Will the bargain have been worth it when Faust calls in the loan?
For an hour or two on Tuesday night Manchester City’s week was almost bearable. Liverpool were back in Madrid, the scene of last June’s glory, and unable to get a shot on target, such was the ruthless diligence with which the hosts — their antithesis as a unit and therefore the more dangerous — defended.
“A horrible team,” Liam Brady declared pithily afterwards. Playing Atletico must be akin to playing handball against a cliff face. About as unyielding and the ball always keeps coming back.
Granted, Liverpool are Europe’s finest and their fans are entitled to believe they’ll find a way at Anfield.
Still: A 1-0 deficit against Atletico and their unlovely brand of asymmetric warfare or a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona, Messi or not? Give me the 3-0 any time.
And then Wednesday evening came and the Ghost of Tony Book tapped Manchester City on the shoulder and gave them a look at their future.
At home to West Ham in a half-empty Etihad while Europe went about its business elsewhere.
Oh the glamour. Oh the relevance. Oh the swathes of sky-blue seats.
It is a cautionary tale for the ages. Being Richer than God, as David Conn put it in his fascinating book of that title, wasn’t sufficient for City. They had to go and allegedly cook the books as well.
It was good news for the papers, who had their fun last Sunday by linking random City players to random clubs. Newspapers rarely miss such open goals.
Don Balon, a Spanish website of dubious reliability, even got in on the act by touting De Bruyne and Laporte for Liverpool. Which is so going to happen.
It was downright joyous news for the upper-middle order in the worst Premier League for a decade. The race — in reality a slow bicycle race — for fourth place has become the race for fifth place, contested by a bunch so uniformly terrible it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Arsenal could put a run together and mount a late charge.
Naturally City, with all the arrogance of the newly moneyed, saw it differently. A conspiracy against their Abu Dhabi owners! A cabal of established Champions League clubs scared of the Manchester arrivistes!
Uefa acted as judge, jury and executioner!
On that last point, who exactly did City expect to be the people wearing the horsehair wigs? The GAA? The CCCC? The Cork County Board? The Champions League is a Uefa competition. Their game, their rules, their punishments.
The ravings of City fans on Twitter can be safely ignored — and incidentally let’s not kid ourselves that the supporters of any other club who’d sold out to an unpleasant petro-state and gorged themselves silly on the proceeds wouldn’t be stamping their feet in precisely the same fashion on seeing their toys taken away.
Social media has made — or remade — fanatics of fans and unleashed their raging inner paranoiac, previously none too well concealed in many cases.
A pundit says something less than thoroughly complimentary about your club? Self-evidently he Has An Agenda.
Not that Manchester City are dead camel meat yet, not least because their owners come from a part of the world where when a regime objects to a journalist, they don’t — unlike the man who is now self-identifying as the chief law enforcement officer of the US — vent their spleen by trolling him on Twitter and leaving it at that.
In a chillingly mordant piece in the Guardian the other day Jonathan Liew pointed out that back in 2011 a group of prominent Abu Dhabi citizens wrote to the regime calling for modest reforms (the extension of the franchise to more than the current two per cent of the population, that kind of way-out thing).
Cue the arrest of most of the letter’s signatories, deemed to be terrorists bent on overthrowing the regime, and the imposition of heavy prison sentences, with a new law enacted that reframed peaceful opposition as a terrorist act punishable by death.
“Now,” declared Liew. “Does this strike you as a group of people that is going to be intimidated by the fine print of Article 56, section (a) of the 2018 edition of Uefa’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations?” Quite.
Two questions stick out for City fans, and City fans only, to answer. First, instead of criticising Uefa, how about criticising the club’s hierarchy for getting it so badly wrong? Even if they win the appeal, the tag of Mancheater City will follow them forever and a day.
Secondly, the existential bit. The ban is upheld, Sterling et al depart in search of Champions League football, relative mediocrity kicks in and City end up slightly higher than where they began: In other words, Faust calls in the loan. Will the bargain have been worth it?
All those trophies, hitherto inaccessible? All that glorious football? Silva’s sorcery? Aguero’s goals? The gliding majesty of De Bruyne? The rock-hewn decency of Kompany? Surely.
And now a question for United fans. The Glazers sell up to new owners who immediately splash out on Mbappe, Werner, Haaland, Grealish and John Egan. The glory days return. Liverpool are knocked off their effing perch again. City become a memory.
The new owners are Saudi Arabia. Deal, guys?
Is Bono what Ireland were looking for?
In the event that Ireland crash and burn at Twickenham there’s already an obvious scapegoat. Bono.
What in the name of God was Oasis diehard Andy Farrell (“Faz” — ugh) thinking of? Had he brought in one of the Gallagher brothers to discourse on the topic of second-generation Irishness it would have been a blast.
The Gallagher would have cussed away for 15 minutes, then hauled everyone along to the pub. Ideal preparation for a Triple Crown decider.
But no, instead he brought in Bono to maunder on about “Irishness”. If Faz’s lot look slightly dazed and a little slow off the mark on Sunday we’ll know why.
It was an obvious and unanticipated gift to the sub-editors of the nation.
Expect Monday’s papers to include copious references to Ireland finding/not finding what they were looking for in London, ho ho.
What did Bono say anyway?
Did he gather the four lads from the three-quarter line together and advise one of them to stay front and centre while the rest hung around doing very little? Or extol the joys of rugby tours, especially ones to the Netherlands, a land with interesting benefits for wealthy foreigners? Or advise the players to keep going for as long as they could, no matter if the world reckoned they should have called it a day years ago? It could have been worse, mind. At least he didn’t sing to them. That would have been Bad.
Heroes and Villains
Canoe guy who in July will become only the second Irishman to compete in the C1 category at an Olympics. Based in France, having been brought up in Ballyvaughan, County Clare.
Distressing reports of “unrugbylike” behaviour in this preposterously overhyped competition that’s sublimely irrelevant to the inhabitants of the Real Ireland. Apparently a number of the fans are ghastly, affluent, self-entitled, foul-mouthed teenage snobs who’d greatly benefit from a week or two spent getting up at 6am to milk the cows.