Thursday 19 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Poor ould Jose, tormented by the talent of youth'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The definitive line about the grave situation at Old Trafford came last week in a tweet from the eminent gastroenterologist Dr Anthony O'Connor - who described a school carol service which he attended.

The children were all obliged to wear red, which gave O'Connor an insight into the football demographics of Ireland and probably of the world in general at this time. He noted that roughly 80pc of the kids in fifth and sixth class wore Manchester United shirts, with a few Liverpool and Arsenal. The third and fourth classes broke 50/50 between United and Liverpool. The first and second classes were 90pc Liverpool, with one United.

Just the one - as if United have turned into Nottingham Forest, supported by some unfortunate kid whose father had condemned him to this, imprisoning him in his own obsessive memories of the good times, long, long ago.

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That's it then, that's the ball game, right there.

We are now into the sixth season of post-Ferguson misrule, and a generation has made its decision about which football team they will be supporting, perhaps the most important decision of their lives. I should expand that to "their football lives", but I have too much respect for readers to be indulging in such sophistry.

A generation has made that choice, and while it will have the most momentous implications for their own future happiness, it has been as easy to make it as it was for kids in the 1990s to go with Giggsy, Beckham, Kanchelskis, Cantona.

To these kids in first and second year, clearly the arrival of a brilliant and charismatic Liverpool team under the leadership of the messiah, Jurgen Klopp, would have made a compelling case in itself - and then along came Jose Mourinho to do whatever he did at United, and it was all over.

For what is Mourinho to them, but some bewildered Poor Ould Fella? Yes, he may be a fantastically rich Poor Ould Fella, but kids don't care about that stuff.

What they were seeing, when they were looking at Jose was a man who seems to find it almost unbearable to be in the vicinity of energetic young people of any description - let alone the most energetic of them all, the professional footballers who were supposed to be pleasing him.

The journalist Michael Foley recently brought to my attention a scene recorded in a pub in Ireland, in which a couple of Poor Ould Fellas are sitting at the bar, bamboozled by a squad of raucous young footballers who are celebrating a day of triumph by singing: "It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming... football's coming home…"

That to me was Jose, every day of his working life at United, his poor ould head tormented by the ungovernable energies of youth - I am thinking too of those unhappy teachers who used to take out all their own frustrations on the pupils, always there with the bitter put-down, the discouraging word.

And as our friends in the executive boxes might put it, I get that. I wouldn't expect a Poor Ould Fella to be anything but maddened by scenes such as were witnessed during a television profile of Jesse Lingard - in which we learned that Jesse is one of those young men who seems to find everything absolutely hilarious. Every line in the conversation, regardless of how inconsequential it might be, had the potential to elicit from Jesse these bursts of almost uncontrollable mirth.

Jesus Christ, I thought to myself, poor ould Jose has to go in there every day, and face that.

Jose, who had fallen so hopelessly out of love with humanity in general - and with professional footballers in particular - somehow had to negotiate these overwhelming waves of unwarranted laughter.

Worse, he knows that Jesse isn't even one of those players that he despises more than all the rest, he isn't "a bad lad". Jesse, I would say, is actually a good lad.

Yes, even the best of them eventually would bring no solace to Mourinho.

And while it can be argued that Ferguson, too, was full of rage and twistedness and despair for the ways of men, his genius was to turn all those dark energies into something that was almost inexplicably uplifting.

Along with all the tyranny and the vengefulness, he had this "weakness", if you like, for brilliance. He loved talent, and the mystery of it - and he could manage it.

In the dysfunctional regimes which have come after him - under Moyes and Van Gaal and most wretchedly under poor ould Jose - they are discovering that it is actually quite hard to manage talent, and that in the wrong hands, it can be diminished.

Like any global corporation which has lost its way, they can do all the stuff they're supposed to be doing - the easy stuff that requires little more than the shovelling of tons of money - but they don't really understand the nature of talent as Fergie did.

Nor is there much point in asking Fergie how he did it, because he was never a great man for the rational explanations anyway.

So now they go looking for it in the glorious past, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - because "he knows the club", or something.

Maybe they'll crack it this time - but they're only giving Solskjaer about six months, apparently unaware that for the lads in first year and second year, six months is an awfully long time, while six years is beyond comprehension.

They have decisions to make too.

After years of loyal service, I let my noble Nokia fall... and now it is gone

It is lying in state on the desk in front of me now, the noble Nokia.

I dropped it onto a hard floor last week and ended its life, after many years of loyal service. I can't remember exactly how long it's been working for me, which is a tribute enough in itself - maybe five years?

Yes, its useful life is over, but I will continue to keep it on my desk this Christmas, as a mark of respect. And it is more than respect.

I loved that thing.

It was a monument to everything that is good about the modern world, and a reminder of all that has gone wrong. It was an excellent mobile phone of the old school, which worked properly for a long time, due to this quality that was built into it, an abstract thing beyond anything mechanical.

You could call it honesty, integrity, that kind of thing - you could sense that the manufacturer had actually wanted to make something that did its job honourably, without going wrong or going out of date by the time you got it out of the box, without causing you to become horribly addicted.

By contrast, now that I have finally been forced to replace it, the best phone of roughly the same kind that I could get, is obviously inferior to the late, great Nokia. It does not even have predictive text - it had not occurred to me that such a basic function that was available five years ago, should now be absent from a similar model, but there you go.

They are deliberately making them worse, even as it seems that some of the smartest people are turning away from the smartphone, and back to the old ways - yes, I had been taking a little pride in the fact that celebrities such as Ryan Tubridy had declared that they were going back to the simple mobile phone, to be used only for calls and texts and maybe as a torch if they happen to be trapped in a coal mine.

I felt pleased to welcome them to this far better place in which I have been living for some years.

I hadn't realised that the industry is now so determined to force everyone into smartphone psychosis, it is no longer making anything that can compare to that Nokia of mine which was almost indestructible - almost.

It lies there now, an inspiration to me in my struggle against the smartphone, which is perhaps the last great struggle for human freedom. It owes me nothing, it is massively entitled to rest in peace. And even though it is no longer functioning, it is not entirely dead. There is a light that appears on the screen when I try to get it started, it appears and then it fades.

There is indeed a light that never goes out.

Mad Dog was far too tame for an off-the-cuff president

We know Trump well enough by now to realise that the reason he appointed General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as defence secretary, was the 'Mad Dog' bit.

In an otherwise even contest for the president's attention, the advantage is always with the candidate who has earned the sobriquet 'Mad Dog'.

Trump might even have found the time to acquaint himself with some of the better-known sayings of 'Mad Dog', such as this one: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet".

Or this one: "There are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot."

There might have been just a sliver of doubt in relation to his attitude to water-boarding as he told the President he had "never found it to be useful. Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than with torture".

The President said he was "very impressed by that answer", though we also know him well enough now to realise that that would be a lie.

Still, his faith would have been easily restored by this statement issued by 'Mad Dog' to Iraqi leaders after the invasion: "I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: if you f**k with me, I'll kill you all".

Now some of these things might have been said in a certain context which would open them to a slightly more nuanced interpretation, but that doesn't matter here, because for Trump there is no such thing as context.

So with the resignation of James Mattis, we have a man who entered the White House a Mad Dog, and who leaves looking like St Francis of Assisi.

Peace be with you.

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