There was a time when British football managers ruled the footballing waves. Brian Clough, Bill Shankley, Alf Ramsey: it was hard to think of more gifted managers. But look through managers of Premier League clubs today and what do you find? Mourinho, Guardiola, Klopp: European coaching talent has totally eclipsed anything Britain can produce.Ditto for players.
It once was the same with politics. Irish politicians would do their best but the more cultured tones of British politicians – Macmillan, Thatcher, Blair – suggested the confidence of a much larger and more powerful political unit than Ireland possessed, north or south.
But if you’ve been watching TV news over the last month or two, you’ll have seen the rise of the European politicians and the demise of the British politicians. James Brokenshire is no doubt a demi-god in his own front room, but he shrinks to a manikin when Michel Barnier comes over and does a walk along our border. Theresa May is no doubt a colossus in the May household, but she looks pretty small-fry against the suave confidence of Guy Verhofstadt, who’s been appearing on TV over the last couple of days, making it clear that the EU is going to fight (the Republic of ) Ireland’s corner, since (the Republic of) Ireland is a committed member of the EU and the Brits are heading for the door. Verhofstadt is not slow to add that the EU represents 27 countries, whereas the UK is …What? One country, three countries, four countries? Stack it how you will, the big boys are the EU and the erstwhile big boys are the Brits.
I don’t for a moment think the EU isn’t in need of reform. I don’t like the way Germany and France are able to call the shots and small states like the south of Ireland have to do what they’re bid. But I feel the same sense of delight I felt, the first time I travelled to Europe via the Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry. Suddenly, I realized, you could travel to and from Europe and simply by-pass Britain. That felt good. Michel and Guy are providing a similar tonic.
If you doubt me, check last night’s The View. Poor little Diane Dodds did her best to talk up Mother Britain, but she looked like a fish that’s just been gaffed by a Belgian fisherman. Now if we could teach the Europeans – and the Brits – to not say ‘Ireland and Northern Ireland’. You’re still in Ireland when you cross into Newry.