Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Enough of playing Hamlet: Obama needs to act now (Guardian)

The indecisive US president has shown that he is as torn as the rest of us over intervention in Syria, writes Jonathan Freedland. But his credibility is at stake.

2. Not even IDS faced the venom confronting Ed Miliband (Daily Telegraph)

Labour’s leader may be reviled, but David Cameron’s arrogance is to blame for the botched Syria vote, says Mary Riddell. 

3. Syria is following Afghanistan’s path (Financial Times)

While international engagement is ever less popular, it is increasingly necessary, writes David Miliband.

4. ‘Lessons from Iraq’ are not lessons at all (Times)

When it comes to Syria we cannot look back to 2003 and be certain what the endgame should be, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

5. Two quarters of growth don't mean George Osborne's policy has worked (Guardian)

Talk of an economic recovery rings hollow to ordinary families in Britain, who are still seeing their living standards fall, says Ed Balls.

6. Export obsession is crushing Germany (Financial Times)

The country’s recent success has been based on cutting wages, writes Adam Posen.

7. Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes (Guardian)

As the NSA revelations have shown, whistleblowing is now an essential art, writes Slavoj Žižek. It is our means of keeping 'public reason' alive.

8. 'Scotland versus Salmond' could be the way to win (Daily Telegraph)

The SNP's programme shows the First Minister's focus on independence ignores his country's problems, writes Alan Cochrane. 

9. Here’s how a ‘good’ bank could operate (Independent)

The near-bankruptcy of the Co-op bank is an awful warning of what can go wrong, writes Andreas Whittam Smith. 

10. Merkel may not be the friend Cameron thinks (Times)

The German leader is sure to be re-elected but Britain cannot count on her, says Roger Boyes.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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