Ethan Dean-Richards

ethandeanrichards

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Mark Schwarzer has been saying some things. Now, before I get onto the particulars of what those things are or might be, I want to be clear that this isn’t an attempt at a one-man character assassination of Mark Schwarzer, who seems to be a lovely man. I have always been clear that I will save that kind of thing for my private emails about Richard Whittall, and those emails alone.

However, when you do feel the need to clarify that you aren’t planning a character assassination on someone, needless to say it does hint you might be about to say some mean things about them. This I will not deny. But after signing for Chelsea, Mark Schwarzer has come out and said some words which quite possibly require a quick going over from someone impartial, and more importantly, someone who has not yet entirely taken leave of his senses. If you want to take it as a boast that I feel I am that person, then so be it.

Here we go. When asked about signing for Chelsea, Schwarzer began with the usual bland platitudes. “I had a conversation with the manager and he told me his intentions for the season,” said Schwarzer, like a normal, reasonable, media trained person would. He went on: “He told me it’s an unbelievable club and this was a great opportunity to join such a fantastic club, so I decided to give it a go. I didn’t think twice after speaking with him.” Normal, reassuring words from Mark Schwarzer there. No reason for alarm or to suspect that a sociopath was on the loose. Merely a football player expressing ideas he is expected to express in the manner he is expected to express them.

The ugliness began when he started talking about what it meant to be a number two goalkeeper. “I’d had some doubts,” Mark tells us, openly – admirably, even, if you are that way inclined. “But once I’d spoken to the manager those doubts disappeared pretty quickly. It’s going to be an adjustment, of course [to being a No2], but given the amount of games Chelsea play there are going to be opportunities to play games.” At this point, when reading the interview, there begins to be legitimate cause to worry about Mark. Questions arise. Questions like: Is Mark Schwarzer aware that goalkeepers tend to need less rest than other players because their position inherently involves being static a lot of the time? And questions like: Does Mark believe everything a new manager trying to get him to sign for their club tells him?

And then ‘normal’ ends altogether. Mark grabs the wheel, swings a hard left, throws the car onto the road below before taking another hard left off the end of a cliff, all the time shouting about the supposed joys of self-destruction. “You know what, when I moved to Fulham [from Middlesbrough in 2008] I thought that was it,” he told the world, apparently without coercion, “and then the Arsenal thing popped up. So, after that experience, I said: ‘Never say never.’ It’s proven to be true. I still say never say never, it’s not over until it’s over, so we’ll see.” At best, this is an outrageous misuse of the ‘never say never’ cliché; at worst is someone who has become unwell during the course of the interview.

“Never say never,” Mark? When is never, if not when you have gone from a number one goalkeeper to a number two goalkeeper? The fat lady is singing songs from The Strokes’ ‘Is this It?’ because she is so convinced this is definitely the time to say never. Schwarzer seems to have either a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of the number two goalkeeper, or has merely opted for happy ignorance over harsh reality.

Never say never?! Yes, Mark, do say ‘never’! Say ‘never’ when you have just accepted the completely reasonable but clearly subordinate position as Chelsea’s number two goalkeeper. As backup to Petr Cech, your main tasks are: sitting and waiting, talking, snoozing and possibly spreading discontent through the dressing room out of boredom alone. Is this it? This is it.

In my opinion, Mark has clearly entered a stage of his life where the delusion beats the reality. It’s understandable. Like I said, this isn’t a character assassination, merely someone—out of necessity—recognizing that Chelsea’s new number two goalkeeper has, in many ways, lost all perspective on the world and his position in it. And this is dangerous.

At this difficult time, he needs our sympathy. He will not get it.

SSC Napoli v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

We live in an age of repeats. The films are all sequels, the sitcoms are all syndicated and if we are completely honest with ourselves, even the columns I file are of an increasingly similar tone: blah, blah, blah, the man wrote, as the world oscillated at its usual pace, regardless of his words, seemingly unaware that a rare talent was in its midst, only partially nude as he typed. What was I saying? Ah yes, we’ve seen it all before.

