As the football world bids farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend, it is worth nothing that it is not only his contribution to football that should be celebrated.
When he first shipped up at Old Trafford in 1986, nobody could have predicted that he would last until 2013. Equally, nobody would have believed you if you had said we would laud his contribution to the English Language on his departure.
But Sir Alex’s contribution to neologisms is legend. Perhaps his most famous phrase is ‘Squeaky Bum Time’, a phrase that refers to the sharp end of the football season and the nerves that emerge as the tension increases. It dates back 10 years and was given official recognition in 2005, while it is now a standard part of the lexicon for all fans when discussing any matter to do with the season’s conclusion.
The other time connection to the outgoing boss is Fergie Time, a rather pointed term not coined by the great man. This refers to the perception that Manchester United get more time added on at the end of games when they are losing than other teams, and that they often make use of this temporal largesse. Analysis has suggested that there is no basis in fact for this asssertion, but all football fans enjoy a good moan about bias being shown to rival teams, so the phrase will remain, even though Fergie himself has gone.
But you would never berate Sir Alex over these issues. After all, he is legendary in the football world for dishing out the hairdryer treatment, a particularly loud mode of berating players for not performing at their best.
So as Sir Alex disappears into the sunset, remember that it is not only the football world he has changed. He has also had a demonstrable effect on the language that we speak.
It is unlikely that during the tumultuous few day which have just passed in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI thought much about the linguistic ramifications of his decision to stand down. But an act unprecedented in modern times created a linguistic vacuum which had to be filled. And that chasm was the question of what to call a living Pope when he is no longer a Pope.
I don’t think this was really much of a concern when Gregory XII quit in 1415. There wasn’t a hungry news cycle or hordes of social networks crying out for an epithet with which to title the newly unemployed holy man. But in the 21st century, one of the key questions is what new title do you come up with for a role that nobody ever thought would need to be filled. So step forward Pope Emeritus.
It’s a really interesting example of a title that almost creates more problems than it solves. And it is simply the inclusion of the word ‘Pope’ that does it. The situation will surely be difficult enough for the next Pope to have to take over when his predecessor is still alive, and therefore in the eyes of some still in his role. So for him to still be called Pope, as well as the fact that he will be living close by, could simply make things harder.
Of course, the other issue is that the Vatican could be sued, with Oakland Rapper Pope Emeritus threatening action to protect the name he has performed under since 2006. I suspect the ecumenical issues will provide bigger concerns than the legal ones.
But job titles really are very important for how people cope with their roles. Even if the newly-named Pope Emeritus simply slips into the background and there are no problems at all, we can look elsewhere for confirmation. Chelsea’s interim manager Rafa Benitez proved it this week with his stupendous rant about everything, in particular his job title. Calling him ‘Interim Manager’ has clearly left him feeling angry and undermined, it has been a simple thing which he feels has profoundly affected his ability to do his job.
Of course drawing a connection between the Pope and a football manager is doing at least one of them a disservice, but to complete the analogy, just think about what might happen at Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson finally calls it a day.
When Sir Matt Busby stepped down from the hot seat, his continued presence at the club made things difficult for his successors. When Sir Alex finally goes, his shadow will inevitably hang over the next man in the role. So imagine him sitting in the best seat in the ground while bearing the title ‘Manager Emeritus’. Think how difficult that would be for the new incumbent. Correct, very difficult. And that’s just how it might be for the new Pope.