Strange how easy it is to end up missing things. Misplaced nostalgia is as old as people being old. Although oddly it is often the things that weren’t that good for you in the first place you end up missing most.
Take, for example, José Mourinho, who has this week been linked with a return to the Premier League at Arsenal, albeit most likely by some covert arm of the Mourinho-Industrial complex.
Or, even better, how about cars, which have always seemed like a wildly over-promoted object of affection. Start again from scratch and it’s unlikely you’d come up with the idea of the car, of each person having their own highly complex, carbon-fed internal combustion engine just to get down to Asda a bit quicker. This is, quite literally, unsustainable.
And yet, as an Ultra Low Emission zone resident, I have become increasingly nostalgic about cars. Or at least about one part of cars. Or, to be specific, about the N47 180bhp four-cylinder common rail diesel engine.
This was the standard engine fitted in BMW 3-series touring cars in the years 2010-2014. Most notably in the 320d model, arguably the greatest mass-market small estate car ever produced and one of those deeply boring things that carries its own strange, irresistible fascination.
It seems likely anyone buying a reliable second-hand estate car has already been forced to make compromises. Domesticity has narrowed the bars of the cage. And so here you are in a car you’d rather not have, driving through some fish-grey cityscape and spewing what was once green-option diesel fuel but which now turns out to be corrosive diesel death smoke. Easing out of a junction you nudge the throttle vaguely. And into this drab scene a note of startling purity intrudes. The diesel surge comes in a rush, then dies, then rushes again, like chemicals across the synapses.
This is not a jazzed-up toy car. It’s a travelling salesman’s motorway box. But it has in that right-hand pedal an extraordinary sweetness, a natureless thrill, a suggestion of human progress, human ultimacy. Cars have become a burden, a problem to be solved, an object of hatred for some. But somehow this toxic lugger carries a whisper of their lost beauty. It’s in there just out of sight, a legacy of the golden years of the American century when the car was an instrument of personal freedom, of crossing boundaries, of hammering towards the horizon at exhilarating speed.
Andy Warhol said the greatest thing about America is its democratising of luxury. The bum on the corner drinks a Coke and the President drinks a Coke and Elizabeth Taylor drinks a Coke and all the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. They may be confined before long to the toxic, wasteful past but all the N47 four-cylinder common rail diesel engines are also good. The point being, you really can feel nostalgic for a high-end, grey plastic estate car, something that burns with sweetness and power but which is now toxic, verboten, out of time. Farewell then N47 four-cylinder common rail diesel engine: giver of life, which turned out also to be a giver of death.
All of which leads quite naturally on to Mourinho and Arsenal, and a link that has already been rubbished by Arsenal’s executive but which has still inspired some strange responses. The first thing worth saying is it is highly unlikely to happen. Arsenal already have a manager. Even without one Mourinho would be a pretty wild choice.
The other thing is just how entrenched the idea of Mourinho as a purely toxic agent has become. Previously the Big Thing Everyone Knows about Mourinho was that he wins trophies. Say what you like, he’s a winner, they said, and quite often.
The new orthodoxy, repeated ad nauseam, is that Mourinho is pure plutonium, an agent of internal destruction so violent simply standing near him is enough to dissolve your kidneys. At a stroke the great bringer of trophies has become a 2014 plate 180bhp BMW 320d diesel particulate-pumping death machine.
This view – José: Bringer Only Of Death – has been repeated with such certainty this week it immediately starts to feel a little bogus. There have even been braying fears about his potentially poisonous effects on Arsenal’s spotless club culture, although in this case you do wonder which bit of hounding your club-legend manager, booing your captain, ranting abusively on YouTube and handing over cash every week to the Kronke hierarchy Mourinho might fatally tarnish by scowling a bit on the touchline.
And secondly it is just wrong, or at least hugely overstated, a cliche just like the idea of Mourinho the lifelong winner. If you really believe Mourinho goes around poking kittens with sticks you are to some extent buying into the theatre, taking the public persona at face value. In reality most of his players still like him. He won two trophies and came second in the league at his last club. He’s still the brightest person in the room, as his TV appearances seem to confirm, although, yes, there are rooms and rooms.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Arsenal link is that it may be a good idea. There is a theory Mourinho’s more troubled times stem from a poor fit. His best moments have come as high-end underdog. Porto, Internazionale, early Chelsea: these were hungry places just outside the real top table, with players and fans ready to immerse themselves in his methods. Mourinho is, in effect, an expensively badged agent of pragmatism, Sean Dyche with a set of alloys. Who knows, Arsenal may just be ready for the lash, the hair shirt, the outsider scowl.
Foolish nostalgia, perhaps. But it is still hard not to miss that feeling of ultimacy, to wonder about one last surge through the gears for English football’s favourite outmoded diesel destroyer.