Issue #43 Michael Wood on The dangers of the quixotic in football

“Eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.”

In his peerless work of 1605, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra presents us with an elderly man, Alonso Quixano, who so believes in the rules of chivalry that he is moved to take to his horse – a skinny workhorse – don armour – a rusty old suit – and take the name Don Quixote.

Don Quixote wanders the plains of La Mancha in search of noble quests in which he can prove his worthiness for the position of Knight. He acts as a Knight should, behaves as a Knight should, and while he is a laughable figure, he brings honour to his encounters with others. The overarching moral of the story is clear: If you want to be a Knight, be a Knight.

The author of the tale would not let this be such a simple one though. A young neighbour posing as The Knight of the White Moon locates Don Quixote, challenges him in combat and demands he lay down his arms and return to his sanity. Don Quixote loses and does as instructed, and so Cervantes’ comment on fantasy and reality is complete.

At Apperley Bridge, in preparation

Slyvan Ebanks-Blake is training with Bradford City following his release by Ipswich Town at the end of last season. Ebanks-Blake, a graduate of Old Trafford, followed his former Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy, to Portman Road after the Midlanders were relegated to League One. It has probably been the frequency of injury which has seen the 28 year old striker leave his previous clubs, despite very good goal scoring records. It is probably worry about injury which has seen him trial with Brentford, and now for Bradford City, in order to prove himself able to play the game again.

If you got to the end of that paragraph – dear reader – with your concentration intact you have done well, but I suspect you did not. Your mind probably started to drift after the word’s Old Trafford and more than likely will have gone at the mention of good goal scoring. By the end of the paragraph you, and I, were probably dreaming about the impact Ebanks-Blake would have off the bench, about his runs proving his fitness in a League One game, about him peeling away after scoring, and scoring again, and again.

And while the more rational parts of one’s brain tells us to at least wait until Ebanks-Blake has kicked a ball before these fantasies can be given any licence, we fail to recognise the importance of their position in our intellectual narratives to our own peril. The ability to abstract what success would look like is a vital part of having success or, in this case, supporting it.

But this is the quixotic view of football and it has dangers.

Bolton calling

I like watching James Hanson. You may enjoy watching him too. Neil Lennon certainly does. Hanson had been considered by Celtic scouts whilst Lennon was at Parkhead (in an ever decreasing budget that has seen three of the four top supported clubs relegated), and now that the Ulsterman has moved to Bolton Wanderers of The Championship it is reported that his scouts are watching Hanson again. I doubt they will be unimpressed.

Quixotic thinking – the ability to think “as if” – has played a large part in James Hanson’s career. Stuart McCall looked at the man from Idle Co-op who was scoring for Guiseley, and thought “as if” it could be acceptable to have him as Bradford City’s centre forward. The rewards have been obvious to all.

Play out the next few months

Mid-table performances continue. No money comes in from the Tom Cleverley deal. Even without the fanciful linguistics, there is a suggestion that City will need to sell a player to balance the books this year. Even if this is not the case, Phil Parkinson – or whoever else is City manager – will be under pressure to bring in different players.

Does the option of selling James Hanson to Bolton Wanderers in January become viable? There is an obvious correlation between City getting wins and the presence of James Hanson (and Andrew Davies, more of whom later) being in the side. Selling Hanson seems a guarantee of worse results though. But perhaps not if Ebanks-Blake is there…

And here we encounter the quixotic. The idea that if Ebanks-Blake gets the chance he will prove he can be a replacement for Hanson.

Likewise Andrew Davies, beset by injuries for a quarter of a season every season. He is a high earner at the club and his wage could readily be used in other areas. This statement is made in the belief that Christopher Routis is able to replace Davies effectively. It is a dangerous fantasy based on the idea of what could be rather than what is.

This is perhaps the single keenest lesson to be learned from Parkinson’s time at City. That football is played in harsher realities than we might want it to be, and that the Knight of the White Moon sometimes lurks to force that reality onto those who would dream too fancifully.