I went to watch a film the other day—let’s call it KF Panda, because I’d rather not reveal the full title. Very quickly—only an hour in—I realized that what I was watching was actually the second installment of said film—let’s call it KF Panda 2—a far inferior offering which left me unsatisfied and slightly dehydrated, though it was a hot day and I had forgotten to make myself a drink during the film so, fair enough, I will take some responsibility for the second part of my dissatisfaction. Worse still, even though I disliked the film immensely (I shouted abuse at the television throughout, again accounting for the dehydration) I am now hooked on the franchise and waiting impatiently for the prequel or second sequel. Apparently it might be called KF Panda 3. There is, I think this proves conclusively, no getting away from repeat-culture.

And as summer goes on, whether it is something in the air or something in the water, or the mild hallucinogenic I indirectly inhaled on the top deck of the 126 bus into Birmingham city centre, I’ve started to notice that football has joined in with the wider world’s tendency towards playing out again that which has already been played out.

The transfers we are seeing are creating a pattern. Edinson Cavani has joined PSG, where he will again team-up with Ezequiel Lavezzi, reliving their Napoli days. Radamel Falcao has joined Monaco where he will work with James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho, and possibly Hulk, if he signs on too: all ex-Porto buddies. Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo have both moved from Sevilla to Manchester City. Now Manchester United are attempting to join up Cesc Fabregas with Robin Van Persie for a second time, after their success as a pair at Arsenal.

You can even add that Pepe Reina has signed up for more psychological abuse from Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho is back in the loving arms of John Terry, if you want to.

If we ignore several major outliers, as I intend to and all good mathematicians should, the major transfer business of this summer—particularly that by the nouveau riche teams—appears to be almost exclusively about reuniting previously successful footballing units with one another. My first thought when I realized this was that I had become delirious after Kung Fu Panda 2—I mean KF Panda 2—and that obviously I had begun to connect pieces of information that did not really go together, creating (relative) significance out of player transfers where really there was none. But in fact I was (relatively) right. At least four of the richest teams in the world have spent or are trying to spend money on reuniting players who have worked well together before.

Okay, okay, obviously it’s not really some kind of dominant trend, but it does tell us something about how football clubs, particularly those with the most money, think at the moment. Importing a pre-existing or previously successful combination of players is a more efficient, risk-reducing way of putting together a team, even if it is laughably more expensive than the cost of the original combination. This is, then, the transfer market as negotiated by a big business rather than some old men in a pub*. Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Why put Falcao up front with Lavezzi when Cavani has already played with him and we’ve seen it work before? Statistical analysis is one way to predict who might work in your team, but it’s not a perfect system: two players able to score 50 goals between them whilst playing next to each other makes buying them at the very least a extremely good bet.

The thought of it really working like this, and of the trend continuing and deepening, is enough to make you weep. In a bad way. The trouble is that efficiency isn’t always great to watch, as KF Panda 2 attests. Entertainment and efficiency don’t always go brilliantly together. As tends to be the case, here, efficiently signing players minimizes the creative part—the risky bit—of building a football team. And wasn’t the risk fun to watch play out? Didn’t the risk sometimes pay off more than the safe bet ever would have?

Reducing the creative part of the task, by definition, reduces the amount of new ideas. “The combination from Yorke and Cole was out of this world” at Manchester United, but the spark wasn’t the same at Blackburn. There are two lessons from this. First: If you place together a team too carefully, you can miss the chance for sparks that no-one could have predicted. Second: Instead you end up with tired ideas which may not even work as well the second time around** – never mind being as exciting.

The repetition model is full of holes. Especially for the consumer. Repetition is reassuring, efficient and probably, although it’s still not an exact science, the correct business decision. Attempting something new is dangerous and you fail more often than not. But it’s also thrilling in the first instance, for the sake closing your eyes and really not knowing what will happen next. In the second instance, it’s even more amazing when it comes off. My vote goes to the second option.

