Not able to be played or played on.
(of music) Too difficult or bad to perform.
How many times have you heard or read the term “unplayable” recently ?
Maybe not that many if you don’t follow football, but for those of us that do it’s intended to mean that a player is at the top of his game, or to borrow an American sporting term, on fire or, put very simply, in a rich vein of form.
And yet … it doesn’t make sense. The actual word doesn‘t mean that at all – it never has and it never will. It just sounds wrong to me: totally wrong.
If I was a football manager and I had a player I considered unplayable, it would be because he was either injured, not quite ready or just plain rubbish.
“Although the squad was down to the bare bones following a spate of injuries and a virus that had ravaged the rest of the players, I still couldn’t consider playing Jimmy Brown as he was only 15 and therefore simply unplayable.”
That’s what it means to me …
Now, there’s very few people involved in “The Beautiful Game” who can be considered to be well-read or even – dare I say it – educated, in the usual sense. Roy Hodgson, Arsene Wenger and Sven Goran Eriksson are all much-traveled men with the ability to converse fluently in four or five different languages. They are also known for the breadth of their knowledge beyond the confines of the game itself. Yet, even they use clichés and phrases that are so well-worn as to be actually knackered. When asked recently about the possibility of Wilfried Zaha choosing to play for his native Ivory Coast, despite earning his first England cap, Hodgson said: “When people are called up I expect them to come running, get on a bicycle and cycle to the training session if they have to”.
Shades of Norman Tebbitt, there …
What all this boils down to is football’s own sub-tongue is very similar to management-speak and it’s all too easy to slip into it no matter what your background. The stark difference between the two is that while the former is the language of the playground where anything goes, the latter is designed so as not to offend anyone.
Picture the scene: it’s half-time and the team is losing 2-0 to a team it should be beating easily. The players have been sluggish and disinterested and the result could be embarrassing at the very least and possibly even terminal for the struggling manager. During the team talk before the re-start, the manager tears into the squad, lambasting each and every one of them in the hope that a rocket up their collective backsides will see them flying off the blocks in the second half in an effort to stage a comeback. Now imagine if the manager had to play by “normal” workplace rules, and that he had to listen to each individual player’s grievance (while accompanied by a colleague as their representative to ensure fair play). This polite game of verbal tennis would take at least fifteen minutes … coincidentally the length of a half-time break. And that’s one player. No wonder he just throws a few tea-cups and sends them out with a kick up the arse.
“I take that on board, Kevin, and while I can see that your opponent is considerably faster and more skilful than you are, I still struggle to see why you can’t achieve a more efficient boot-to-bollocks ratio in order to redress the shortfall in tackle success ?”
What about if the tables were turned ?
How would Mavis from finance take a blast from the hairdryer for submitting her monthly accounts a day later than normal ?
“But, I told you: I had a dental appointment and you know how hard it is to get in these days”
“I couldnae gi’ a flyin’ fock aboot yer teeth, woman ! Yer late. Yer feckin’ late. These books dinnae keep the’selves, ya ken ?! One more time and yer oot on yer arse, got it, love ?!”
The more I think about it, the more I believe there could be a crossover, or mash-up, of the two languages. Many of the phrases bandied about on the football field would work just as well in the board-room:
Eye for goal – describes a thrusting salesman with a good track record
An extra yard of pace in the head – when someone appears past it, but is actually very shrewd
Sniff out a chance – to close a deal when all around you are floundering
Don’t let it bounce – able to see off a potential problem before it has a chance to take root
Old head on young shoulders – someone mature for their age, who acts like an old pro despite being a relative rookie
In a similar vein, much of the dreaded office-speak could be adapted to a sporting arena:
Going forward – literally in a football sense, when talking of the team attacking together
Incentivise – something that’s more common with contracts weighted for success
Negative territory – your own goal area
Having something in your radar – aware of the player on your blind side
Blue sky thinking – when you’re trailing in the last few minutes and need to hoof the ball into the opposition’s penalty area, a la Tony Pulis
I think there’s potential for some of the more charismatic ex-managers to make a few quid on the business circuit rather than just after-dinner speaking at social clubs. Who could be more motivational than Ron Atkinson or Kevin Keegan, especially after they’ve brushed up on their office clichés …
“I would love it, I mean bloody love it, if you could give Shell the easy-osie, show BP the lollipop and bang one in the onion bag against Exxon early doors. You’d give them the eyes and pop it round the corner … they wouldn’t know what him them!”
The audience would be so tanked up anyway, what would be the difference ?
It would be just like a pre-season team meeting with Paul McGrath, Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and co …
Back of the net !