Enda McEvoy: Devil in the detail for Manchester United

Really, the illustration says it all. Drinan at his very best. The Red Devils led by football’s ultimate Mephistophelean figure. (“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.”) An accompanying column is almost superfluous. Self-publicists make their own importance.

Still, the mindboggling possibility exists that despite the orgy of comment, speculation and surmise that enveloped the sporting world this past week, one or two small points may have been overlooked. Let’s have a go.

The shriek of contradictions is what continues to stagger. Perfect fits – man for club, club for man - are perfect only in retrospect, naturally, but the jagged edges and knobbly bits of this pairing screamed to high heaven even while the image rights were being haggled over.

A club that’s been English football’s most enduring incubator of talent for the past 60 years. A man who could have tried building an empire by way of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne but chose not to because that would have taken time and patience.

A club whose resident icons are Best, Law, Charlton, Cantona, Giggs and of late – junior icons, they-might-be-icons – Martial and Rashford. Who were/are all attacking players. A man most associated with a club whose resident icon is John Terry. Who is, well, John Terry.

A club whose then manager told his players, when trailing at half-time in the 1948 FA Cup final, to “keep playing football”. A man who told his players before a Champions League semi-final to keep kicking the ball away.

A club who like to view themselves as the football equivalent of Chateau Margaux.

A man whose last club constitute the football equivalent of whatever blingy, absurdly expensive champagne the rappers are swigging these days.

Enda McEvoy: Devil in the detail for Manchester United  

There’s Mourinho’s age, which may prove to be more of a knobble than one might assume. History indicates that even the toppest-shelf managers have a lifespan of a decade or so.

Twelve years have passed since Mourinho won the Champions League with Porto.

Then there’s the memory of the tackiness, nay, sheer nastiness, of the Eva Carneiro episode. Imagine – if you will or if you can - Donal O’Grady or John Allen or Jimmy trying that on with Dr Con. They wouldn’t have lost the dressing room so much as been chased from it on the spot by their enraged, hurley-wielding charges.

Chelsea FC didn’t bat an eyelid. Of course they didn’t. Class and taste and a sense of morality are not commodities that can be purchased.

Yet one wonders if for all their aspirations to traditional values the Old Trafford board - or any other board - would react any differently in this day and age of Sky Sports and club sponsors and principal partners and the New York Stock Exchange. Or is it that there’ll be no Carneiro repeat because our ageing canine will learn new tricks, our middleaged leopard will change his spots, or whatever animal metaphor you’re having yourself?

Yeah, right.

For the supporters, one other factor merits consideration. Paul MacInnes was good in the Guardian during the week about the contradiction between what might be termed Old Fans – the ones who’ve heard of, say, Bill Foulkes and Stuart Pearson – and New Fans. The former now see their club “becoming just another mega-brand and, what’s more, one that chooses a former rival, a short-termist and a coach who shares none of their on-field values being chosen ahead of Ryan Giggs, a legend who has been with the club since he was 14. But, like I said, these fans don’t amount to much.” That, MacInnes argued was because out there “are many millions more Man Utd fans who do want Mourinho in. Who want the unending drama that the Portuguese guarantees; the insults, the mind games, the histrionics. Oh and the trophies. Mourinho brings titles, and that’s a fact. Millions of Manchester United fans won’t settle for anything less.”

A gentleman from Clonmel who’s been supporting Man U for as long as he’s been reading the Examiner put it nicely on Wednesday morning. “We had nowhere else to go and he had nowhere else to go. It’s a marriage of needs must.” Should the gamble go wrong an intriguing vista - and for Old Trafford loyalists a potential doomsday scenario – emerges. May United have had their onions in terms of great managers?

They had Matt Busby, he of half-time in 1948 and the man without whom etc etc, followed a couple of generations later by Alex Ferguson. It’s not quite the Liverpool of old in terms of seamless succession – Shankly to Paisley to Fagan to Dalglish is a run surely unprecedented in the annals of the sport – but these were two figures cast from bronze.

It took United the guts of two decades to find a suitable successor for Busby, such was the shadow he cast. It’s not a leap to at least admit the possibility of history repeating itself.

The real winners in all of this? Sky Sports. Milton’s Satan at United, the saintly Pep across town and Klopp purveying heavy metal at Anfield. The squillions Sky shelled out on the new TV deal looks a bargain.

As for Manchester United – well, like Paul MacInnes says, the New Fans won’t mind too much and don’t need our worries anyway. The Old Fans are the ones you fear for.

Momentum gathering

To Croke Park for Club Limerick (Dublin)’s annual championship preview fundraiser. The place is bursting with notable Treaty men domiciled on Liffeyside. Paul Stapleton, Eamon ‘Ned’ Rea, Harry Keane, Hugh Hynes and a hundred others.

The organisation’s Limerick Person of the Year award goes to Tim O’Connor, a native of Killeedy, formerly Irish consul general in New York and currently vice-chairman of Global Limerick, a group reaching out to the county’s diaspora around the world.

O’Connor makes for enlightening listening. He talks of the connection to the home place. He cites “the extraordinary power of Irish America”. The Gathering, he says, was a huge success because of what he terms the power of invitation. Over 7,000 jobs have been created in Limerick in three years as a result of people and organisations working together.

All very GAAesque. And on that point, he adds, do not underestimate the importance of the role the GAA plays around the world. Ar scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine alright.

Heroes and villains

Stairway to Heaven.

Archie O’Leary:

Great rugby man, great horsey man (he owned Florida Pearl), great sportsman, great Cork man, great character. May he rest in peace.

Hell in a handcart.

Hibernians:

Sunshine on Leith after 114 years but a pity about the celebrations. Not that Rangers are any club to be condemning another for winning a cup, invading the pitch and generally behaving like morons, mind you.


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