Unpredictable Predictability, Vol.4
Arsene Wenger, and thus by association Arsenal, is a specialist in failure. I know this because Jose said so. This truth does not of course consider the fact that Wenger is the Premier League’s most enduring manager. Nor does it take into account Wenger’s haul of trophies during this period in Arsenal’s history. And as for the reality that the club had to make repayments on a new stadium whilst Chelsea and Manchester City were financially and cosmetically transformed into Godzilla-like mutations during this time, is something that should be conveniently filed away in the recesses of memory.
No, the fact is that when Jose speaks, we must accept. We must submit to his belligerence. It’s inescapable. Like morning breath. This is how the narrative must follow. Once those words left his lips, it was inevitable that they would be used to mock Arsenal’s next significant defeat. And as they stuttered against Bayern Munich – the Champions of Europe, no less – the headlines were obviously being written before any penalties were missed. Notice for instance the gleeful relish with which The Mirror incorporated Jose’s words onto its backpage headline the day after the match. Jose provides the soundbite and it follows that it enters football’s vernacular.
I admit I was ridiculously naïve in my criticism of Mourinho earlier in the season. I suggested that he was tired, that he had become jaded, that he was the Sated One. It’s become clearer as Chelsea have moved to the Premier League’s summit, that he had been merely playing an elaborate game of bluff. His personal attacks on his rivals over the last month or so have been as acidic as they have ever been, if not worse. And he uses these barbs to great effect because he clearly has friends and admirers in the media who hang on his every poisonous utterance. This is a man who is prepared to win at all costs, however ugly. In fact, he’s probably worse than his original Stamford Bridge incarnation, because he clearly doesn’t have anything to prove this time around. But he nevertheless persists. Goading, prodding, mocking.
As a result, I’m going to go so far as to suggest that Chelsea will be Champions in May. Why? Because the Premier League, like any other story fits into a genre. And a genre is reliant on repetition. We all instinctively understand the basic conventions and have clear expectations. Like what to do when facing a zombie apocalypse, for example.
It therefore stands to reason that Arsenal will inevitably capitulate as the pressure mounts. It happens every season. As does the changing cast of managers and players at White Hart Lane – that shimmering mirage of optimism in August that heartbreakingly turns to vapour in the spring. Everton will perennially punch above their weight but sadly fail to find a crack through the top four’s glass ceiling. One club will be written off as relegation fodder after a series of traumatic results in the early part of the season but will then experience a buoyant resurgence after appointing a new man. This season’s trapdoor escapees for instance, look likely to be Crystal Palace.
Manchester United’s woes may be used to illustrate how such genre definitions do not always apply but if you consider Liverpool’s renaissance this year, then we’re essentially talking about a classic role reversal and the picking up of a long-forgotten narrative thread last played out in the late eighties.
So, let me repeat, Chelsea will win the league.
However much we might try to avoid them, routine and repetition are part of our daily existence. We need them. Some might say thrive upon them. We get up, go to work, have a moan, watch some television and go to bed. Do it the next day. Hell, if you’ve read these Dispatches even on a semi-regular basis, you’ll probably notice a vague whiff of ‘previously on’. The best television dramas seem to always kill off a character in the penultimate episode or have a two-hander at some stage and it’s got to a point where the format’s greatest examples knowingly acknowledge it. In a recent episode of True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s nihilistic detective suggests:
“This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me that time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Repetition. Routine. I, for instance have walked the same route from my mum’s house to White Hart Lane for the best part of twenty-nine years. Not out of any sense of superstition but because of the familiarity it holds for me years after moving away from the area and for the evocation of memory that duly follows because of it. We all probably possess such ingrained idiosyncrasies when watching football just as players will warm-up and warm-down. Without routine we would have no sense of narrative both in our lives and as part of our understanding of the game.
Despite this, the iconography and mythology of football is only ever written when something truly unpredictable occurs. Hence why Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick remains one of the most era-defining images in football history and why Manchester United supporters wanted to commemorate it at Selhurst Park during Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace. It’s a shame then, that Cantona’s one-man campaign to single-handedly and literally kick racism out of football has been conveniently mangled into being the apparent reason for an unrelated death at another meeting between the two teams. Narratives can be easily manipulated in that way.
Which brings us back to Jose. Like the scheming Frank Underwood in House of Cards, he makes you complicit every time he speaks down that camera lens at you. He seduces you. He is a highly sophisticated communicator who chooses his words with devilish care and he has friends in very high places. His club will win the league because the narrative demands it. The Second Coming. The Special One, Part II. Specialist In Success. You can see the headlines now.
Resist him, Arsene. Go against type.
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