But the people with the money are taking the opposite route, which is disappointing. Because however horrific it is, all the money they have represents vast potential, and yet what a bland, stunted way to channel it this is. It’s also another way in which the small clubs are left to shoulder the risk and, as I’ve discussed before, never quite get to enjoy the pay-off. Think of your own ideas, big teams ffs.

On a final note, when in god’s name is Kung Fu Panda 3 coming out.

*As of course all football transfers used to be done.

** Please do not point out that the reason Cole and Yorke did not work a second time was because of the passage of time reducing their abilities, as that would undermine the point I’m trying to make. Which, I like to think, I do well enough by myself. But no, seriously, change of place and time is where risk is introduced even in repetition. It is not a perfect repetition.

Chelsea/Jose Mourinho Press Conference

Sitting there, I felt my eyes drying out, one molecule at time. My back and shoulders had slowly tensed and the dull, unrelenting pain of it nagged away at my consciousness, allowing no other thoughts in except: ‘Let me get out of here; I’ll do anything to be able to get out of here; why won’t you plleeease let me leave?’ And then, dear reader, I realized I wasn’t actually at Manuel Pelligrini’s first press conference as Manchester City manager, I was merely watching it on TV.

In what I feel comfortable in saying was the greatest moment in my life so far, I turned the TV off—the joy at being able to do so matched only by the joy at being able to turn it off a second time, after I’d turned it back on again, just to be able to turn it off. I repeated this process for hours, blissfully unaware of the growing pressure to stop from other people in the bar.

Partly, I think, the problem with these press conferences is the summer. Though we all heard about the international football being played a few weeks ago via the mass protests which surrounded it (a little harsh on the Spanish national side, I agree, but their time has come and the people of Brazil were right to express frustration), I am not yet ready to accept that anyone watches international football. And though there are the daily transfer rumours to get through as well, as far as I know or am inclined to find out, mainstream European football stops during the summer. Which leaves a void.

This summer, the most convenient answer to The Void has been ‘unveiling the new manager’ press conferences. Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, David Moyes at Manchester United and Manuel Pellegrini at City. Others may have occurred also, but it is hardly my fault if they failed to gain my attention.

You end up watching these non-event events out of necessity, not out of love. They were designed for reporting on by journalists, and now they appear on our TV screens because 24 hour sports news channels have minutes to fill and we have lives to live out. It’s a bad start in any relationship. Because yes, necessity is the mother of invention, but it also gave birth to monotony and resentment.

And we’re then stuck watching something which is innately dull. The purpose behind unveilings is, helpfully, in the title: they’re about unveiling the new manager. In terms of offering up entertainment, I hope you can see the flaw in this already. If Manchester City tell us that Manuel Pelligrini is their new manager and that really is all they want us to know, watching an hour of Manuel Pelligrini rephrasing the idea that he is Manchester City’s new manager will clearly not be a joy to watch—his way with words aside.

What’s more, I come with bad news: the more the non-event events are covered, the more precise an art they become, and the duller they become. The guy with the new job just reads a script. “”I know the last two years were not very good in the Champions League and I will try to improve that. That’s not the only thing, though, and I will try to get another Premier League title,” said Pelligrini, pointing out absolutely nothing. “I was shocked but also incredibly thrilled that I was given the opportunity to manage Manchester United,” said David Moyes, though of course what he meant to say was “nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing.”
We are watching middle-aged men reading out pre-prepared scripts designed specifically to be monotonous. These are our lives.

But I understand it. Oh, I understand it. We all know why we keep thinking it might be good. Jose Mourinho, Version One: The Special One Press Conference. “Please do not call me arrogant,” he said. Remember? Of course you do, you’re probably breathing heavily already. “Because what I say is true,” he went on, whilst many of us went for a cold shower. “I’m European champion, I’m not one out of the bottle, I think I’m a special one.” That was Mourinho’s first Chelsea press conference and, if we’re honest with ourselves, that is the reason—the only reason—why we could ever expect anything good to come of one of these things.

