The Last Word: Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale's art of manipulation
Briefings are off the record leading to transfer speculation which is merely a means to an end
Sunday 04 August 2013
What has greater worth in a world of instant gratification, relentless inanity and carefully constructed fantasy: 5,000 newly qualified nurses, 4,500 teachers, 4,200 police constables or a solitary footballer?
It's a trick question, of course. Each is valued at £105 million. The disproportionate importance placed on profitable frivolity, in the form of Gareth Bale's inevitable transfer to Real Madrid, is utterly indefensible, but a fact of modern life.
Bale, the man, is reassuringly ordinary. He dotes on his infant daughter and finds solace in the company of childhood friends and a supportive family. Without football, he would blend into the background.
Bale, the brand, is ingot-hot. It is not his fault that an obscene price has been placed on his services. The market is feverish and requires fresh meat of the highest quality. He has the right to resist being regarded as part of Tottenham's fixtures and fittings.
He's no innocent; players in his position never are. Convention merely demands his ambition is ambiguous until the money is down. The artful notion that he has reconnected with the child who once wore a Madrid shirt is not entirely convincing, but he, and those around him, have operated with a different degree of dignity to that of Luis Suarez and his learned friends.
The Uruguayan is no George Eastham fighting the tyranny of football's maximum wage. He is no Jackie Robinson dismantling baseball's colour bar. He has few redeeming features, other than an instinctive ability to score goals.
Yet the Liverpool to which he is brazenly ungrateful is not the Liverpool of Shankly, an institution based upon socialist principles, communal pride and a deep yearning for recognition. It is a mid-ranking business with expansionist ambitions.
The modern footballer is internet hit fodder. He is as much a caricature as a fading actress with a "toned bikini body" who just happens to be caught on the beach by a passing paparazzo, or a Z list celebrity whose "wardrobe malfunction" goes viral.
Transfer speculation is sport's soft porn, a guilty secret which is insidious, universal and a means to an end. It may consist of the promulgation of non-stories, mischief making and uneducated guesswork, but it is hugely popular. Millions share the guilty secret of a sly peek, and the plotlines are risible.
Will the shamelessness of Suarez's exit strategy from Liverpool be successful? Will Wayne Rooney's reinvention as a warrior with a poet's sensitivity lead to an equally lucrative departure from Manchester United? Will "friends" of Yaya Touré succeed in securing his return to Barcelona?
I made that last one up, by the way. But now that the notion is out there in cyberspace, someone somewhere will give it the credibility it does not deserve. There are lies, damned lies and rumours spread by adolescents who operate "in the know" Twitter accounts from their bedrooms.
No one particularly cares whether these stories are factual, reasonable or sincere. The agenda is driven by businessmen whispering into a megaphone. They know they will be heard, on an unattributable basis.
The art of the deal, which the Suarez camp appears to ignore, involves getting the message across in a strategic manner, without apparent artifice or aggression. Briefings are off the record, based on mutual trust and tend to massage the truth.
Clubs are hardly benevolent societies. If they want to get a player out, they have few scruples in indulging in emotional blackmail. Contracts are either sacred or a basis for negotiation, depending on the circumstances. Loyalty, perceived or otherwise, is used as a blunt instrument.
Bale's imminent departure to Madrid will merely accelerate the rush to franchise football. The elite clubs have no feel for, or affinity with, those wannabes in the Football League. They fail to understand the importance of community and a shared heritage.
Too many people in the game do not feel the need to care. They are transient, and will leave no trace.
Old Tiger returns – but will it last?
Reports of the demise of Tiger Woods have, apparently, been greatly exaggerated. It remains to be seen whether this is a cause for celebration.
His second-round 61 in the WGC event at Firestone sets the agenda going into the final major of the season, this week's PGA Championship at the Oak Hill Country Club in New York.
Woods is stuck on 14 major titles. The apparent inevitably of his overhauling Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 still seems as quaint and old fashioned as a Walkman.
Brilliance, in a preparatory event on a course on which he traditionally excels, proves little, apart from the authenticity of the talent which has been withered by age, injury and controversy.
He used to obliterate hope, intimidate his rivals. He was metronomic, mistake-free. Yet the questions have multiplied since he won the 2008 US Open on one leg.
Woods is a cumulative 24 shots over par for his weekend rounds in his last six majors. Consistent fallibility, in circumstances which should suit his mental strength, is ominous.
Golf has decided it needs him, warts and all. Yet the clock is ticking. It will not take much for the smile to be replaced by a sneer.
"There is a tradition of the sultry cricketer powering in from the boundary or effortlessly gliding a ball to the boundary, tousled hair blowing in the breeze, his whites signifying a purity of action — oops, I almost forgot myself. Better have a cup of tea."
Pippa Middleton on cricket, folks. No comment required.
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