September is very nearly upon us and the hysteria of another football season, temporarily befuddled by an early start, rouses itself from the summer cave. The transfer window, a ghoulish piece of uselessness since its inception, suddenly represents for many a supreme evil in the game, only weeks removed from the most famous manager in football’s humiliation of a less influential co-worker and blatant acknowledgement he expects his players to cheat by feigning injury. Mourinho was not held to account for any of this in any meaningful way, but we can all point fingers at the apparently faceless amorphousness of football administration, just as we spent years grumbling about FIFA until a bunch of yankees came and did something for us. Then, we complained about that. Some of us, at least.
In this silly season, if I can use that most tired of terms, we resort to old habits and old stories, the kernels of which often lie in the darkest corner of the press writer’s heart, where (invariably) he lingers on the standards and expectation of the stereotype clothed in the restraints of machismo. Thus Pedro, a player it is not clear Manchester United ever really intended to sign given the club’s predilection for enormous sums suddenly having given way to surprising parsimony, chooses Chelsea not in a clear business or even (whisper this, and ever so gently; I’ll lean in) a footballing one, but as the latest materialization of a man walking away with the woman you yourself coveted. Louis Van Gaal is the cuckold, though it is not clear who did the cuckolding; the footballer made his choice but the chief executive failed the great Dutchman. Woodward thus finds himself discussed in the suddenly confident tones usually adopted by the political press once handed their latest Clintonian sacrifice.
It’s a horrible way to think about it all of course, but long the standard, allowing us to revel in the puerility of this whole enterprise while without a tick of shame holding our noses. Manchester United failed, we are told; on an ordinary occasion I would allow myself a little bit of base and unadulterated pleasure but on this occasion the stomach turns, just a little and just enough. Mourinho boasts of seducing his target in sixty seconds, which though apparently missing out on the actual fun parts of seduction satisfies our monopolistic male view of the whole enterprise. In this safe space brevity and speed are proof of our virility rather than evidence of our limitations. Pedro’s subsequently impressive debut performance matters little in the grand scheme of things. It gives Mourinho a chance to swing back to the pub with his prize in tow before last call.
I don’t miss my brushes with this particular expression of British masculinity, I must say. I find that living in America permits me to watch the game and harrumph in peace, my complaints seen by the locals as part of this refined, odd sport they slowly fall to love with its rampant cheating part of its cultural fabric, its esoteric foreignness. My unwilling exposure to the media machine that assaults every set of eyes and ears from Skibbereen to Dundee is limited. I instead must navigate stories of giant men joining basketball teams no one seems to care about until they are already within touching distance of winning something. It seems a fair trade. Soon Pedro will go the way of all Chelsea wingers under this (still, to me at least) new regime founded on oil and treachery: he’ll soon trample up and down the line, dully, a husk in thrall, looking in sorrow at the space between centre-halves that must be left to run its own course according to the Master’s plan. He can check with Willian about that. Manchester United’s horrific and nigh unspeakable humiliation will last forever. I am transported back to a time when we all rubbed shoulders, when I was asked with confidence “you would, wouldn’t you?” about an assortment of women, all of them parceled into categories defined by lust and all of this was the way of it and not just the manner in which we hid our fears of not being up to it, of failing to defeat each other. Football relives youth as a matter of course, but it is perhaps not worth it if we cannot halt the march into adolescence. When Chelsea visit Old Trafford their fans will crow in glee, swinging the prize into view as she gasps for air. Pedro will turn out all his tricks for the boys. Or, he won’t; it matters not. He’s just a prop, the tabloid media and the broadsheets it inspires the engine, our stupid boyish fears the fuel.