Thursday, 26 April 2012

All In The Script?....

Perhaps this year's finalists, Chelsea and Bayern Munich were not the ones that UEFA and Television would have hand-picked. Performances against the odds saw both Spanish favourites knocked out, leaving an intruiging final, but not the blockbuster that may have been hoped for. 
That, however, is not the case in the English Premier League, where TV is definitely the winner as Sky reaches fever pitch ahead of Monday night's Manchester Derby clash...
Both Manchester sides have contrived to drop the hot potato of a comfortable lead in the league over the last few weeks.  
  Just as the prize seemed to be in sight; just as bookies were debating with themselves whether 8 points in either team's favour would be the right time to think about paying out early for that all-important good publicity - we are left with the situation that the clubs' managers Ferguson and Mancini predicted some weeks ago. They both said points would be dropped - they duly have and we are now facing the showdown that Sky TV could not have hand-picked any better. If you ignore the remaining fixtures involving Swansea, Sunderland, Newcastle and QPR, the Manchester derby is now, pretty much "winner-takes-all" or loses-loses-all.  
It has now become the footballing equivalent of a heavyweight fight - how Sky must wish it could be a box office one-off and that they could charge us all a pay-per-view fee.

I have started to wonder is this what was planned all along? Both clubs would be there, or thereabouts come the end of the season - the fixture list kindly dropped in a derby clash a few games from the end and bingo...except it nearly didn't work out that way.

Paul Scholes has brought about a composure and touch of guile to the United midfield, that they were in dire need of up to Christmas. His return from retirement could be seen as a reason that United have kept in touch with their noisy neighbours. How his aforementioned composure and guile would have assisted them on what became a very tricky night out in Wigan last week. Being the old-stager he is, though, he couldn't do three games over seven days and was not even on the bench that night - United floundered.
If Carlos Tevez had behaved differently in Munich. If his manager, rather than sit in a lofty perch proclaiming that the player was finished at the club. If they could have worked out a way around their little episode and have brought him back in line making the appropriate apologies and noises - the title might already have been city's by now. However, seeing the goals dry up and the magic of their early season form start to dissipate, Roberto Mancini began a slow descent back down the ladder from said perch to dine on humble pie and send out an SOS to Argentina's newest golfing legend. city are in touching distance again.

Based on historical results in the fixture, unexpectedly, the second half of United's game against Everton on Sunday was pure footballing drama. Everton had no real reason to be busting a gut in such a manner (why did they not do so in the FA Cup semi-final?), but bust a gut they did. With the help of some calamitous defending from United, they assisted the setting up of a glorious shoot-out next Monday. No-one can claim that this year will be a boring title run-in - we have an extra, unexpected cup final to enjoy.

All going to plan:

When Sir Alex was suggesting, nay, telling everyone who would listen that "points will be dropped" before the end of the season, or even before the derby - could there have been more than kidology at play? Surely, looking at the fixture list running up to the 30th April, United would still have a healthy lead, wouldn't they? It goes without saying that Mr Ferguson knows more about the game than I, and he was correct again. 

The great man is so famously stubborn, though, a little part of me has entertained the thought that having to win away at city is not only the best scenario for TV, but it is also just the way he would have wanted it.
The late mancunian media man Anthony H Wilson once claimed that the British were light years behind the Spanish and Portuguese when it came to televising football matches, citing the Euro 2004 in Portugal as an example. Sure we were functional, we followed the game expertly and could rely on on a multitude of angles - there were even some nice little animations and sound effects when a goal was replayed. 

The Iberian directors though, Wilson opined, knew that football was theatre. They not only gave replays of the major incidents. Suddenly, we saw players screaming to the heavens and waving their hands, cajoling and encouraging team-mates, berating and gesticulating at each other - all in glorious slow motion. The various emotions on display from all parties when a goal was scored - players, coaches, fans and even the referee in states of ecstasy, despair, anger was a joy to behold.

When we invited the game in to our living rooms on a regular basis - the football world turned on its axis, but football needs stories like that which will unfold next Monday night in Manchester - or even that which occurred at the Camp Nou last Saturday night - whether by fluke or by grand design. The media feeds voraciously on it.

There was a period of time when I was a little obsessed with South American writing. I didn't always understand magic realism and I often got lost weaving my way through the rich language of the likes of Garcia Marquez, Allende, Vargas Llosa, Galeano. But I enjoyed the intricate stories where lots happened at the same time as not much. However, I never really got along with Jorge Luis Borges. After my attention has been drawn to a short story of his, that he wrote along with Adolfo Bioy Casares, I may revisit him. 

The story is called Esse Est Percipi. Stick with me - it ties in...

Our protagonist is wandering the city and notices that the River Plate stadium seems to no longer exist. Alarmed by this, he later meets the president of a football club. To break the  ice, our hero congratulates him on his team's recent performances and recounts the build up to a recent goal, pass by pass and player by player. The president replies "yes, and to think that I invented all those names." 
The story unravels that football no longer exists in the form that we thought. It exists solely in the radio and newspapers - the media are making up the scorelines, the stories, the drama and the theatre.

"...everything is, along with the gamut of sports, belongs to the genre of the drama -performed by a single man in a booth, or by actors in jerseys before the tv cameras."

Borges and Casares' short story Esse Est Percipi is lovingly transcribed here: it's not too long, and a good read. 

a version of this post appeared on my blog Grumpy Old Fan