Casting reason (and boring books) aside

“Sure there’s a catch, Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.” — Joseph Heller, Catch-22

About 10 years ago I passed on a tome called How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read to my friend Kieran, an ardent bibliophile.

It was — it could only have been — written by a French philosopher and its premise was arresting. You don’t need to get yourself worked up reading books — being aware of their place in the canon is sufficient — and don’t be afraid of flinging aside a book you’re not enjoying.

Useful advice. I needed it for Hard Times, a stone tablet of my Leaving Cert course which bored me to tears and had the unfortunate effect of putting me off Dickens for ever more.

For The Alchemist, appalling cod-mystic nonsense by Paulo Coelho beloved of actors and models determined to appear ‘deep’.

For The Sea, a turgid pretext for John Banville to show off his large vocabulary (Cormac McCarthy does this so much better — come to think of it, even yer man Benjamin Black is superior to Banville). And for Catch-22, the only book I’ve tried twice and failed with twice, giving up halfway through on both occasions.

Ah yes, Catch-22. The phrase didn’t originally mean what it’s commonly employed for today, a situation in which both alternatives are bad as each other.

But it did spring to mind the other day on seeing that the Premier League chairmen are due at their next meeting to discuss a proposal to close the transfer window before the season starts rather than at the end of August.

It’s an eminently sensible notion. It would have prevented Jurgen Klopp’s plans being compromised by the Philippe Coutinho/Barcelona saga.

It would have meant Spurs had their business done and dusted by the end of July, albeit at the cost of depriving Daniel Levy of his beloved Deadline Day supermarket sweep. It would have allowed Everton to sign Gylfi Sigurdsson weeks ago (the £45m fee would still be outlandish, but that’s another story).

It would put a premium on prudence and good planning and might even militate against preposterous transfer fees.

It’s so eminently sensible, in fact, you’d need to be really crazy to object to it, which means it has no hope of being passed. These people prefer to live in a madhouse, and there is no bigger, louder or more lucre-ridden madhouse than the Premier League.

Norms of common sense are not so much ignored as shredded. Hitherto sensible middle-aged men become
infantilised. One shudders to think of what it does to the not very sensible 20-year-olds. On second thoughts, we know already. Glamour models, baby Bentleys, watches with faces the size of clocks, and sex and sleaze court cases.

Last weekend, following a summer in which transfer fees became ever more bonkers, the madness began all over again. Naturally, it didn’t disappoint.

The world record for the earliest “Wenger Out” very nearly broken at the Emirates until Arsenal’s late comeback. Fair play, incidentally, to Wenger for appearing to have solved his own Catch-22 quandary over Alexis Sanchez. Liverpool again transformed into a wobbling jelly when the other crowd sling the ball into the box. Klopp has only had a year and a half to solve this problem.

Steve McManaman declaring of Kyle Walker: “We know he can defend, but what’s he like going forward?” To the uninitiated, this is the equivalent of questioning Diarmuid Connolly’s creative and finishing talents while lauding his defensive ethic.

Chelsea fans singing “Spend some fucking money” after the defeat by Burnley. This is already the home and hosed winner of the Unconscious Irony of the Season award, not least because the club had already splashed out £124m on three players. Roman Abramovich had better tread softly; while he may know people, Antonio Conte is emphatically not a man to be trifled with. I’d sooner mess with Joe Pesci. (“Funny how, Roman? How am I funny?”)

As for the benighted Chelsea fans, what a pity the time machine has not yet been invented that will take most of them back to the early 1980s and force them to watch Micky Droy, John Bumstead, and Dale Jasper doing their thing in front of average
attendances of 13,000 in a dump of a stadium.

Disturbingly, even one of those aforementioned middle-aged pillars of respectability fell victim to the prevailing
climate. What was Chris Hughton thinking of with that Fu Manchu moustache?

Amid all the giddiness here was something downright comforting in witnessing West Brom, with 30% possession against Bournemouth, win 1-0 with the inevitable headed goal from the inevitable set piece, this particular one nodded home by — inevitably — a 6’5’’ centre-back. How
ineffably West Brom. How
ineffably Tony Pulis.

Let us give thanks for Pulis, an island of stolid predictability in a sea of insanity. There is actually a kind of genius to the man, an elevated sense of self-awareness and knowledge of one’s own limitations, that is as transcendent as anything we’ll see this season from a lightning Manchester City counter-attacking move involving De Bruyne, Sane, Jesus, Silva and Aguero. Tony Pulis voted Brexit. You just know it.

The Premier League chairmen meet in London on September 7. A two-thirds majority will be required to bring forward the end of the transfer window. It won’t happen. You just know that too.

Six months after I gave Kieran my copy of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, by the by, I asked him if he’d enjoyed it.

“I didn’t read it,” he replied.


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