But look. Even the man who said those words back then wouldn’t say those words now. “”I’m the happy one,” was what he offered this summer, a watered-down parody of the original incident that has turned out to be singular exception in an otherwise all-conquering rule: managers being unveiled is not interesting.

Moyes, Mourinho and Pelligrini represent big new changes at big old clubs. Exciting things might happen whilst they are in charge of those clubs. But announcing their arrivals, and telling us what’s happening on their lucrative tours for that matter, is really, really boring. Either change the script or change the channel.

*And yes, if you want to read this entire piece as an excuse for the standard of coverage of these press conferences, by people like me, then you are free to do so. And also correct.

FBL-ENG-PL-MAN UTD

It was difficult for one not to take a moment to appreciate Alex Ferguson all over again, both yesterday and today. Particularly if you have as much time on your hands as I do.

Before and during David Moyes’ first press conference as Manchester United manager, there was talk of how Ferguson, the great man, had offered, quite simply, to stay out of the way. What self-awareness from a guy who would have every right not to bother with that kind of thing these days. What an impressive understanding of the unhelpful pressure that his presence at the club could apply.

It genuinely was difficult not to admire the news and the personality behind it. Or else, it was until you applied any kind of scrutiny to what the phrase ‘staying out of the way’ meant. Beyond that point, it was less so. According to the reports, actually, the exact details of ‘staying out of the way’ come down to ‘exploring the possibilities of whether there is an executive box at Old Trafford where he will be able to watch in privacy’. Which, I have to say, is a far less significant act of self-awareness than I had initially imagined.

To begin with, you will note that, in fact, it is not any kind of commitment at all. ‘Exploring the possibilities’ of doing something, of course, being the prelude to acting, very often, but not acting in itself. I have been exploring the possibility of changing my pants for several days, for instance, and yet it has not yet happened. Richard Whittall promised me a huge pay rise, for example, and yet I do not have my yacht. Alex Ferguson is half-heartedly considering not getting in David Moyes’ way. I mean, you would think that in more than twenty years you might have some idea in advance if there was a directors’ box you fancied watching games from, if you really were into the idea.

But even in a world where this theoretical gesture became a reality rather than, let’s face it, a footnote in the idle ramblings of a retiree, it’s simply not an inspiring, game-changing idea. Not being seen on camera at David Moyes’ first few games in charge, which is the apparent motivation behind the directors’ box initiative, is, all in all, as likely to affect the new managers’ performance as the new and improved haircut he brought to the table for his press conference. Moyes is still going to spend this season being defined as the first post-Ferguson Manchester United manager, however it goes.

Moyes will still be standing next to the Sir Alex Ferguson stand. He’ll still be managing a squad assembled by Ferguson, for Ferguson. He’ll still be dressing up as Ferguson to try and convince Robin Van Persie to give him a hug too. The exact positioning of Ferguson during this time should not be considered a defining factor in the Moyes reign is, I guess, what I’m trying to say – the notion of him attempting to sit on the pitch to watch games aside.

And anyone who listened to Moyes’ first press conference will have acquired the impression that Ferguson, actually, hasn’t put too much effort into not getting in the way. As far as I’m inclined to remember, Moyes spoke about several discussions with Ferguson, about calling him up and asking for advice, and, most controversially, about asking to wear his glasses. One of these is a lie, but isn’t a lie only another version of the truth? Well, no, but nevertheless.

Moyes hardly tried to hide how closely his United career is, for the moment, tied to Ferguson. “I’m inexperienced in a lot of things but the biggest confidence I got was that [Sir Alex Ferguson] told me I was the next United manager,” he told us, revealing that, essentially, the most significant part of his CV is a reference from Ferguson. He went on: “I’m not going to get away from what Alex Ferguson has done at this club, and I’m not even going to try at first; Ethan’s right.” Again, one of these two quotes is inaccurate, but it speaks of a hidden truth, and thus is true.

The fact is that Ferguson is still around at Manchester United. And for now Moyes will not and probably cannot get away from Ferguson’s current ideas and previous impact, whether he’s sitting on his lap or in a directors’ box. Everything we see or hear from the club tells us this.

