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It’s Not Always the Beautiful Game

The most common reaction to Gary Cook’s latest, and pleasingly last, act of buffoonery was a tidal wave of outpoured glee. End-game for the oafish chief-executive was set in motion not by a financial mishap, but by a personal calamity – a mishit email making light of a cancer stricken woman. A meticulous investigation, following a claim of ‘hacking’ by Cook, unsurprisingly followed and flat out failed to save a man history shows has only ever been too eager to dig his own holes. It was the final flurry of f**k-ups by the oft-maligned Cook, and the door was opened for his departure – a sign that, whilst his misplaced arrogance and pitiful executive spiel was entertained, an attack on a stricken woman, the mother of City’s Nedem Onuoha, most certainly could not. Mass derision may have followed Cook out the gates of Eastlands, but it is he – the new benefactor of an enormous severance package – that will emit the last chortle.

 His ousting from the role as Chief Executive will emplace little or no infringement on Cook’s future movements. According to reports, Cook was already heading out-bound, having planned an uprooting to America for the summer of 2012. His position will be filled by whoever next is pulled off the corporate conveyer belt, and City, albeit without the presence of their tossed aside Cook, will continue on their path to world domination. Yet, if one chips away the blatant disgust of using terminal illness as comedic gain, there lies the sad essence of everything that is wrong with the game: falsities, and the cascade of lies which render the game too often contemptible.

Cook’s finger was easily led to the excuse of hacking. Having bombed its way into the media in recent months on the back of News Corp, it was, one suspects, the one and only legitimate straw at which to clutch at for the crumbling Cook. That it made little or no sense was irrelevant; Cook himself fronted mock outrage in the immediate aftermath of the revelation, promising all and sundry that the matter would be dealt with privately and the culprit flogged. The arrogance to first displace himself from all blame, and to then cite a preposterous claim to further evade him of any wrongdoing was a classic case of the perceived untouchable imploding – the final step off a plank built by and openly walked across by he who it will condemn. Cook’s faux-pas, however, should not be cast aside as an end that should momentarily be celebrated and, like the character himself, forgotten about.

The immense ridiculousness of his shirking away and attempts to emplace blame on an imaginary offender not only highlighted an idiocy rooted to his core – it once again brought to the fore a cancer in football: the truth’s dispensability. In the illimitable column inches that catalogued the tale and Cook’s eager freefall from grace, it was unsurprisingly the content of the sent email, and not Cook’s spluttered excuses, which filled all. Not that his evasion from the truth should come as a surprise. Cook’s emerged from the same schooling that produced, for instance, the abhorrent owners of Manchester United: The Glazers. Quiet, and relatively reserved on the surface, their continuous pillaging of the club’s finances has rolled on the back of deception since the beginning of their much maligned ownership. In the wake of the 2005 takeover, Joel Glazer appeared before the cameras of the club’s Pravdaesque television station to appease the fickle hordes and coax the uneducated into the club’s deceptive lair. Extensive finances would be in place to ensure the snaring of the world’s finest talents. And, just for good measure, fan’s fears would be allayed through the family’s constant communication with the club’s fan-base. In the succeeding six years, Joel and the rest of the family has been camera shy, with the family facing dwindling fan protestations with ‘we’ll just hide away.’ The family’s possession of Manchester United, the way in which the club is run and its fans treated, is another example of the cruel, chess-like nature of a game soured by a mismatch of kings and pawns: the supporters, enshrouded in lamentable fickleness, stay quiet and the rich get wealthier.

Embellishment, deception, dishonesties, masquerading, compulsive lying: call it whatever you may wish, but to ignore it is to give rise to it. Pop-shots can easily be targeted towards apes in pin-stripe suits, but their shirking from honesty is mirrored in those who otherwise strive to make the game good. Take, for instance, Arsene Wenger. In the inane grip-and-pursuit of Barcelona’s attempts to dislodge Cesc Fabregas from the clasps of Wenger, the Frenchman appeared broken and unreeled lies just to hide it. During one suitably inexplicable media gig, Wenger made it be known that, as far as he understood, neither Fabregas nor the rumoured to be outbound Samir Nasri would be leaving the club. Within days they were gone, Fabregas to join the elite battalion in Catalonia, and Nasri to Manchester City – a club who Arsenal, in their letting go of Nasri, have helped supersede them in super quick time. In the ruins both players left behind, there was a naked exposing of Arsenal’s frailties and Wenger’s desperate attempts to patch up increasing cracks. The real losers, however, were the Arsenal fans – who, at first, had to resign themselves to falling behind and then listen to lies aimed to lull them into false hope. Wenger’s wrongdoing was another in a long line of nonsensical oddities which began with the eternal ‘I didn’t see it,’ and continues with a stubbornness that is costing the club its credibility. Arsenal supporters will rightly bemoan the club’s descent into racing not for the title, but for fourth place – and, just as importantly, the lies gift-wrapped to compound it.

