Daydream Believer

LIKE Martin Luther King, I too have a dream, although I’ll grant you that mine is perhaps a little more modest than racial integration, civil rights for all and the dawn of a shining new era for humanity.

Nope, all I want is for people to be able to get together on Monday morning, at the breakfast table, on the building site, around the water cooler, wherever like-minded folk are gathered, and just discuss, debate, argue and, ideally, swoon over the football. And by football, I mean all that old-fashioned stuff like goals, saves, goalmouth incidents, near misses, last-ditch tackles, sweeping moves, great moments of skill and the odd howling error.

But instead, I fear that for the umpteenth time we’ll end up talking about what Jose had to say about what Fergie had to say about what the referee did or didn’t do. On the back pages, there’ll be plenty of Mourinho “slams” and Ferguson “fumes” and more space devoted to who won the “mind games” than who won the match. Throw in a bit of diving, a silly outbreak of “handbags”, a narrow victory by a dodgy, disputed goal and — where would we be without it? — the mandatory FA investigation, and it’ll have been another Super Sunday brought to you by “the greatest league in the world”.

Aye, try telling that to Glasgow Celtic and Werder Bremen.

Apologies for getting my retaliation in first, but Manchester United versus Chelsea comes to us burdened with so much extraneous nonsense from the long-running Premiership soap opera that you have to struggle to remind yourself that this is meeting of the top two teams in England, a game which, while hardly decisive at this early stage of the season, could yet have a significant bearing on the outcome of the title race.

And wouldn’t it be nice if Jose and Fergie came out afterwards and had nothing to talk about except the football? (Looks up, spots pigs).

Their respective moods following the week’s European setbacks don’t augur well. After Bremen, and even after qualification, Mourinho was whingeing, as usual. And when a radio reporter made bold to ask Ferguson if he was angry with his players following defeat in Glasgow, the little rascal snapped back that he was angry only at being asked such a stupid question. By God, as even harmless old Motty once found out to his cost, there’s a man who could teach Van Morrison a few media tricks.

In truth, Ferguson had reason to be angry with himself. I know that Celtic made history last week and I know that thanks to one stunning free kick, their victory over Manchester United will be remembered by all the Bhoys and Ghirls as a glorious night at Celtic Park. What won’t be recalled — since good results can generate instant revisionism — is that Celtic were atrocious in the first half and, if Wayne Rooney hadn’t been left loitering without intent out on the wing and his colleagues had generally displayed just a pinch of urgency, the home side would have been put to the sword well before the break.

As for Mourinho, for a long time I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, not least because a lot of the flak that came his and Chelsea’s way was of the same order as the bitter envy which had habitually been directed at Man U back when they were sweeping all before them. I also liked Mourinho because he was a cocky outsider whose wind-ups of the English football establishment generally seemed to be delivered with his tongue buried deep in his cheek.

With his indefensible indictment of Reading’s Stephen Hunt he crossed a line, however, an understandable concern for the safety of his goalkeeper in no way justifying his one-eyed rush to judgement and the bullying arrogance with which he completely ignored Hunt’s apology and protestations of innocence.

Frankly, if I didn’t hear another peep, let alone a moan, out of Jose, Fergie, Wenger, Rafa and the rest of them, I wouldn’t complain. Well, not for a day or two anyway. Then, I suppose, the back page would start to look pretty bare. After all, we in the media have to bear a burden of responsibility for not so much lending all this guff the oxygen of publicity as blowing it in with a bellows.

And in the process we can lose sight of the genuinely admirable things — like Ferguson’s achievement in racking up 20 years at the top in one of the most insecure jobs in the world, or Mourinho’s success in maintaining an authentic team spirit at a club where, in less capable hands, you suspect things could so easily spin out of control.

On their day, both Manchester United and Chelsea have the ambition, quality and personnel to provide a game to remember. Added to the passion of the Red and Blue faithful, the massed ranks of the ABUs and the ABCs may mean that the concept of the neutral hardly applies tomorrow but, just for once, wouldn’t it be refreshing if, on Monday morning, grudgingly or otherwise, we could all acknowledge that, yes Brian, football was indeed the winner.

Or am I just dreaming?

Home away from home

OVER lunch following the launch of the FAI’s Emerging Talent Programme the other day, the talk turned to immigration and how much of a blessing it could prove to be for Irish football.

With little sign as yet that hurling, gaelic football or even International Rules have made much of an impact in Eastern Europe or Africa, the assumption is that the soccer will be the main beneficiary of the new blood flowing into the country, setting up the lovely image of a rainbow national team doing Ireland proud in European Championships and World Cups further on down the line.

A word to the wise, however – it might be a good idea if we all agree to keep quiet about the granny rule, eh? Our little secret, no need for anyone else to know, etc.

A modest question

STIRRING performances in Europe, the title up for grabs on the last night of the season, better, fitter players and a good deal of quality football, at least around the top of the table everyone agrees that full-time professionalism has reaped dividends on the pitch in the eircom League.

At the same time, this season big clubs have struggled financially and, with a couple of notable exceptions, bums on seats are still in short supply.

Which begs the simple question: can the domestic game actually afford to be as good as it wants to be? Just asking…

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