Sport Soccer

Monday 25 September 2017

Great pretender masters fine art of retrospective prediction

Dion Fanning

M any of you will be familiar with the Louis CK riff 'Everything's amazing and nobody's happy'.

In it he talks about the ingratitude of the modern world and recalls sitting beside a man on a plane which had high-speed internet access. After some time of flying miraculously in the air while equally miraculously being online 30,000 feet above ground, the internet crashes. "This is bullshit," the man beside him says. As Louis CK says, "How quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only ten seconds ago."

The Aston Villa fans making their heartfelt pleas for Gerard Houllier to be dismissed will be written off by some as part of this modern phenomenon for immediate dissatisfaction. They are not. Firstly because nothing is amazing at Aston Villa and that's why nobody's happy and, secondly, because they are doing us all a service.

Houllier may have felt emboldened by the fallout from Richard Dunne's trip to Champney's to issue a new code of discipline at Villa but he is always essentially working with the same material.

George Best would retire to Champney's when he needed to get away from things. He went to a place that offered pampering but also a fully stocked bar. It was rehab without all the incessant demands of rehab like sobriety or a programme of recovery.

George would enjoy the beneficial effects of the sauna and maybe even a swim, while there was always a drink at hand, perhaps even a glass of champagne on arrival.

And it was at Champney's that Richard Dunne, unfortunately having availed of the complimentary drinks, delivered some home truths about Houllier's regime.

Dunne might have been right but there has been a backlash from Houllier which has seen the implementation of a strict code of conduct. This is said to have alienated several senior players, among them Dunne.

It could be that it is just Houllier who has irritated the several senior players, not the code of conduct which is a convenient distraction from the real business: the business of Houllier and his bullshit.

The Villa fans who unfurl their banners are taking a stand against this, taking on his methods aware, as they are, of the man's incredible capacity for survival.

After all, we are dealing with a man who is capable of taking credit for something he had nothing to do with: Liverpool's victory in Istanbul. He can simultaneously distance himself from events in which he was centrally involved: France's catastrophic World Cup last summer. At the time he was technical director of the French Football Federation.

After Villa's defeat to Wolves last weekend, he remarked, "I knew the first goal would be important." Wolves had scored the first goal, the only goal, but Houllier was up to his old tricks, retrospectively making predictions, even one as utterly hopeless as that.

He seems determined to make another one come true. When he rested players for the FA Cup game at Manchester City, he said it was to concentrate on the relegation battle. At the time, most didn't see Villa as a team in the relegation battle but now, after losing their last two league games, they are. He is probably bursting to talk about this foresight.

Instead he points out that he has never been booed before and a simpatico board member praises his body language. Meanwhile, another board member General Charles Krulak enters further into Dr Strangelove territory and calls on the players to "kick the crap" out of their opponents. When they do, Houllier will have seen it coming.

* * * * *

Anybody who cares about the future of Scottish football will have felt saddened by the appearance of Mr Craig Levein, the manager of Scotland, on our screens last week.

Levein had taken his side away to La Manga for a bonding trip and gave an interview in which he explained the purpose of the trip.

There would, he said, be karaoke. There was clearly golf as the obligatory shots of vaguely recognisable players who probably have about 300 caps between them teeing off told us.

Scotland play Brazil in a friendly today and there would have been a time when everybody just getting to London in time for kick-off would have been enough.

There would have been a time when the bonding was self-explanatory and tolerated, especially as Scotland would then have gone out and played with inventiveness and imagination before slumping finally to heroic defeat.

The result will be the same today but the manner of it will be different.

Levein is a cerebral man and he is trying to find another way. This involves giving interviews explaining what takes place on a bonding session when the traditional bonding sessions were invented by Scottish pioneers like Jim Baxter.

Baxter would not need the purpose of a few days in La Manga explained to him. He would understand it from the moment he arrived at the airport until the moment he returned home three days later having slept on the beach. He would have been fully bonded, not only with his team-mates but with the gods.

Levein is trying something else, experimenting with formations that involve no strikers and tactics that involve no attacking play.

Off the field, Scottish football is still coming to terms with the great 'Boozegate' scandal when Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor chose to drink at the right time following a defeat to Holland and continued to consider it the right time when they remained drinking the following lunchtime.

Boozegate has led to much anguish and examination. Scottish football has lost the instinctive geniuses and all their best players now play for Ireland. They are self-conscious about all that made them great and all that simultaneously undermines them. They search for a new path. They talk sadly of 'Boozegate'. Once they just called it 'Saturday night'.

dfanning@independent.ie

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