Wenger, it should be noted, is not a sole perpetrator. Alex Ferguson’s skewing of the truth may be often passed off as mere mind-games to aid his charge towards glory, but it would be amiss to disregard some of his odder espousings. Ferguson’s rigorous shoulder-rubbing of the aforementioned Glazer family whenever prompted has sunk many a red heart over the last six years. His flawed assertion that the Glazers are ‘brilliant owners,’ and have ‘never been a issue’ for him is a baffling misjudgement of a unedifying force destabilising a previously healthy club.

Of course, given Ferguson’s amassed fortune, his vision may be swayed – but to add credibility to a regime eroding the foundations upon which the club were built is to mistreat the support who suffers as a consequence. In ticket prices and, most crucially, seeing their club emptied of its profits. Loyalists may well question those who dare point an accusatory finger at Ferguson, but the point stands: if you can’t see the truth and tell it, be quiet rather than add further fuel to a roaring fire. Such claims are even more preposterous than his droning that United wouldn’t sell Real Madrid a virus, never mind Ronaldo, whom they promptly did sell soon after. To Madrid. For an unspent £80m. Not that the decaying of the truth is a lost feature at Old Trafford – it does, after all, hold the office of the inexcusable David Gill. ‘Safe hands,’ as he’s rather fondly known, was the wise owl hooting the now classic conclusion that debt is the ‘road to ruin.’ Soon after, Gill decided to cosy up to the debt-producing Glazers in lieu of his own credibility. He later went on to deny the quotation, citing the ever reliable ‘I’ve been misquoted’ line. Yeah, right, David.

Whilst Wenger and Ferguson’s lies can be partly shrugged off in reward for the genius which both has brought to the game, it is again the executive players, the boardroom bods, who cripple the game. However, one may ask, how exactly does the game shed itself of those who reduce it to the gutters. Do supporters, most of which are only interested in the game, not the politics, really care? If not, do they deserve a sport terminally ill with deceiving connivers? There is, after all, something desperately timid about, say, gaggles of purported anti-glazer fans intoning their hatred from seats they paid the Glazers to sit in. Raucous noise in opposition of something is perfectly legitimate, but it’s a protest fractured by willingly supporting the cause one is battling against. Simple as it may sound, the only reasonable protest would be a boycott, of tickets and the litany of red-devil-embroidered tack packing the shelves, by United’s majority. That is hasn’t come to that, despite the tumultuous nature of United’s financial state, tells its own sad tale: that the majority care little about what happens off the pitch, and won’t until it blatantly effects matters on it. Whilst the media can play its own part, it should be up to the supporters, and the supporters alone, to decipher all that is wrong with the game. The things that they can change, not with words but with what’s most often required to change wrong to right: actions. Those enlightened by the reality of the situation, who’ve tossed aside memberships and season tickets, may well argue that those unwilling to part ways will eventually get what’s deserved. Yet, in truth, these fractions should never have formed in the first place. The crises of United’s ownership are well documented by now, but the cold facts rarely raise the heads of its support. The financial side bores many, with its business jargon and bewildering figures, and what’s left is a divide: between those casting ominous eyes to the future, and those stuck firmly in the now. At the heart of it lies deception, on the club’s part, and ignorance and non-movement by fans.

Many will lament football’s darker side but withdraw from suggesting how to change it. Expelling lies from the game may appear to be an idealistic crusade, but much can be done to ensure the manner of them is less crushing. Accompanying the column inches dedicated to the moral outrage of Cook’s fall should have been commentaries on why he at first tried to hide it. Similarly, Arsenal supporters, much doom-laden, should momentarily put the team’s efforts aside and question why Wenger played dumb when the reality was otherwise and obvious. The newspapers regularly devote swathes of columns to Alex Ferguson’s jousting and jostling – why, then, do they not prod at the more pertinent issues? Like, for instance, his vocal supporting of the flawed Glazers. In the rare occasions where David Gill appears before the cameras, it is not his previously held beliefs that are brought to the fore, but unanswerable questions about transfers. The same reasons apply to the F.A. and its distorting disciplinary system, and the various clubs who regularly cheat their fans with extortionate ticket pricing. Leaving it all happen – those who ultimately suffer as a result of that which they fail to impede. Naive though it may be to think it, there is ample room to cleanse the game, but only if those who dirty it are made accountable. It’s the stuff that Sky may not train their cameras on, but one’s eyes and ears can pick up on freely. It is idealistic, of course, to suspect there will be a change. Not for the foreseeable future, anyway. But perhaps when the self-destruction button is leaned on too heavily, and when the game spirals closer to farce – maybe then heads will rise, fingers will wag, and mouths will drop in disgust.

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Herzogs Child