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Less really can mean more

Alan Greenspan spent 19 years as chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and, for much of it, folks spent time trying to divine hidden meanings in his words and body language.

Pep Guardiola's stock could rise with time out of the gamePhotograph: AFP
Pep Guardiola's stock could rise with time out of the gamePhotograph: AFP

The idea was that the inscrutable Greenspan would drop some sort of hint about what the Fed was planning to do and, if you guessed right, you could get a jump on the markets.

It rarely worked, of course, but that doesn't stop people from doing the same with Pep Guardiola. The Barcelona boss has officially announced that he is stepping down and will take a sabbatical.

On Friday, in his final game, Barca beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the Copa del Rey final, meaning that Guardiola has now won 11 of the 12 finals he has contested (and 14 of the 19 competitions his teams have entered). Leo Messi scored his 73rd goal of the season (in 60 games, and no, that is not a typo) but even then the focus was on what Guardiola said before the game.

Asked about potential suitors, he declared: "I will be pleased to receive their calls, but for the next months I have to charge my batteries and charge my mind."

Except one of the early translations had him saying "month" instead of "months". Month? That would mean he'd be free and clear as early as June 24. Plenty of time to take over at another club. Like, say, Chelsea.

The fact Guardiola's misconstrued use of the singular should generate instant global speculation (at least before his clarification) tells you plenty about the near-mythic status he enjoys.

It's the kind of reputation that cuts both ways. Miracle workers are supposed to work miracles, if he doesn't turn his new destination into a mini-Barca in the first few months folks will begin to grumble. He has set the bar so high, it may be out of reach. Certainly, the mere fact that he is walking away from one of the greatest teams in history because he says he's "exhausted" should give cause to reflect: if dominating world football from his home town at age 41 is so tiring, how much more taxing will it be to rebuild a club from scratch in a foreign land when he's a few years older?

And, lest we forget, this is the guy whose introspection led him to nearly walk away from the Camp Nou every winter for the past three years. Yet all of this is outweighed by the promise of Pep and his superhumanity, real or imagined.

If he does go on his sabbatical – and it does last "months", rather than a "month" – his shadow will hang over every manager in the European game. Strange as it seems, by not managing, his reputation could actually grow even more.

Meet the talented Mr Whelan. As in Dave. You may know him as a footballer who helped guide Blackburn Rovers to the FA Cup final back in 1960. Or as the successful entrepreneur who turned a chain of discounters into the United Kingdom's second-biggest sports retailer.

Or, indeed, you may know him in his present incarnation, where he owns Wigan Athletic and somehow keeps a club with a tiny fan base and puny budget in the Barclays Premier League.

But did you know he's actually an old-school journalist as well, breaking news on one of the world's biggest football clubs?

It was Whelan who told the world that Roberto Martinez had been approached for an interview by Liverpool. It was Whelan who announced that he'd been called back for a second round.

And, now, it's Whelan who claims Martinez has been offered the job, a notion which Liverpool have denied.

(On Friday he took a break from his round-the-clock Martinez reporting to let the world know that Sir Alex Ferguson would "call it a day" this time next year for health reasons.)

As a journalist, you always appreciate getting information from well- placed sources. But you wonder how Martinez feels about his every move being broadcast by his boss. (Or, for that matter, whether Sir Alex appreciates someone else announcing his retirement on his behalf.)

True, as owner of Wigan, Martinez's current club, Whelan is directly affected by what the Spaniard will do. But the way he publicly chronicles his manager's every move is a bit puzzling. It also makes you wonder whether he isn't gently trying to usher Martinez towards Anfield.

He also helpfully said he was ready to bring back Steve Bruce if Martinez goes. After all, moving the Spaniard on would generate a tidy compensation package for Whelan. And, after three seasons of Martinez, you wonder if Whelan knows something the rest of us don't. Either that or, at age 75, he simply doesn't care what others think.

So now, after Theo Walcott's family, we find out that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's folks will also avoid travelling to the European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine for fear of encountering racial abuse and violence.

Obviously people need to do what they feel comfortable doing. And the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did issue the following warning recently: "Although the vast majority of visitors experience no difficulties, foreign nationals have been the victims of violent crime in Kiev and other major cities.

"In some cases, attacks have been racially motivated. Travellers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent and individuals belonging to religious minorities should take extra care."

Nobody has a right to tell the Oxlade-Chamberlains or the Walcotts what they ought to do. But you do wonder about the wisdom of making their decision public, and whether it means that the usual morons won't use it as an excuse to further abuse their sons.

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