Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Bailout Job

Last Thursday night an expectant German nation watched as their football team took to the field in Warsaw to play Italy in the European Championship semi-final. Having rifled their way to the group of four with steely German precision, the country felt this team had come of age and were set to deliver again on the major championship stage. Italy, no longer considered the powerhouse of the past and caught up in a fixing scandal within their domestic league were expected by most - myself included - to be swept aside. Efficiently.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, EU leaders were battling it out amongst each other, trying to kicks some cans down ever windier roads within palatial summit surroundings. Enda Kenny was there too. Not bad for a man from Mayo. Grandad Booker would be proud.
   Angela Merkel, who Germans see as a good luck charm when it comes to the national team, is a footballing fan. The German chancellor was there for the previous match when the Greeks were dispatched - if not quite with the same ruthlessness as austerity - but European matters had her precedent on the night. Still, like she does, I'm sure she expected.
At worst Angela would have received whispered updates - as I'm sure any other fans around the table did that cared for the eccentricities of a moving liathróidí. What it is that attracts such beings remains a mystery for it seems to encompass all, peasant to president.
However Angela is fed her footballing news, I'm sure what she was hearing was not what she was expecting. And the worst was still to come.

The start of a bad night came from an wayward source - one of those flawed genius types which have  graced the soccer field at times.
Rags to riches, Manchester City bad-boy, Mario Ballotelli - who had just heard that he was to become a Dad for the first time - rose to the occasion in the 20th minute to head a bullet into the German net from six-yards. Mario wasn't finished either. On 36 minutes he followed it up with, in my opinion, the best finish of the tournament - a 75 mile-an-hour rocket which flew past German keeper, Manuel Neuer - drawing applause from the beaten net minder and showing sportsmanship still exists somewhere.
   Try as they may the Germans could not find a way through the Italian defense and despite an injury time penalty, the coming-of-age would have to wait for another few years. They were packing up and going home. The Italians would play the Spanish in the final. Both from Ireland's group, but it doesn't help with the suffering.

In an attic, a failed writer, takes advantage of the muggy night, sleeps in skin, dreaming of owning a shed load of e-voting machines and getting paid to store them. Handsomely!

Meanwhile back in Brussels.
   Enda bites his nails. Another Mario - Monti - the Italian premier (unelected) throws eyes at Spain's own Mario - sorta - Mariano Rajoy, who eyes back in prospect. Tonight was not the night for squabble.
   Threatening to throw Europe into chaos by vetoing everything from growth packages to the fracking of the land - OK, not quite - if the Germans didn't do something to alleviate the stranglehold the markets had around their borrowing necks.
   Agreement was reached - in principal. Bank and sovereign debt are to be separated. Moves towards growth. Jobs for - well, not 25 million Europeans unemployed - for the time being anyway. More cutting.
Handshakes were faked. Monti claimed a double-victory. Merkel didn't approve. Balotelli milked the acclaim in the Italian press. A hero is born.

Morning breaks.

In an attic, a recluse wakes. Sweaty. Cold. Storage contract pulled. The rain, returned. A quick scratch of the nether, he embraces the groundhog in the day. A mouse circles.
   What's this? Seismic shifts? Game-changers? Yawn!

Enda and Nooner had returned. A sense of triumph. A nation saved from doom. Peace for our economic time. Had a ring of  'Neville Chamberlain' about it to me. 
   Ireland's leaders had the same cards the Italians and the Spanish had to play with - before, and on Thursday night.
   I doubt the lack of press coverage about Irish input into the happenings was cynically left out from all major reporting of the unexpected 'deal.' The Finns and Dutch have already threatened to throw spanners and clogs at it. And rightly so too! For what is a deal - in principal? Where has anyone seen principal being a force for anything involved in this debacle in recent years? 
   Harmonization? Unity? Ask the Greeks - in fact, ask any nations citizen who is feeling the impact of austerity.
   The Spanish and the Italians - with French backing - played their cards and made the threat. They got the result they were looking for. On the night anyway.
   Ireland has kept her cards hidden for years. The Troika have seen the books. I'm betting Ireland will do as she is told to do. The coalition, elected on a mandate pitched to the Irish in a fighting tone, soon lost their bottle, dooming the vast majority of decent Irish people to carry the can once again for our nations political failures.
   This was not a V-Day for Ireland. If there is to be a victory - and I doubt it - it won't be anything to do with Irish leaders standing up for Irish concerns and that's for sure.
   And those which bankrupted us? They remain free... and flush.

Snap out. Fast forward. Sunday evening. Kiev.
   As Irish and German fans look on, dreaming of what might have been, one a whole lot more than the other, the victorious bailout nations took to the soccer field to decide who would be crowned champions of the ball for the next four years.
   Spain, reigning world and European champions, and four-time champions of the world, Italy. The Brussels Bunch. 
   Spain. Favourites. They had never beaten Italy in a competitive match before. Looking to do what no other nation had done in the history of the game before - win a third major championship in a row. Olympics not included.
   Something had to give - and it did.

Goals from Silva, Alba, Torres and Mata rammed critique of the all-conquering Spanish firmly back down the throats of critics the world over. The ones who dared question their brand of slick football. Those who said they passed for the sake of passing. Those who had questioned their team without strikers. Those who questioned their lack of goals.
   Italy, to their credit, tried hard. The games statistics testify to that. But artistry was not to be outdone by workmanship on this occasion, and when Italian, Tiago Motta, limped off early in the second half, reducing the brave Italians to ten men, history began to write the record of a unique achievement which will be unlikely to be seen again. Not in a Booker lifetime.
Spain had prevailed. All week. By all accounts.
   As Ballotelli huffed down the tunnel, Iker Casillas stepped up to raise the Henri Delaunay trophy and send his nation into rapture once more. Tears poured from Italian eyes - graceful in defeat. Pirlo, so great for so long throughout the tournament, no answer to the Spanish weaving he'd just endured. Ballotelli returned from the tunnel to see see the light - sulk over. Flawed. Like us all.

Fernando Torres claimed the golden boot - albeit by being on the pitch for fewer minutes than his goal-tally equaling fellows, all of whom had found net three times throughout the tournament. The masterly Iniesta was the player of the tournament. The Spanish reign goes on.

 The days of lives drift by where ever people hail from. All to the tune of different drums. Some under the boom of bombs, some in the glare of the Spanish sun, some in tandem with the rain, beating its melancholic Irish drum. Some doing favour for others - others doing themselves no favour at all.

Time for a swim. Where's me jumper?

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