Wednesday 13 December 2017

Difficult art of towel-waving has never been more relevant

Dion Fanning

There is an old joke about an even older man who marries a beautiful young woman. All aspects of their lives are rewarding except her sex life where she is unfulfilled. They are troubled by this and pay a visit to the rabbi. The rabbi considers their problem and tells them that the solution is to find a handsome young man and ask him to sit in the corner of the bedroom. At the key moment, the rabbi suggests that the young man wave a towel over the old man's shoulder so the wife can have her fantasy life enriched.

They agree to this, find a young man and return to the bedroom. The young man waves the towel furiously but nothing happens.

They return to the rabbi who then suggests that this time the young man should sleep with his wife and the old man should stand behind them waving the towel. They return to the bedroom and try the new arrangement. The woman has the greatest sexual experience of her life. As she lies exhausted on the bed beside her virile young lover, the old man walks up with a smile on his face and says to the young guy with a sneer, "You see, that's how you wave a towel."

When Roman Abramovich considers employing Roberto Di Matteo as manager, he has to consider how much Di Matteo's towel-waving contributed to Chelsea's Champions League victory and how much of it was down to being released from the suffocating and unpleasant clinch of Andre Villas-Boas.

Di Matteo won two cups but did nothing to improve Chelsea's league form. Yet it would be preposterous not to make him manager, especially as Chelsea will fear becoming preposterous in their recruitment of managers.

Sometimes you just have to look preposterous and Abramovich might be right when he hesitates in appointing Di Matteo,

Abramovich knows what will be said if Chelsea don't give him the job, he knows they'll say, 'what does he want from his managers if even winning the European Cup might not be enough?' But if he gives the job to Di Matteo he might be appointing the wrong man for the right reasons.

They have the most glorious moment in their history now, a stunning validation of men like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Mr Chelsea, Ashley Cole.

Cole is a man of the highest integrity. He demonstrated his excellence as a footballer in Munich last weekend and his commitment to his own values afterwards when he announced that "nobody can say nothing to me now".

Terry was mocked all week for his shameless display of emotion but he is a victim too of the sanctimonious culture which bans Joey Barton for 12 matches. Barton's suspension is one of the darkest moments in the long history of dark moments from football's authorities.

And then there was Drogba, departing in such style. This season, the one aspect of Drogba's game which had previously caused him to be resented has changed. The diving and the time-wasting remained but it was done with a knowing smile, almost a twinkle which said, 'Hey, you know I'm not hurt. I know I'm not hurt but bear with me'. And by the end, they did as Drogba hauled himself up and began the cycle again. His time-wasting was always full of purpose. Nobody disrupted an opposition's pattern of play like Drogba. I hope one day they'll change the rules and allow physios to treat a player on the pitch while the game continues. They'll call it the Drogba rule and it will be one of his many legacies.

* * * * *

On the day Ireland's squad was named, Giovanni Trapattoni embarked on one of those bewildering streams-of-consciousness that has endeared him to the nation, if not the press. He was talking, as far as any of us could gather, about players playing in different positions.

He then started talking about Emile Heskey. Marco Tardelli or Trap had observed Heskey playing in midfield and they seemed to find this amusing. Trap didn't appear to think much of this or he may have considered it marvellous, with Trap you can never be sure. In fact, you are always sure that you're never sure.

Heskey actually played out of position for most of his career. He was a defender trying to be a forward. In his prime, he would probably have been Trap's ideal striker. Last week, Heskey was released from Aston Villa and began the search for a new club. The finest non-goalscoring centre-forward of his generation is now a free agent, but the game has moved on. Mario Gomez has many elements of Heskey's game but somehow he manages to score 40 goals in a season as a goalscoring, non-goalscoring centre-forward.

Heskey played in a couple of successful sides and he played in a few which dodged relegation, most recently Villa. He often scored too early, not in a game, a goal in a game was always welcome for him, but in a season. If he scored in August or September, it was inevitable that come March or April, he would be burdened by a stat that he had now gone 2,347 minutes without a goal and how his side could do with one.

It was always hard to gauge his worth -- was his renowned selflessness in fact a sort of selfishness, a cunning way of removing himself from the positions he feared being in?

But he continued to serve. As my friend Declan Lynch observed once, Heskey didn't turn up every week at Anfield demanding to play. There is no mental image of Heskey 'banging on the manager's door', looking for explanations if he was left out of the team.

It was Fabio Capello, not Heskey, who decided to play Heskey in the World Cup two years ago, at least four years after his top-flight career effectively came to an end.

He will search for a new employer now but given his record it will probably be 176 clubs down the line before he finds one.

dfanning@independent.ie

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