So, in the end, Watford proved to be Ole’s Waterloo. Watford-loo, or something like that…
How Manchester United’s hopeless masters stuck with their hapless man for so long is beyond me.
Over a year ago (in October 2020), I wrote the following in this column:
“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is out of his depth at this level and I cannot see him surviving much longer. Nice guy, but the axe will fall”.
As this Manchester United soap opera developed, it was so obvious (to most people) that Ole had no cohesive plan, lacked the experience to manage at the highest level, and simply didn’t have the gravitas and presence to successfully return the Old Trafford club to the top.
How Ole survived so long is remarkable. Despite a few decent runs and a great away record, Ole’s reign ultimately became notable for a lack of consistency, some horrendous defeats, and the absence of any sense of a clear direction.
It was fairly obvious in recent weeks that some of the Manchester United stars had lost complete faith in Solskjaer. Some of those players performed abysmally – even shamefully – foot soldiers abandoning their increasingly isolated General.
Then, somewhat bizarrely, just after being sacked, Solskjaer gave an interview to Manchester United’s official channel. He spoke with emotion and sincerity – further evidence of both his decency and his passion for the club – but was his decision to give the interview further evidence that Ole was just too soft for such a demanding role?
I mean, if Sir Alex Ferguson had ever been sacked at Old Trafford, can anyone imagine the club having the gall – not to mention courage – to even ask him for an interview?
The platform at Roscommon Railway Station is quiet, save for eight or nine passengers for the Westport-Dublin train, and a few curious birds. It’s 9.05 on a very pleasant Sunday morning. When the train rattles into view, we leave the birds to the presumed sameness of their day and embark on our own Autumn Nations Series adventure.
The train journey is uneventful, as one would hope it would be. Passengers are ‘masked up’ – while, in the great tradition of our times, nobody speaks and almost everyone scrolls until they are immersed in the spell of their emotionless gadgetry.
If a modern-day Butch Cassidy jumped on in Athlone – with or without a Sundance Kid – he might have a job attracting everyone’s attention and alerting them to his intended thieving.
At Heuston, all human life, young and old weaving and merging and separating. Four American tourists with (eight) big boots cheerily chat as we queue at one of the busy cafes at the station. A little while later, the taxi driver taking us towards the Aviva Stadium asks if we have our “woolly hats” with us – “It’s how I tell the difference between the rugby and the soccer supporters” he intoned through the pandemic Perspex separating us. Sheepish we were not.
The queue outside Slattery’s Bar was long, but not so long that one might abandon the prize on offer. Two dapper gentlemen on duty took names and phone numbers, checked for Covid certs, and guided match-goers to tables as they became available. The pint of Guinness in the plastic container cost €5.80. I didn’t really care, because I was there.
The atmosphere inside the spectacular Aviva Stadium was terrific, as though the sporting public are riding a wave of joy by virtue of being on the road again. Argentina were Ireland’s opponents in this rugby test, part of the Autumn Nations Series.
The Argentinians made a bright start, an early move catching Ireland off guard. 7-0 to the visitors. In the Aviva’s highest tier, a handful of Argentinian flags fluttered.
Ireland responded to the early setback with a series of powerful surges. The crowd roared their approval as the home team powered over the try-line time after time (well, seven in all), the Irish forwards unstoppable.
Truth be told, it was a ruthlessly efficient demolition of a respected rugby team, Argentina overwhelmed by an Irish side brimming with confidence and momentum. Joey Carbery was slotting kicks over with the casual assurance of a craftsman who has supreme trust in his skills.
An hour or so after the game, as my son and I passed the famous O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, I asked one of the men on duty outside the landmark premises if there was a taxi rank nearby. The elderly man had a kindly face.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Where are you from?’
‘Ah sure I’m a neighbour…Longford’.
We proceeded to narrow it down further. He said he was from Tarmonbarry, to which I responded ‘I’m from Rooskey’. As the man stepped into the street to hail a taxi for us, he name-checked the old Cloudland ballroom in Rooskey, and we were both briefly back in the era of the showbands, mineral bars and long-haired skelping youths. It turned out that the very courteous and helpful man we were speaking to was Oliver Barden himself, the proprietor of the famous O’Donoghue’s bar.
Back at Heuston, there were queues outside the takeaways and cafes. We were buzzing with enthusiasm over Ireland’s emphatic win, but tired after walking a lot during our day in the city. The atmosphere had been great, as it tends to be on the day of rugby internationals, whether or not one sports a woolly hat.
On the train, the man sitting beside me kept sighing, while continuously shaping as if he was about to ask to be released from the window seat (he never did). Nobody spoke, people instead scrolling in silent homage to the digital dance of the deadpan. Instead, I defiantly perused an entire Sunday Independent, even if navigating a broadsheet on a busy train is almost as challenging as trying to stop Tadhg Beirne in full flight.
Just one more thing, as the TV detective Columbo used to say: If that modern-day Butch Cassidy took his chances on a train just now, he might also be unnerved by all the masked people staring back at him!
Shuffling newspapers for what seemed like an interminable few minutes, muttering “forgive me” a few times – midst awkward silences – and then asking his audience how many of them had been to Peppa Pig World, British PM Boris Johnson’s speech to business leaders this week has been widely ridiculed. The references to Boris and the cartoon character Peppa Pig caused most reaction.
A spokesperson said: “This is an embarrassment to our client…the comparison is unjustified and mortifying. We do not appreciate being associated with such a cartoonish character”.
A spokesperson for the PM declined to respond to the above statement from the spokesperson for Peppa Pig…
The scene: a city centre alleyway, where two homeless men are wrapped in sleeping bags and their broken dreams…
First man: Any news? I see Covid is rampant…they’re asking people to reduce their social contacts…
Second man: That won’t affect us much!
First man: Have you any interest in I’m A Celebrity, the show where people live in the wilderness and survive on very little food?
Second man: I suppose I should…it sounds rather familiar!
First man: Ah sure you have to smile. I don’t suppose either of us will be going to Garth Brooks either…
Second man: Well, we have one or two friends in low places…
First man: Anyways, onwards and upwards….except for Covid.
Second man: I see they’re asking people to work from home…if only we had the option!
First man: At least there’s some good news…apparently the Government has reiterated its commitment to end homelessness by 2030.
Second man: Something to look forward to!
(Night falls, a couple of stray cats pass, an ambulance siren sounds, and two men rest their heads on tattered coats, returning to the maddening chaos of their tortured dreams…)