Football is having a moment. As in so many other regrettable cases, foreign imports are to blame.
‘Moment’ is the word on almost every manager’s lips, and of one or two players. When they are not using it incorrectly they’re using it too often, and the habit is spreading into journalism.
First it was the managers. Perhaps because time is such an elusive quality, their otherwise exceptional English lets them down when it comes to expressions of time. Even the best succumb. “Right now is maybe the best moment in their season,” said Pep Guardiola about Manchester United before the derby on 8 March. “We had a few good moments,” Ralph Hasenhuttl reflected after Southampton’s home defeat by Newcastle. Mikel Arteta produced a masterclass after Arsenal’s FA Cup win at Portsmouth on 2 March. Of his young players he said: “I knew that they were going to have difficult moments during the game, they have to learn from those moments, they have to manage their moments better than we did in the first half in some moments.” The first mention is justified and accurate, the rest are increasingly redundant flourishes and the effect is of an arpeggio. Magnifique, Mikel!
English managers are not immune. Frank Lampard, speaking after Chelsea’s 2-0 cup win over Liverpool, said: “We’ve got to celebrate these moments.” It’s not exactly wrong, but there are better words. ‘Wins’ springs to mind, or ‘days’, or even perhaps ‘anomalies’. It’s important that such alternatives don’t disappear altogether; it could happen, especially as the habit is spreading beyond the game into the media.
The commentator at the same Southampton match called the winning goal “a brilliant moment for Allan St-Maximin, a horrible moment for Yan Valery”. The BBC’s Laura Scott commented on 3 March that the coronavirus “was mentioned at several moments” during a FIFA meeting. We can expect rapid contagion. BBC personnel already show signs of trimming their vocabulary down to a single adjective, ‘iconic’, a single future time expression, ‘anytime soon’, and the general-purpose ‘epicentre’ when the location of almost anything is at issue.
What is a moment? In cosmology, there’s an adjunct to the Big Bang theory known as Cosmic Inflation. According to science, Cosmic Inflation lasted from 10-36 to 10-33 seconds after the ‘singularity’ that is regarded as the start of the universe. That’s a very short period of time. Even for a moment, it’s quite brief. But it makes the point. Moments do not last long. They turn into something else – seconds, periods, intervals etc – when they are extended.
All is not yet lost. “It’s been a difficult period for us,” said Deli Alli in early March. The young man’s choice of the word ‘period’ to cover the months since Harry Kane’s injury offers grounds for hope.