Define ‘Family Reasons’
Andi goes Swans.
So the bloodletting at Anfield has begun. Damien Comolli — half son of Satan, half small Italian pastry — has paid the price for paying ridiculous prices for players that have underperformed by virtually any measure, with the possible exception of chuckles. Fenway Sports Group have swung their axe, and suddenly, the man who took care of all the football stuff that wasn’t, y’know, the actual football stuff, is gone.
Except, officially, that’s not quite right. He left for “family reasons”, and unless there’s some kind of Jeremy Kyle special pending — “Charlie, Andy, Stewart, we have the results of your DNA tests, and can now reveal the identity of your real father …” — then that, on the face of it, has nothing to do with his patchy record in the transfer market. Yet nobody believed it for a second. That’s not because it’s an obvious falsehood in itself; there are plenty of perfectly possible family reasons that might require Comolli to leave. It’s because it’s accepted code: “family reasons” is a euphemism for “we don’t want to be seen to sack you, you don’t want to be seen to be sacked”. Of course, at some point there will be a manager — maybe there already has been — who will genuinely step down for family reasons, and we’ll all assume it’s because he was useless and mock him anyway. This is because of football’s only truth.
Everybody lies. All the time.
There are always motives; football doesn’t have time for lies that fly just for the hell of it, fun though that would be. (“No, he won’t be playing this weekend. An asphyxiwank went wrong. He should be back for Tuesday, though, as long as we can get the grapefruit out. I told him to use an orange, but would he listen?”) As noted above, “family reasons” suits both parties, though in Comolli’s case, if lie indeed it be, it’s not just a white one. Liverpool are stuck with his signings, and as motivational techniques go, the public acknowledgement that they’ve flopped to the extent that the man who signed them has to go doesn’t feel overly winning. (They have to deal with the implication, mind.)
Football is not a place for truth. Managerial press conferences are crammed with dissembling bluster designed to protect one team or provoke another. Players express their own precious fictions through the medium of interpretative dance, raising querulous arms to claim non-existent throw-ins, or thrutching like de-bowled goldfish in the hope of eliciting an illicit yellow card. Badges are kissed. Loyalty is pledged. Off the pitch, they grin dead grins as they shill products they don’t own, supermarkets they don’t use, pants they don’t wear and crisps they don’t eat. Newspapers run stories they know to be baseless or, if we’re being generous, that they have failed to examine as critically as an idealised standard of journalism might require. FIFA exist for the good of FIFA. The FA have stopped even pretending to govern. Commentators grit their teeth and conjure excitement from the dead and the dying, desperate to stop you doing something better with your day. McDonald’s claim to have the health of the nation’s football-playing youth at heart. Budweiser claims to be a beer.
It’s so endemic that it’s barely acknowledged. When Alex Ferguson did his bit for trans-European relations, remarking that “when an Italian tells me it’s pasta, I look under the sauce to check”, his biggest calumny was the suggestion that this might be limited to Italy. Ferguson himself, of course, views the truth as very much a luxury, whether it be one-eyed assessments of perceived sins and slights (which we might, I suppose, attribute to extreme self-interest) or flat-out fibs. But you can’t blame him: so do his peers, his rivals, his enemies and friends, his players and his chairmen and his agents.
This isn’t a woolly-eyed “oh, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was just a bit more honest” rant, though obviously it would, if only because wading through lakes of bullshit gets tiring after a while. Roll your eyes too often and you’ll strain something. But what’s remarkable and slightly sad is the way it’s just been accepted; that a game saturated in dishonesty is so readily swallowed. We have to put up with this parade of equivocation, elision, bluster, and deception, if we want football? Fine, we will. Football’s still worth having, right? Right?
Maybe. The readiness of some to, for example, accept diving in their own ranks as professional realism, but deride it in their rivals as the cheating it is, suggests that game’s relationship with honesty is fragmented beyond repair. Perhaps this is simply the natural consequence of a sport growing up in a sad and broken world, a helpless, hapless morphosis from ‘game that people played and watched because they liked playing and watching it’ to ‘desperate exercise in money, power and status’. If lying is generally a bad thing done by bad people — moral philosophy ain’t complicated, kids — then football is a twitching, scrabbling rat king of interlaced, mutated, and shabby untruths, and we’re expected to pay a fortune to watch it squirm.
Back to Comolli, and his “family reasons”. What Liverpool should have done, perhaps, is issued a statement saying “Damien Comolli has been sacked because he’s a chancer and failure, and we’ve done it now to take the pressure of Kenny Dalglish until the end of the season”. True or not, nobody would have believed a word.