It is the year 2020, and the game previously known as association football is almost ready to resume after a near decade long hiatus.
The story of how football came to a shuddering halt is of course well known, but for those not familiar with the events of summer 2012 the story is worth re-visiting.
It all began when a thoroughly average Manchester United team clinched the Barclays Premier League title, pushing their expensively assembled noisy neighbours into second place. Losing the league to a team that was quite clearly taking the piss; playing pensioners – one of whom was retired – in midfield, replacing Patrice Evra with a doppelgänger to whom the entire concept of defending was unfathomable – and making him captain – and of course, allowing some random homeless Portuguese lad to legitimately write ‘professional footballer’ in the occupation section of any forms he may be required to fill out.
The oil rich overlords at Manchester City took the inevitable decision that manger Roberto Mancini’s lovely hair and impeccable fashion sense were not enough to atone for this failure. This was a job for a manager with record of relentless success albeit with hair and fashion sense that while ok was not in the league of the uber stylish Italian. This was a job for “The Special One2. Jose Mourinho was prised from the Spanish capital and armed with a credit card with no limit, what could go wrong?
Well in the event quite a bloody lot. And it was all down to the arcane method of communication which football stoically clung to – yes the multi-billion pound industry that was football was brought down by something called a fax machine.
As we know the England national side in the spring of 2012 was also in the market for a new manager after sacking Fabio Capello for his conduct during English footballs ill advised “racism renaissance” of late 2011/early 2012. Fleet Street anointed Harry Redknapp and due to the fact that the only viable alternative – Stuart Pearce – had once played David “Calamity” James, a not particularly good goalkeeper, as a striker (note – there is still a fierce debate amongst football historians as to whether this was an attempt at what was known at the time as a “merk” by Pearce, or the former full back was actually in need of professional medical help) the choice of Redknapp was never seriously questioned.
So Man City had a “Special One” and it was ‘Arry for England, both were to be announced on the same day and all parties considered themselves winners, alas fate had other ideas. This is the moment where footballs idiosyncratic sentimental side proved to be its downfall. Due to the fact that the only place fax machines existed in 2012 was in the offices of various football associations, knowledge of how these relative antiques actually functioned was limited to and shared by, a small handful of luddites who yearned after a simpler time. This thin spread of fax machine expertise was to prove crucial in the context of the events that soon unfolded.
What actually happened in the FA headquarters that fateful day we may never know, in the end though it hardly matters. Whether it was a technical fault or human error, something somewhere went badly wrong, the result being the contracts for the appointments at Man City and England were switched, and the day ended not with Mourinho at the Etihad and ‘Arry at Wembley, but the other way around.
So due to a quirk, a piece of technology that belonged in the 1980′s and a cruel twist of fate, it was now “wheeler dealer” Redknapp with the quadruple platinum credit card, and as the accounting departments at a number of his previous clubs foretold, ruin was just around the corner. Only on this occasion the scale of that ruin surpassed anything previously witnessed or indeed, imagined.
(Note: at this point it should be pointed out that the failure of the England side at Euro 2012 was due to factors beyond the control of Mourinho. A massive sex scandal – that unfolded before our very eyes via the medium of a social networking site known as Twitter, once very popular with both footballers and some of the most mentally unhinged human beings in the recorded history of the species – decimated the side, leaving only Emile Heskey – who was unaffected by the scandal after dropping his Blackberry down the toilet and therefore being unable to join in the digital “roasting” that took place – to fly the flag of St. George.
Any student of football history will tell you Heskey’s international career was based entirely on one of those “merks” so popular amongst footballers at the time. Fashioning a winning side out of just big Emile was beyond even Jose and England were humiliated in Poland and Ukraine. Interestingly an England side consisting of only Emile and some training cones did secure a credible 0-0 draw with Scotland at Hampden Park – Craig Levein’s second flirtation with his controversial “strikerless” formation proving equally as disastrous as the first. Another “merk”? We may never know.
Back to Manchester and ‘Arry’s spending began spiralling out of control. At first everything seemed normal, every player who could feasibly be described as “triffic” (which was nearly everyone) was quickly snapped up, eyebrows were raised when after signing Ledley King he ploughed most of the clubs money into an ultimately doomed attempt to create a bionic knee for the ex-Spurs centre back. The straw that broke the camel’s back however was his financially suicidal attempts to find and fund a way to re-incarnate Rosie, his beloved dog who had passed away years earlier.
Rosie however remained an ex dog, Ledley’s knee was still no more robust than tracing paper and more importantly the Abu Dhabi Royal Family went bankrupt. This lead to a sky-rocketing of worldwide oil prices, inflicting a fatal blow on the already wounded world economy. Politicians were forced into action and the result was the controversial “Stop Football Act” of 2012.
All football related activity was to be immediately ceased; even mentioning the game was an offence carrying a potential custodial sentence. The only remnant of what was once the most popular sport in the world was a rundown, dilapidated Wembley stadium where legend has it you could still find a psychologically broken John Terry, standing on what was once hallowed turf, clutching his captains armband, singing “God save the Queen”, his cheek stained permanently with a single tear.
Only now at the start of the third generation of the 21st century, after much lobbying from grown men driven to desperation at the lack of the next iteration of a popular game called Football Manager (which was of course banned under the SFA) is football allowed to resume. Understandably a caveat to this resumption is that Mr Redknapp cannot come within 500 feet of a football ground or Sky Sports camera. Thankfully his role as Chief Financial Advisor to the Greek government should keep him busy and away from where he can do harm.
What we must ask ourselves now , as we get ready to rekindle old friendships, re-ignite old passions and resume old feuds is this – has football learned the necessary lessons? Has the misery and carnage that was the consequence of such staggeringly reckless spending been enough to convince us that things must be radically different this time? Or will we ignore what recent history is trying to teach us and continue on a path that will eventually be the ruin of us all?
Only time will tell.
This article originally appeared on the sadly departed Football Project