“We are time’s subjects and time bids be gone,” wrote Shakespeare — the other one, not Craig at the King Power Stadium.
But Ole at Old Trafford has pleaded for more time, according to the headlines, even if there is not much indication, from the quotes, that Ole has yet gotten down on his hands and knees. Ole has been promised more time, others tell us, which sounds very much like our old friend, the dreaded vote of confidence.
Roy Keane was ready to fight Jamie Carragher on live TV for more time for Ole. And fans of other Premier League clubs are pretty unanimous in their generosity when it comes to wishing Ole as much time as he wants.
Ole himself sounded like a man wrestling with all the big questions following this week’s home defeat by Burnley.
“There’s loads of thoughts going through my mind, of course, on why we’re stood here now talking about this.”
There is a lot to unpack, as they say, in that six-marker. But in this restless world, our focus is time.
Does Ole deserve more time? Does deserve come into it? Is more time any use to Ole? After all, the reclamation of Manchester United’s perch isn’t the kind of project you can complete in 5,000 words if only you were given special dispensation for one more all-nighter.
Is it wise to give anyone more time to travel in the wrong direction? Won’t it just take you longer to get back?
Then again, this is not quite a race against the clock. There’s no deadline.
Who says United need to be restored to their ‘rightful place’ any time soon?
Does time even exist? The B-theory of time tells us there is no past, present, and future, that the flow of time is an illusion. Or, as Phil Neville put it after the Burnley embarrassment, “we are where we are”.
But thehas made up its mind. “Every day without change is a wasted one,” Ian Herbert admonished, after the paper snapped United ‘stars’ arriving to be ‘pampered’ at a Cheshire spa the morning after their latest ignominy. Further evidence the ‘narrative’ has swung wildly away from Ole now. That he can’t even fall back on ‘United’s values’.
He probably lost the narrative for good the evening he detected progress in City having to put out a full team to thrash them in the League Cup.
It drifts further away from him every time a United midfielder hesitates and knocks the ball sideways or backwards.
Of course Ole’s appointment in the first place was an attempt to turn back time. And he did what was asked, took the wheel, rebooted the club, restored dignity, flushed toxicity, lent them back the soul they’d sold to Mourinho.
If time does exist, that truly was Ole’s time. A beautiful spring romance electrified by a night in Paris and a dubious handball.
Had he cashed in his chips then and handed over a revitalised institution to somebody like Poch, the apprentice would have shown something of the same sense of timing as the master, who bailed at precisely the right moment.
Ole could have forever traded on one of the great cameos, up there with Alec Baldwin’s one-scene stormer in.
But pundits like Rio Ferdinand announced that Manchester United were back and demanded that Ole be given whatever he wanted and all the time he needed. And United chief executive Ed Woodward duly offered Ole a three-year contract.
Alas, there are no more three-year projects. Something fundamental has changed about the cult of the gaffer.
It is probably all down to Klopp and Guardiola and their piercing certainty about where it is they are going, even if they’re not always sure how long it’s supposed to take.
Momentum has become the new time. The modern gaffer must approach his task like a climate emergency. There’s no precise deadline for saving the world but you need to constantly convince people you’ve turned things round and are moving in the right direction.
While the gaffers are not entirely prisoners of results, they are certainly at the mercy of the narrative. Men like Sarri, Emery, Moyes, and eventually even Poch, were unable to keep the narrative on course. To convince everyone the grand plan was on track, or that there even was a grand plan.
And it seems the players need convincing as much as the fans. The Premier League has become a skittish place, with nobody outside the top three capable of stringing a couple of performances together. Perhaps because the option is always close at hand to change the manager. And to accept that we are where we are.
In a fairer world, every gaffer would get a four or five-year stint to put their ideas into practice, like a political term in office. Within that cycle, footballers might have to take more responsibility for the trajectory of their own careers.
But then, what have those political leaders on five-year terms ever done to save the world? They’d likely just win a League Cup in an election year — and promise a transfer warchest in the next window.
The downside, for Ed Woodward, of appointing a club legend is that the heat deflects elsewhere. On Wednesday night, sections of Old Trafford suggested Woodward join the Glazers on a bonfire. And Rio Ferdinand is making more demands, warning that kids aren’t wearing United shirts any more.
A dip in merch profits would certainly focus minds. All of which suggests Woodward may soon become more concerned with his own narrative than his gaffer’s. And the CEO has already been active in the window.
Weeks after he presented his last Sky Sportsshow, which featured the customary United inquest, Neil Ashton has left journalism to become a PR consultant. His first client is Manchester United.
“I want to change perception of not only himself (Woodward) but the ownership of the club,” Ashton says.
The usual story: if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
Shortcut to the magical 110%
The Six Nations looms, affording us fresh opportunities more or less daily to replenish our personal stocks of motivational jargon.
We already note, from Ireland U20 boss Noel McNamara’s opening gambits, that the Irish youngsters will be looking to maximise all the ‘zero-talent moments’.
But he also provided a gem of wisdom that can be applied across all sports, in the ongoing search for performance gains.
Asked about the levels of pressure and responsibility his young charges would have to carry, McNamara confirmed he had done the maths and would be asking each of his 37-man squad to take ownership of just 2.7% of their Six Nations’ fate, which doesn’t sound too onerous at all.
All known experience suggests there will be a few candidates ready to round that down to 2.5%, but the vast majority will surely go the extra mile and take fully 3% on their shoulders.
And by my calculations, that should take them close enough to the magical 110% every team needs.
Expect similar number crunching soon in a dressing room near you.
Giant strides for the GAA
There will be many unintended consequences of the new Gaelic football rules. Glaring loopholes for cynicism and chicanery that nobody has yet contemplated.
On thethis week, Tony McEntee identified one such anomaly; that you would be better off taking a red card than a black late in a game. Go to the sin-bin and your team will be short-handed into extra-time, but get sent off and they are back to 15.
That sounds a potential health and safety issue next time a forward has to be ‘unceremoniously’ hauled down.
Thankfully, at least clarifications have arrived on the advanced mark.
So now we know a forward who catches the ball in the large parallelogram is entitled to four steps without anyone laying a finger on him.
Another boost for the big man — or at least a promising route to goal for the man with the giant stride.