It need not be a bad thing though. It just shouldn’t be hidden. Ferguson is useful, if he can control himself and allow Moyes to grow at the same time as helping him learn on the job. What I think is far more important than the seat Ferguson sits in is the kind of impression Moyes can make on the club as time moves on. It doesn’t need to be immediate, it’s just important exactly what that impression is, as and when it happens. What persona is Moyes going to project as Manchester United manager once he really gets the chance to be his own man? In this regard, I saw real reason to worry today. Moyes referred to himself in the third person. Now, that could be trouble.

David Beckham Visits China - Day 4

When I heard that some David Beckham fans had been physically hurt (they were of course already emotionally damaged) whilst trying to get close to Becks this week, the first thought I had was that we’re taking football too seriously and it must stop. Well, it was the second thought I had, the first was: oh, I bet I can get an article out of this, that’s another week out of the way, I can get back to sitting around in my pants all day again now. But the point still stands.

The summer, you would think, would be a time where, with less football being played, perhaps we could all take a step back from it and see soccer for what it is: a game played for fun; a cesspit of incompetence, if you will; a horrendous mistake which should never have happened, if you must. Nobody steps back though*. Instead, the serious thoughts about football get even louder with no actual football to drown them out. Like a baby insisting their whining be heard above all else. Stupid babies in the stupid swimming pool changing rooms. Wawawawaa. If I whined like that I’d be thrown out. But I digress.

Right now, you can treat yourself to any of the following examples of football – fans, players, officials, media – assuming that this game is of inherent value.

1. “The company constructing the Etihad Campus have banned workers wearing Manchester City and Manchester United tops in order to ‘stop it getting silly’,” we are told. Grown men (and women?) are unable avoid ‘getting silly’ when wearing football tops. Pillow fights on a construction site, we must assume, all because of football. What madness is this, that football has such power over people?

2. “Fifa has insisted there are no plans to abandon the Confederations Cup despite the ongoing mass public protests in Brazil,” we learn. Fifa is playing out a tournament, and planning a World Cup, against the interests of what seems like a large part of an entire nation. The degree of self-importance required to Keep Calm And Carry On Without Caring About Anything But Yourself is astounding.

3. Gareth Bale has trademarked his celebration. ‘What’s his celebration, Ethan? Does he do a triple somersault into the crowd, whilst stripping off and revealing a full Spiderman suit?’ No, it’s quite hard to explain really: he makes a stupid little heart with his thumbs and index fingers? ‘But why would anyone copyright that?’ I don’t know, really, little Jimmy, you see I chewed off my own ears rather than hear the end of the story. ‘Was it the right decision?’ Well, I stand by it.

My opinion is, and I absolutely respect that this is controversial and won’t be something everyone shares, that once you get to a stage where “At least seven people have been injured in a stampede after fans stormed a stadium gate to get a glimpse of David Beckham at a Chinese university” you’ve gone too far in the taking football seriously stakes. I think, once you’re stampeding, you’ve gone beyond what football should be about. I don’t like being prescriptive, and to all those who have their fun via stampedes I suppose that is exactly what I am being, but mainly I think the aspiration should be towards non-stampede-based fun.

If you are pro-stampede please feel free to address complaints to Richard Whittall, but I’ll continue with this line of argument for the time being. Football should be more fun, less serious. Gareth Bale shouldn’t be trademarking his celebration. I gave a lecture on this idea last week and I’ll quote myself now: “Football, as we all know, is a naturally intense sport and part of the fun comes from that intensity; comes from getting sucked up into it. But I think once you’ve got Fifa, for instance, concentrating on the importance of their tournament above the interests of an entire country, it’s time to re-evaluate priorities.” And I went on like this for two hours. Nobody on the bus seemed to like it. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was that if we continue like this, without being able to step back, the game part is going to be lost to the This Is Important part. Already it’s happening. You can’t enjoy the Confederations Cup being played out now, knowing that all around the stadium you’re watching people are unhappy, and that the football is, in part, actually responsible for that. Or, you can’t watch a great Gareth Bale goal and enjoy it only for what it is once he runs to the crowd and pulls out his money-maker (the trademarked celebration, not his penis.) Somewhere, somehow, the escalation of seriousness needs to be pulled back.

