At the risk of sounding like Julie Burchill, Football is a bit gay. Tom highlights the interesting references in the Runciman piece about this, and it really is a subject that doesn’t get much coverage**.

Slavoj Zizek once persuasively argued that the reason why the military were so against letting gay men into the forces was not homophobia, pure and simple. It was that the military is all about being gay anyway, but only works is everyone has the cover that it has nothing to do with homosexuality whatsoever. Letting out gay men risks making clear what everyone needs to stay implicit.

I think the same is true in football. The language is revealing here. Players caress the ball, and stroke it around. They’re routinely asked to talk of love and commitment, and are in ecstasy on a regular basis. Footballers don’t seem to be able to have sex without having their mates around to watch and join in. And they have bonding rituals which, like the military and the old Axa comic strip in the Sun, seem to be full of ridiculous opportunities to see someone get their kit off.

Like the military, teams are always about the sum of their parts. They all have to work together, and have to think of the greater good rather than their individual wishes. Indeed, part of the training of both appears to deliberately deaden the ability to think independently and follow orders, intelligence and critical thinking are actively derided; players shouldn’t say anything of interest ever. You don’t want to get all clever.

But you do want to be flash. Players are obsessed with each other’s outward signs, like peacocks eyeing each other up – the attractiveness of someone’s cars, clothes, houses and such like. It’s more, much more, than simple materialistic bragging common to any golf club or workplace.

The idea that Mourinho’s style creates something that players want to be close to, to retain the favour of is eminently feasible. The same is true of Cantona, and both have a charismatic element that comes from more than just accented English. When an opposition player spoke of ‘fucking Cantona’, it was more than an insult.

* – As heard at a Celtic pub in 2002 when Bobo Balde had the ball and was being urged to give it to Didier Agathe

** – There was, of course the Footballer Wives storyline about this, which was incredibly well researched and true-to-line; whoever advised them really earned their cash that week.