When we were kids playing football, one manager always insisted on the pass. The pass was everything and it was not played to the players’ feet but a yard ahead of him to keep the tempo of the game. The pass was the game, nothing else mattered. Sure it was great to meet the ball on the half volley and burst the net, but when the passing game was being played at its best, teams would open up in front of you so that the ball could ultimately be rolled into empty nets.
This was how the game was supposed to be played and one or two of the lads actually had the skill, technique and fitness to execute this passing game.
We played with and against fellas who were so talented that everyone thought they might be good enough to make it. But they weren’t.
This Darwinian process of viciously competitive selection underlines just how good the footballers who make a career out of the game are.
This is why it is so depressing to watch the national football team leather the ball from end to end like Sunday morning amateurs.
The players who tog out for Ireland are better than this. We know that the way to win is to have the ball. Forcing decent players into an outdated and predictable system, hoping that we can grind out results, is a system which is not working.
Maybe the most depressing aspect is the autocratic approach of the management who claim there is no alternative because deep down they believe that the players are not good enough.
That philosophy is very similar to the philosophy that underpins our entire economic strategy. We are told that there is no alternative and that the economy isn’t strong enough to change course now. We are constantly led to believe that tearing up the present script involves risk as if last week’s figures which show 50,900 Irish people emigrated in the 12 months to April and 89,000 people in total left the country last year are evidence of success.
It’s a bit like Trapattoni arguing that if we change the system now we are taking a risk. But we have been comprehensively beaten by all decent teams in the group.
Someone very clever, I’m not too sure whether it was Albert Einstein or Roy Keane, said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Think of the present economic policies, which we have been at for the past five years with little or no evidence of success.
Yet the management look for green shoots everywhere. Looking to bond yields or a month’s industrial production figure and shouting recovery is like having been beaten by all and sundry, and then trumpeting a victory over the Faroe Islands as a sign of footballing prowess.
Supporters of the present approach of cutting spending to facilitate economic growth point to the experience of the late 1980s when the government cut spending and the economy grew. They contend that this will happen again if we just wait long enough.
It’s like Trapattoni arguing that his style of football – a hybrid of traditional long-ball, route one and classic Italian Catenaccio – has been successful in the past and will work again.
The difference is that in Italy he had players of extraordinary talent who knew exactly how to play the game he wanted to play. And possibly more crucially, in his 1970s and 1980s heyday, other teams didn’t know how to break this system down. But since the turn of this century, the passing game has unlocked this Catenaccio (which literally means “door bolt”) approach.
Similarly in the economics world, the notion of taking a piece of evidence from the 1980s and trying to apply this straitjacket to 2013 omits to take into account that the world has changed. For example, today we have a vicious liquidity trap, credit is drying up and mortgage debts are overwhelming hundreds of thousands. In the late 1980s there was very little personal debt in the country. In addition, in the late 1980s Irish interest rates halved – propelling the local economy – and, crucially, the fiscal contraction was preceded by a devaluation of our currency, making the exporting sector competitive.
Today, interest rates can’t halve because they are at historic lows. And, of course, we use Germany’s currency which is appropriate for Europe’s powerhouse where there is historically low unemployment, but hardly helpful to a country which has seen 400,000 emigrate since 2009.
If you compare the ongoing crisis of the Celtic Tiger to the recovery of the Asian Tigers after their monumental crises of 1997/98, we see that there is another way out of a debt-fuelled depression. This way involves allowing the currency to fall, writing off large debts, restructuring others and becoming competitive through overnight exchange rate changes rather than grinding down the economy for years. However, adopting an Asian Tiger approach means tearing up the old script.
You would have thought that 400,000 emigrants would be more than sufficient to force a change of tactic, wouldn’t you? But like Mr Trapattoni’s management approach, the results seem to be less important than preservation of the system.
It’s the same with the economy: irrespective of the results, the management will uphold the failed status quo at all costs.