*Nobody steps back, that is, except for one maverick…

The fixture list is drawn up at PL headquarters.

The fixture list is drawn up at PL headquarters.

Ah, the Premier League fixture list is out. It’s that time of year again. When you all get together, friends and family, around the TV – Sky Sports News – and wait for David Bobin or Millie Clode or John Davies or Sean Fletcher or Kirsty Gallacher or David Garrido or Olivia Godfrey or Vicky Gomersall or Pete Graves or Alex Hammond or Charlotte Jackson or David Jones or Adam Leventhal or Graham Little or Hayley McQueen or Alex Payne or Natalie Sawyer to tell you the order in which some things are happening.

The kind of day you’ll tell your grandkids about. ‘Of course, I remember when I was in my mid-twenties. We’d all sit around watching Sky Sports News on Wednesday morning, all fresh faced, waiting to hear who would play who and in what order. We’d all have an orange juice and just enjoy the moment.’ ‘But didn’t you already know who would play who?’ ‘Oh, I guess we did. So it was just the order in which they would play.’ It will not make a very good story, but you will persevere regardless, out of necessity, having only Sky Sports News-based anecdotes to tell about your youth, except for the time when you briefly tried Setanta Sports News before it closed down. Not ESPN though, you never went that far.

Yes, today, as you will have heard, the Premier League unveiled its fixture list. That is: the order in which the teams – teams which we already knew, remember – will play each other in some month’s time. And on this day, people – not me, but you; I am not one of you – spend some of their time analysing what these fixtures mean. They really do that, in real life.

It’s only at this time of year that I realise just how many people like lists of the order in which events will happen, and just how much they like them. The fact that in a league – almost the definitive characteristic of a league, in fact – all of the teams – which, once again, we knew in advance – play each other an equal number of times, thus rendering the lists just a simple way of organising information for the time being, does not bother them. These lists are even liable to change, but that does not bother them either.

I’ll be honest – as I often can be in these columns – every year this day makes me feel a bit left out. Because I, a man in possession of my senses, simply can’t manage to get excited about the order in which some things will happen at some point in the future. For me, the analysis of football fixtures holds no appeal. I sit there and wonder how and why (you) people can manage to come out with things like ‘Oh, David Moyes has a tough start’ or ‘Oh, Jose Mourinho has a tough start’ and ‘Oh, Manuel Pellegrini has an easy start’ – all relating to the start of the season, of course, because even the hardcore can’t really commit to sifting through these lists to the end. It all feels so alien to me.

And I think, if I analyse why it feels alien to me, which I have done today and every other day since this began, and will continue to do forever, it’s because it doesn’t actually make any sense. None at all. You are all entirely unreasonable people for taking part in fixture unveiling day and you deserve to be punished for it.

The defence of fixture lists as an import part of football – as something of value – is that momentum plays a part in deciding how well or badly a team might or might not do in a season. I agree that it does. But the fixture lists, alone, give almost no indication as to where that momentum will be generated. Manchester United play Chelsea and Liverpool in consecutive games very early on this season: what does it tell us? Little-to-nothing, other than the fact that Manchester United play Chelsea and Liverpool in consecutive games very early on this season. If they beat Chelsea they might have momentum and beat Liverpool. But if they lose they might not. Or if they lose to Chelsea they might be desperate and beat Liverpool because of that. Or Liverpool might just be terrible and they’ll beat them because of that.

There is a multitude of ways momentum can be generated. The fixture list is all but a blank canvas, only ready to be stained once the latest football season starts.

