Until Paul Lambert said that he wouldn’t even consider quitting as Aston Villa manager he’d been likeable, approaching cool. When he said “No. I can only do, or try to do my best. There’s no chance I’d walk away from it. You have to fight like anything to get up. You pick yourself up and there’s no point in lying down and accepting it,” he was no longer either of those things. Quitting’s been stigmatised to the extent that knocking quitters is now one of few blood sports society openly accepts, and now Lambert has joined the ranks of the knockers, shamelessly bashing those who can’t be bothered to defend themselves. The easiest of easy targets, he should be ashamed.
Quitting isn’t cool, but it should be. Is making the effort to carry on so great? Look at players like John Terry efforting their way to the top. They go red in the face: does that look good? They get injured and play on whilst hurting: does that sound like fun? They put the hours in on the training ground when they could be at home playing minesweeper, both warm and covered in bits of chocolate they can’t even be bothered to wipe of their clothes: does that choice make any sense at all? I’ll break it down for you. Life is meaningless, so making yourself happy and maybe making other people happy are the only really worthwhile pursuits, and even then they’re dubious if they require genuine work. All of this sacrifice nonsense is nonsense, particularly in the name of sport, which is a particularly ludicrous business for which to make sacrifices. This piece will adopt a totalitarian tone from here on in.
Okay, there is a line. Some sacrifice is fun and some effort is enjoyable, if you’re that way inclined (that is: wrongly inclined), but the business of constantly proving that you are working hard and will never give up is too much. The show must not go on. Bring down the curtain and go home. Driving yourself into despair for the sake of proving your capacity to carry the burden of said despair to a bunch of screaming football fans doesn’t make any sense. There’s a recession on so the anti-slacker rhetoric has been ramped up of late, but it’s a nonsense: giving up and doing nothing ain’t so bad. Actually, sometimes it’s real nice, baby. I’m tempted to give up on this piece righ…
What was I saying? Some of the greats are quitters. Eric Cantona quit football at 30 and explained a few years later that he “loved the game but…no longer had the passion to go to bed early, not to go out with [his] friends, not to drink, and not to do a lot of other things, the things [he] like[d] in life.” Pure sense. Michael Johnson has just become a millionaire off the back of around one good season of playing football and is now made for life: that’s less than a year’s work in return for a lifetime of freedom. He’s performed one of the most profitable transactions in history: does he sound like a failure now? If that makes him one of life’s losers, then there can only have been a misprint in life’s criteria. Zinedine Zidane quit football in the middle of a World Cup final and nobody thinks he’s a loser.
What is everyone doing trying so hard for? For whom? Trying hard and getting places can be impressive, but it shouldn’t make quitting anything to be ashamed of. Had Jose Mourinho left Real Madrid at the end of last season, having won a league title and dethroned Pep Guardiola, he’d still have an almost perfect record as a coach; as it is, if he doesn’t win the Champions League this season he’ll have a nasty blemish on his CV for the first time. Much of Mourinho’s genius as a coach, in fact, has been in knowing when to quit, knowing when to get out in advance of the house burning down. Frank Lampard is currently losing his dignity at Chelsea because he didn’t know when to stop; Alex Ferguson has tainted his legacy at Manchester United by not storming out of the club as soon as the Glazers took over.
Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s impossible to achieve anything in this life without somebody dismissing it as being irrelevant, or unimportant, or not that impressive really, all things considered. Won the Champions League? Well, it used to be a proper competition. Climbed Everest? Well, it’s basically a tourist trap these days. Negotiated a lasting and stable peace between Israel and Palestine? Stop going on about it. Quit, though, and you take yourself out of this endless cycle of petty denigration and embarrassing oneupmanship. What did you do? Nothing. Oh. In the end, despite all the talk, people like it when you make it things look “effortless”. My way of doing that is by making literally no effort. One-nil.
Giving up can be the practical thing to do, or the noble thing, or the clever thing, or the cool thing. It’s rarely the out-and-out wrong thing. Yet modern football is about efficiency and giving everything you have. That. Is. Stupid. Give some things, if you have to, but not everything. Paul Lambert will never quit! Great. Someone tell him he’s still going to die at some point, and what will he have proved? That Aston Villa are shit whether he tried his best or not.
Relieved to get this typed out because now I can sit doing nothing again. Richard Whittall is take take take take these days. This will be the first of two columns this week – I’m carrying the whole world economy on my shoulders.