed a backpass to roll under his foot and was obliged to scurry back in panic to avoid humiliation.
Still, I suppose there’s nothing quite like the proximity of bum and bacon slicer to concentrate the mind.
Earlier the same day, we’d spent an enjoyable 45 minutes or so in the company of Mick McCarthy at Carton House in Kildare, the training base for his Wolves team who play Bohemians at Dalymount Park this afternoon.
Mick, of course, was himself hotfoot back from South Africa where his dulcet ones had been heard supplying wit and wisdom to the BBC’s coverage.
But, as a Premier League manager – and not one of those likely to be putting in a bid for Iniesta or Ozil or Forlan any time soon – it clearly hadn’t taken McCarthy long to get himself out of a World Cup frame of mind.
Asked if he’d learnt anything that might be applicable to the day job, he thought for a bit and replied: “No, not really. It’s still about being organised, being hard to beat and the first port of call is not to concede a goal. I didn’t see too many brilliant free-kicks, didn’t see any shapes or systems I hadn’t seen before. I did see Spain winning the World Cup with one up front. We play that, though it’s much maligned at times. But most of the teams played that way, and controlled midfield.”
However, McCarthy reckons there’s still a place for ye olde 4-4-2.
“Ireland play wingers and they do well, nearly qualified for World Cup, were knocked out by default. There are variations of playing the system. Ireland would have fared well in South Africa because they are well organised. Trapattoni has got a way of playing. His wingers come inside, play narrow and they are hard to beat.”
Did the former Ireland skipper and manager take pleasure in the self-destruction of the French? “When Anelka was sent home, I said they should have waited three days and all gone home together. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Was the final a victory for the good guys over the bad? “I don’t share the sense of dismay that the Dutch tried to stop Spain playing with the system they play but I don’t condone the tactics that went on. I watched Switzerland against Spain. They did it with no badness, no nastiness, just a real, solid defensive performance. I said at the time that Spain can’t just turn up and beat everybody. I felt Holland were better than that. I was disappointed. I thought Holland could have made more of a game of it. It was the same with Portugal, who didn’t try a leg against Spain. I had a chew at Ronaldo but I could see his frustration; he just didn’t get a kick and must have felt ‘why bother?’”
A few quickies. Goal-line technology? “No doubt it should be there. The hardest thing in football is to score goals. You pay millions for top players, you work every day trying to score, and when they put the ball in the net, it’s not a goal. What a pile of nonsense. It’s a no-brainer.”
Apres Ghana, the ‘penalty goal’? “No. It’s not in the net. If I’m asking for it to be a goal when the ball is over the line, it can’t be a goal if it’s not over the line. Ghana got a penalty, should have scored, didn’t and went home. End of story.”
Okay, here’s an easy one. Is there a crisis in English football? “(Big smile) Three weeks ago we had to have German cars, German lawnmowers, and bratwurst was better than sausages, now it’s all paella, sangria and rioja. The Premiership is still intact and everyone still thinks it’s a good league. So only 38% of players are English? Okay, well all they’ve got to do is get shut of us, the Spanish, the Paddies and the Jocks.”
From bratwurst and paella to, well, bum and bacon slicer. Mick McCarthy has already made the smooth transition. It might just take a little longer for some of the rest of us to catch up.
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