Thursday, February 17, 2011

How True Grit Explains The English Premier League

Something occurred to me while I was watching 'True Grit' the other day. It is a brilliantly acted and directed film that rarely puts a foot out of place while telling it's tale of retribution and relentless characters. However, one thing also stood out, the story is also a metaphor for the English Premier League...

The tale begins with Mattie Ross, an outspoken, independent, and highly intelligent 14-year-old girl arrives in Fort Smith in search of the coward Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. She is then told that the local sheriff will not search for Chaney in the Choctaw nation and decides to hire Marshall Rooster Cogburn to hunt the man down.

Chaney is also wanted for a previous murder and is being tracked by a Texas Ranger, the talkative LaBoeuf, and very soon the trio come together to find the wanted man.

In the lead role we have the determined Mattie Ross played by the remarkable Hailie Stanfield. The 14-year-old actress puts in a performance of incredible magnitude and really carries the film which is no easy task considering the lofty company on show.

Jeff Bridges, the Dude to many of his fans, takes on the role that the Duke, John Wayne, made famous in 1969. A cantankerous old man who is made of "True Grit" and who is recognised as being the toughest Marshall in the Indian territories. While Matt Damon portrays the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.

Now how does this cowboy film make me think of the Premier League you ask?

Well, if you look at the film through a dirty football shaped lens then you can start to understand where I'm coming from.

Rooster Cogburn is the main character in the film. He is an uncompromising, cantankerous, relentless, merciless, "one eyed fat man" and is also described as a "pitiless man, double tough and fear doesn't enter his thinking."

If you remove the one eyed fat man bit you come up with some of the main characteristics of none other than Sir Alex Ferguson.

The wily Scot has faced down many a foe during his 37 years as a manager with very few ever getting the better of him. As any one who watches the EPL on a regular basis will tell you, Ferguson is the best manager in the game with an uncanny ability to track his trophies down. His teams always move into another gear once they have the end line in sight and they have faced down many better opponents over the years to record memorable victories when all looked lost.

The one characteristic that every single one of his teams have in common is that their highest aspiration is always self sacrifice over self preservation, something that has always given them an advantage on the field of play, and a running theme through the film.

LaBoeuf would represent Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.

The Texas Ranger is a highly skilled marksman and tracker and has chased Tom Chaney halfway across the country to bring him to justice. However, during the chase LaBoeuf confides in Mattie that he had the chance to kill Chaney before but could not bring himself to pull the trigger and in doing so he allowed his prey to escape.

For the last five, six, hell, ever since Arsene Wenger took over Arsenal in 1996 his teams have played some of the best football ever seen in England. The continental style that he has imposed upon a club famed for anti-football in the '60s and direct defensive football in the '80s and '90s has helped change the way the game is approached across Europe never mind England.

However, one thing that has been held against his teams is their weak character, particularly so over the last five to six years.

During the last half decade or so the Gunners have had many occasions to win trophies and competitions but they have always fallen at the last hurdle, like LaBoeuf they are afraid to take that final step despite the hardship the have forced themselves to endure to get into that position in the first place.

Mattie Ross is the undoubted star of the film and the novel by Charles Portis. In many ways she is a female version of Rooster and at one stage he even laughs saying "she reminds me of me" such is her determination and "Grit."

She also represents the change coming towards the old west, where education and determination will play as big a role in shaping the future of the country as the gun played in its birth.

Representing change in the west Ross' represents Manchester City. There is an eerie determination in the set up at the Eastlands such that you just know that the blue half of Manchester is where the immediate future of the Premier League is most likely to be played out.

While the other characters in the story are only peripheral, they are none-the-less important.
Tom Chaney is the coward who killed Frank Ross after he showed kindness to his future assassin.

The cowardice part of the Chaney character is for every single EPL team who refused to dream.

The clubs who are happy just to exist in the EPL and go no further. The clubs who show no ambition except on the day that the big teams roll into town and they unexpectedly pull off a remarkable result.

If they had put the same effort and determination into playing the same way against other teams then they would be challenging for trophies and not just to exist. In short they take the cowards route and the easy way out and just put enough effort in so that they can claim their position in the top league.

Lucky Ned Pepper, a criminal who Rooster shot in the face some years before is Liverpool.

He was once one of the most feared men in the west but then he ran into the Marshall and has since existed on a meagre existence full in the knowledge that Cogburn will come for him again one day.

Liverpool was the top club in the land before Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United. Now they haven't won the title in almost 20 years and have slipped down the pecking order to such an extent that can no longer be considered guaranteed top four material never mind title winning material.

Without giving anything away about the film, the ending sums up Sir Alex Ferguson's time as a manager perfectly.

The Manchester United boss has stared down some of the greatest managers in the game over the years and you can easily see the man lifting the reins into his mouth and he charges into battle against insurmountable odds with his battle cry of "fill your hands you sons of bitchs" carrying on the wind, while Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, and Roberto Mancini look on.

Of course, sometimes a film is just a film and a book is just a book, but it's fun to see different things sometimes.