It’s been said that if your romantic relationship can survive race week in Galway, well, it’s a union worth pursuing, such are the potential pitfalls on the track and in the snugs of those hallowed, cobbled streets.
The same can now be said of November in the Premier League.
Watford, Everton, Arsenal, and Spurs all recently bade farewell to managers, who, at different junctures during their respective tenures were hailed as miracle workers and messiahs, before departing as false prophets.
Heaven knows what goes on behind the scenes at clubs regarding the decision-making process to stick or twist, but, like most big business, probably a lot less than we think.
The financial implications of a salary pay-off to a sacked gaffer seem, in the bottomless money pit that is the Premier League, the least of anyone’s concerns.
Having a readymade alternative is a luxury few teams can afford.
Take the recently employed Jose Mourinho for example; for all the self-praise and impressive back catalogue of hits, his most attractive ability was his actual availability when the London side came knocking.
Disposing of your manager mid-race — much like breaking up with somebody — is a perilous business. It’s a nuclear, irreversible option.
So if you’re having doubts, it’s best to get it done before Christmas, because if things are already heading south, prolonging a dying relationship over the festive season will only accelerate the rot, and cost you many league points/potential hookups with old flames.
So, that’s the ‘why’. Next, it’s all about the ‘who’.
Well, not everybody can be Spurs. In order to navigate through the choppy post-break-up waters, most will turn to an old reliable until they’re certain of their next step.
Someone they feel they can trust and who has their best interests at heart. A steady hand. Someone like Mike Phelan of Manchester United.
Phelan is not just a caretaker manager — he is the Tony Bennett of caretaker managers.
It may sound harsh, but you’re never going to fall for these guys. You’ll love them, sure. Just not in ‘that way’.
And even when they tell you they love you, you’ll smile, kiss their forehead, and thank them.
Take Tony Parkes, who took the reins as caretaker manager at Blackburn Rovers on six separate occasions between 1986 and 2004, without ever being offered the top job.
Tony, you’d guess, knew better than to push things.
Not so Newcastle United’s John Carver.
On the face of it, Carver was perfect caretaker material — a fairly affable chap who was as popular in the dressing room as he was in the tearoom, he assumed the role of holding the club’s hand as it recovered from its acrimonious break-up with bad-boy southerner Alan Pardew back in 2015.
Misreading the warmth of the Tyneside faithful for love, Carver committed the classic Icarus folly of flying too close to the sun.
Tired of being viewed as a rebound, the time was right, he felt, for him to be be taken seriously; “I still think I am the best coach in the Premier League ...”, he told a bemused press conference, insisting he was the right man for the job.
This declaration came after guiding the club to eight points from a possible 48.
Newcastle allowed him to finish the season, before telling him they just needed some space, to, you know, figure some stuff out.
They hooked up with Steve McClaren the very next day, afterwards denying to friends that the Carver fling ever happened.
The job of the caretaker manager as perfected by Phelan requires not just a perceived loyalty to the club crest, but also a duplicity which can only be honed by experience.
You can picture Phelan in Solskjaer’s office saying: “dead right gaffa!” as the Norwegian outlines a new formation, while rolling his eyes to the players as Ole makes a mess of explaining it to Pogba and co.
It’s knife-edge, House of Cards stuff that few can master, but the “all things to all men” act ultimately ensures that, when Solskjaers goes to the gallows, which he most definitely will, good old Mike Phelan will step in and guide United through a few league games and a dodgy cup tie away to Rochdale, before handing the keys back.
What must he make then, of the new wave of caretakers, namely Big Duncan Ferguson at Everton and that handsome Freddie Ljungberg at Arsenal?
They, like Phelan, were beloved players at the clubs they now manage, and despite mixed early results on the pitch, both enjoy that “you just get me” vibe that comes with being the rebound.
Ferguson’s celebratory hugging of the ball boy last weekend as his side overcame Chelsea was straight from the caretaker manager’s handbook, specifically ‘Chapter 2: Winning Hearts and Minds’, as told by the late Liverpool legend Ronnie Moran.
As for Freddie? For all the good vibes, few among Arsenal’s demanding fanbase see him as a qualified enough candidate to manage such a potentially big club.
So, does he mind his manners and hang tough, remain loyal and watch as his eye gets wiped by some seasoned pro like Roberto Martinez, who, he knows, will ultimately fail, leaving the door open for him again?
Or, does he John Carver it, and make the lunge, knowing a miss will end him?
History suggests patience may be the best approach. For every Chris Hughton, there are a dozen John Carvers.
This festive football period is one all the caretakers should drink deep and enjoy, as it’s likely as good as it gets.
What next for Tom Brady?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 42 years old.
He has won six Super Bowls for his team, and in an American sports media consumed with the Greatest Of All Time debate, he has a stronger shout than most.
He recently put his house up for sale. He has previously insisted that he will continue playing into his mid-forties.
Brady is famously competitive and attributes much of his longevity to a self-care regime which includes dynamic massages and, well, water.
He also has a personal therapist with a backstory that reads shadier than an already shady character from Better Call Saul.
Not for the first time in his storied career, his team look unlikely to feature at the business end of an NFL season that has seen the return of once-powerful franchises: the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.
These are two teams inspired by quarterbacks having defining seasons, particularly the sensational Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who, 20 years younger than Brady, looks to be playing a game from another planet.
Brady is struggling for form, and with a supporting cast decimated by injuries, the writing is on the wall that in the Tom v Time matchup, the mortal Brady is finally waning.
Which will make the last few weeks of the regular season gripping to watch.
If this is it for Brady, he will not go quietly.
In Bill Belichick, he has a coach who thrives when written off — in the same way Brian Cody always has — and is capable of turning the team’s kicker into a Hall of Fame blocker between here and Super Bowl, such is his alchemy.
If Brady pulls it off, it could be his greatest achievement, and the perfect off-ramp for a glorious career.
If he doesn’t, expect the ‘for sale’ sign to come down.
New year, new hope for counties
“It’s been a long December,” sang Counting Crows, “and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last”.
Will it, though?
The hope that the Dublin County Board might go for broke and somehow appoint Minister Shane Ross as the next manager of the Dublin senior footballers, thus giving the chasing pack a chance, went up in sky blue smoke with the appointment of Dessie Farrell this week.
It seemed to confirm the thesis that a succession plan to follow Jim Gavin had long been in place.
Juxtapose this level of forward-thinking against a plethora of counties whose executives are experiencing chronic winters of discontent, as if somehow contaminated by magic dust spread by the FAI, and it suddenly becomes safe to assume that if Dublin are to relinquish their crown, it will be surrendered on the field, and not off it.
Farrell follows Gavin as a first-time inter-county manager, hewn from the same granite as his one-time team-mate.
Holding up is latest unsuccessful stint as manager of club side Na Fianna as a reason to believe is strawclutching Jeremy Corbyn would be proud of.
It remains unclear which players, if any, will follow Gavin off the stage and on to the Mount Rushmore of Hill 16, but safe to assume he’ll have already made his phone calls.
The onus is now on the chasing pack — few in number— to not just stop them, but alter the course of a history that looks to be already written in bold blue ink.
The odds are stacked, but with a new year, for 31 other sides, comes new hope.
Without it, we’d all be lost.