LONG ago, when Liam Brady was studying Italian for beginners and Giovanni Trapattoni was winning his titles with Juventus, the demise of a semi-articulate septuagenarian statesman would be a carefully managed affair.
The news that he wasn't feeling well would come days after he was dead. It was sometimes speculated that a leader could be dead for weeks before the announcement was made. It didn't matter if he was actually dead or just brain-dead, if it was Brezhnev in Moscow or Reagan in Washington, the routine was much the same.
The FAI is about as closely approximating the old Soviet Union as we have in modern Ireland. At lunch time yesterday we heard that their own boss, the elderly semi-articulate (in English anyway) septuagenarian statesman who runs the Irish dressing room, had a stroke. Trapattoni did not have a stroke at all, but we nearly did. Panic ensued. The breaking news was reported on RTE radio.
If the FAI was quoted on the stock exchange their stock would have fallen further from the two cent it might have been quoted at these days. A national day of mourning might be declared.
Trapattoni's record is not better than Kerr's or Staunton's and worse than McCarthy's but he is the PR success that the FAI and all other national associations seem to rate higher than results these days.
His health is on the way to becoming a national obsession. We have come to worry abnormally when Trapattoni gets ill. He gives us hope in the times of economic trauma, when the Ruskis can come and put three first half goals past us and when the Repo men are on the cusp of coming with shovels and wheelbarrows to pull up the pitch at the Aviva.
The legend is a neat one. Trapattoni is an ideal Irish manager. He doesn't give a merda what the Irish press or fans think. He has won it all before.
He is a force for good in a country with high expectations and uppity players whose egos would not go astray in Juventus of the 1980s but whose talent wouldn't merit a place in Serie B. He understands that international soccer is not about players, but about space and tactics.
He helped us, or rather the aura he has created around himself and the team, helped us convince ourselves that Thierry Henry's handball was the only reason that we were not in South Africa. Most importantly Trapattoni sounds mystical where Staunton just sounded like he didn't get it. Then, somebody in Italy told somebody else who told their mate who reported it to the media that he was partially paralysed on his right side when he suffered a stroke during an operation to his neck.
That was nine days earlier.
He was home and out of hospital.
The FAI politburo said that "the operation went well", but seems to have been resigned to the fact it will be forced to offer more reassurances about the manager's health. Trapattoni, statesman that he is, intervened to report that he was fine. "I am recovering well and expect to return to work in the coming weeks," he said. "Contrary to media speculation, I can confirm that I have not suffered a stroke."
Marco Tardelli is 56, about the same as Gorbachev when he succeeded the old codgers. Maybe he is the mystical leader we need. Or maybe he will just preside over the break-up of the empire.
Different strokes for different folks, as the man on the tramway end terrace might have said.