You probably didn’t start the whole process of analysing the fixtures for meaning. My guess is it started with Sky Sports News, who are paid to fill empty spaces with content. But you followed them with it and now the fixture list has become a commodity which you actually have to pay to publish. Imagine a world where the order in which some things are happening is considered to be of inherent value. Well, that is the world which you have created. Not me; I told everyone ‘no’, but they were all ‘yes yes yes.’ Shame on you. I won’t be silenced. For too long this has gone unsaid. The silent minority must speak.

‘Can you tell me the order in which some things are happening, Ethan?’

‘No, that is an event in itself now and you will have to pay for access to it’

‘You are not very nice, Ethan’

‘I am a product of the world I live in’

‘Give me back my cake then’

‘No.’

Bolton Wanderers v Swansea City - FA Cup Fourth Round

A director who worked with him once said of Owen Coyle that there was “a touch of the Bill Shankly about him.” That was in 2007, but unfortunately for said director, even hindsight does not fix a broken brain. Supposing, as we must, that the guy was referring to The Bill Shankly rather than A Bill Shankly, and that the ‘touch’ related to managerial ability rather than sexual prowess, it would not be unreasonable to say that Coyle has fallen short of Shankly. Coyle, for instance, has missed out on all of the European Cups played out during his career so far, via relegation and unemployment, and in fact has won only a playoff title since the remark was made. Small but significant details.

I’ll go further. I think Owen Coyle is not only not good in comparison to Bill Shankly, but someone who could and should be written-off on his own merits. Alone, not being Bill Shankly is not so bad. Many people are not Bill Shankly. I myself am not Bill Shankly. Yet. That isn’t the point here: Owen Coyle is not Bill Shankly, but he’s also a fiercely inadequate Owen Coyle. Me and four friends brainstormed for three hours and could only come up with his wearing shorts as a managerial strength, and even then the group was split on whether this was something which should be punished or rewarded. (I was strongly pro-short.)

All of which leads to the problem of Coyle’s appointment as Wigan manager today. The first thing it made me think of was the letter ‘y’, over and over again, which was odd, because I rarely think in terms of single letters. But then I realised I wasn’t thinking of the letter ‘y’ at all, I was thinking ‘Why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why?’. Which also explained why the letter ‘o’ had also cropped up in my thinking: ‘Why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why oh why?’

If the world was a meritocracy – if football was a meritocracy – there is no way the man I have begun to describe here would have got a job at reasonably appealing club like Wigan, even though they’ve just been relegated. The possibility of Coyle, who at Bolton showed such little aptitude for managing a football team, getting an almost equivalent job mere months after that incident, could not happen in a world which rewarded only Good Things. In the case of Coyle, failure – Bolton weren’t just relegated, they then started to drift towards the bottom of the Championship – has been rewarded.

And the reason failure has been rewarded is (if you’re going to name one reason) because football, like most industries, goes with what it knows. Coyle might well have done a great interview to get the job (although, have you heard him speak?), but the man he is supposed to have been up against is Steve McLaren, another man who has now failed at more jobs than he has succeeded. In football, the same names get all the jobs. The principle behind this makes some sense: when you have seen what a potential manager can do already, you know more about them, so you’re in control of the risk when you appoint them. Fine. But if what you know about the established figure is that they aren’t very good, then the useful thing about this knowledge should, surely, be that it enables you to avoid that figure?

It’s this second bit where football seems to struggle. Success is rewarded, but failure isn’t punished. If you like: The Market doesn’t work. You end up with Owen Coyle’s legs in charge of a football team. And Coyle isn’t a one off. Alex McLeish still gets work. People still think Rafael Benitez deserves top jobs. David O’Leary still gets linked with clubs. The system is broken.

Maybe the worst part of this way of thinking is that new talent doesn’t get let in. I’m not thinking of anyone in particular, but I also am. I wear shorts all the time and I’ve never been relegated; I know most of the players at the big clubs from playing with them on FIFA and I really would like the money: job please.

The fact is: Owen Coyle has the job and I don’t. Don’t tell me that’s a meritocracy. No-one’s ever going to see that I really am the next Bill Shankly, instead, just months of Owen Coyle’s stupid legs.