Monday 18 December 2017

Comment – Were we too quick to jump on Eamon Dunphy's Messi comments?

Jack O'Toole

“There's no business like show business, but there are several businesses like accounting,” long-time late night television host David Letterman once said.

Letterman, like RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy, always knew how to push the buttons of his guests and how to expertly get a rise out of his audience, and much like Letterman, Dunphy knows more than most that there’s no business quite like show business… baby.

However, Dunphy’s business of show business has changed dramatically over the course of his tenure on the RTE panel, as once upon a time his audience were armed with only a television remote or whatever object was nearest to them, whereas now most of them are armed with a smartphone and 140 characters of ammunition that they are only too willing to use.

But Dunphy has always been RTE’s chief provocateur, that’s his role, a pundit that divides opinion like few others in Irish television.

But this week he found himself entangled in an interesting episode of ‘who said what.’

Appearing on 2FM’s Game On Show on Monday night, Dunphy said that ‘some moron will say you said something you never said’ in relation to comments that the 71-year-old had made about Barcelona forward Lionel Messi following the Catalan giants exit from the Champions League last week.

Dunphy said of Messi that he didn’t know how much he had 'left in the tank’ and that as an elite sportsman - ‘you can only go to that place so many times in your life’ - which was commonly construed as Dunphy insinuating that Messi was finished.

That was certainly the message that was received on certain Irish sports websites, the echo chamber of Twitter, and in a heated exchange with former UCD midfielder Alan Cawley.

RTE sports reporter Darren Frehill had said on RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland on Monday morning that “a certain pundit [Dunphy] that we have here on a regular basis thought [Messi] he was finished.”

Frehill’s comments formed the basis of Cawley and Dunphy’s exchange on Game On later that evening with Dunphy adamant that he never said that ‘Messi was finished’ while Cawley insisted that he meant exactly that.

Cawley put it to Dunphy that he had made a "boo boo" by writing off the Argentine striker and this provoked an angry response from the former Ireland international.

"You got it all wrong,” Dunphy fired back.

“The first thing I said was that Barcelona as a team were gone and we won't see that team again. The next thing I said, and we all agreed, was that Messi was still, even if he lost 10/15/20 per cent, a great player and I also said that I hoped he would come the Premier League and possibly Manchester City, it would be a fantastic thing.

"The other thing I said was Real Madrid, it wasn't just Barcelona who were struggling, it was Real Madrid and they are struggling and anyone who watched last night will see that.

"Now, to misrepresent that, funny enough another RTE programme did this morning. People talking candidly about football and having really interesting discussions and some moron will say you said something you never said. Well go on, finish your point."

Cawley and Dunphy then went back and forth for the next few minutes with Dunphy maintaining that he never said that Messi was finished, while Cawley insisted that that was exactly what he implied with his comments.

So where does all of this leave Dunphy? Does Darren Frehill, or ‘some moron’ as highlighted by Dunphy, have a point?

Is questioning how much Lionel Messi has left in the tank, or if he has the mental stamina to keep getting to that ‘place’ that is required of him to perform at the highest level, mean that Dunphy is asking whether or not the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is finished?

Dunphy never said on RTE’s Champions League coverage that Messi was ‘finished’, so technically in a court of law he’d be right. But the court of public opinion is a much different court and it plays by a different set of rules to the judicial system, and in this realm, Dunphy is unequivocally guilty.

Comedian Ricky Gervais once said that even Albert Einstein’s E = mc 2  theory could be disproved by two idiots on Twitter, but Dunphy’s comments about Messi’s performances certainly aren’t as scientific as that, as 47 goals in 45 games certainly suggests that Messi is far from approaching his decline.

But maybe Dunphy smells another Wayne Rooney situation on the horizon, whereby England’s all-time leading goalscorer has had his three lowest goalscoring seasons in a decade after his 29th birthday, the same age Messi is now.

Father time is the only specimen in sport that is undefeated and undisputed, and it takes on and defeats all comers, although some certainly give it a good fight, as Rooney’s teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proven over the years.

You would assume Messi would follow a similar, if not greater trajectory than the Swede so questioning whether or not Messi, who is arguably the greatest footballer of all time by any conceivable metric, still has enough in the tank, is a fairly bold statement to begin with, as every statistic up until this point proves that the Argentine is still at the peak of his powers with no clear sign of decline in sight.

Dunphy in this instance is as much of a victim of his own job as he is of having his statements misconstrued by Alan Cawley among others.

Dunphy has made a television career out of firing shotgun shells as much as bullets from the hip in the aftermath of matches and sometimes he does get it wrong.

Even as recently as last week when he questioned whether or not Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto were good enough players to play in a great Barcelona side, only for Rakitic to score a stunning second in the El Clasico win over Madrid on Sunday while Roberto started the break that led to Messi’s match winner. Egg on face for Dunphy and a moment of great joy for the Twittersphere.

Nobody likes to be wrong, especially when you’re on national television as a football expert, and while Dunphy wasn’t necessarily wrong with his ‘finished’ comments, his persona as a hot take football pundit was certainly held against him.

But that’s show business and Dunphy should know that better than anyone.

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