Saturday 18 November 2017

Still martyrs to the punchline at football's great comedy club

Dion Fanning

Carlos Tevez must find it tough to be depicted as the poster boy for indolence when he encounters Wayne Bridge on the Manchester City campus every day.

Tevez committed what was described as the ultimate sin on Tuesday night, so naturally an outpouring of righteous anger and fury automatically followed.

He had betrayed football's essential values but perhaps he had answered to a higher calling. This, it has to be said, was typical Manchester City and all of us who care about the club should be grateful for that. Tevez showed that he has Manchester City DNA.

Since Sheikh Mansour's arrival, there has been almost the same commitment to their heritage, to the days of Peter Swales and Alan Ball, as there is to global expansion.

Of course, like all massive corporations, they would like to dispense with the need for humour and any other consolations.

If humour is the ability to laugh at yourself, then corporations are essentially humourless, failing to see the funny side of their plans for worldwide domination. Football fans can laugh at others, that is what overrated terrace wit is all about, but they are, like all of us, more sensitive when laughing at themselves.

City were football's great ironists. Morrissey may or may not have been a fan but Ian Curtis was and his music reflected the terrible moment when hope gives way to despair.

City want prizes now, not the wisdom to laugh at life's failures, but, until they get all they want, they might need to fall back on what made them great.

The nature of the humour has changed beyond recognition. Once they had the pathos of the everyman and their calamities were our calamities.

Their suffering was comic but in a way everyone understood. They were Basil Fawlty, perhaps a little overbearing, maybe deluded, but all they wanted was to catch a break.

Now, it is different. People laugh at Manchester City the way they laughed at Noel Edmonds' warning about 'cake' on Brass Eye. It's the difference between the barber and Adenoid Hynkel in The Great Dictator.

For those who are trying to bring success, this commitment to comedy brings its own burden. Roberto Mancini could claim that everything was going to plan and it probably still is. He has made City more expansive this season after delivering a trophy last year. They have successfully negotiated the FFP rules, coming up with an inventive plan for the redevelopment of the area around Eastlands which has impressed everyone. But still this comic expression has to get out and it doesn't help the manager.

Mancini, it transpires, cycles to work and was filmed arriving at City's training ground on Thursday in full cycling kit. This can't help his mood. Cyclists are often of nervous disposition as they dice with death on the roads every day. When Mancini unwinds in his office after his morning commute, the last thing he needs is a message that Tevez is outside pissed off about something or that Mario Balotelli is brawling with his training gear on the five-a-side pitch.

Mancini spoke his mind and others did too. The incident allowed Graeme Souness to become a hero. Sky, for once, had some forthright punditry, even if Souness is so good as a pundit for the same reason he was so terrible as a manager: footballers drive him crazy.

He unleashed this fury on Tuesday night as he set the tone, bringing in the man on the street and, of course, focusing on the fabulous wealth of the modern player.

He was aided by the performance of Mark Hughes. TV and radio love taking the hackneyed route of interviewing somebody who has played for one or, ideally, both clubs involved in a game.

Recently, Sky interviewed Paolo Di Canio before Manchester City's first game against Napoli on the basis that he had played for the Italian team, nearly 20 years ago. Di Canio is worth interviewing about almost anything except perhaps a football team because he played for the same club 20 years ago. He then previewed their game against "Manchester United".

Mark Hughes was a bonanza guest for Sky. He had played for Bayern Munich for a couple of minutes 25 years ago and he was Mancini's predecessor at City which was of genuine interest. Of course, he had another connection which became relevant as the night went on -- he shares representation with Carlos Tevez.

There's no reason to think this coloured his view but it would perhaps make for an interesting question or at least a bit of information a viewer could do with as they wonder why one man is putting forward a moderate view of something others see as an immoral act. Hughes did move on to describe Tevez's actions as inexcusable but beside Souness -- who would probably have to declare an interest too, a pathological loathing of self-indulgence -- he seemed odd.

Tevez's commitment to the joke was total, encompassing as it did his statement in which he explained that it was not "the right time" to explain why he hadn't played. Of course, the obligatory "going forward" was thrown in, just to underline that this was a corporate matter rather than something sad and comic.

City, too, were taking a corporate stance, rolling out another inquiry, following the successful investigation into the hacking of Garry Cook's email by Garry Cook.

Tevez's greatest mistake was stupidity. Clearly he cares about something, perhaps not the same thing as his team-mates, but something nonetheless.

Is the player who refuses to play out of position or sulks because he isn't allowed play where he wants to guilty of the ultimate sin too? Top pundits who criticised Tevez last week have in the past said that players should tell managers they're only prepared to play in certain positions.

Tevez could have found a more cunning way of dealing with his dissatisfaction but he's not cunning.

He had, according to the increasingly excellent Gary Neville in his autobiography, "become very fond of a massage" during his last days at United. He is certainly very fond of himself.

Tevez has an entertainer's desire for recognition. Although, unlike a lot of comics, he clearly has no need to be loved.

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