Fabio and the Ducking Stool

By Mike Small

“We would like to go English (but) we’ve got to see what English people are available”
– Trevor Brooking

We can only speculate at the relationship between the timing of the latest round of Quantitative Easing (£6 million) and the departure of Fabio Capello (annual salary £50 billion) – or is it the other way round? This desperate attempt to prop-up our collapsing economic system is matched only by England’s spectacular exercise in cultural narcissism that saw the civil war in Syria knocked off the TV news by this week’s footballing ‘crisis’.

But Fabio’s departure is only the latest in England’s wildly eccentric identity crisis around football. One moment proudly sophisticatedly continental, embracing Capello’s mastery of technical strategy, the next demanding semi-literate ‘Arry to throw some jumpers down and ‘get into ‘em’. One second demanding an ‘Englishman at the helm’ (The Mirror) the next pillorying the ‘wally with the brolly’ (Daily Mail). One decade savaging Graham Taylor (“Swedes 2 Turnips 1″) the next lauding the wonders of Super-Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson, the last eye-wateringly expensive managerial failure.

Amid the wreckage are the wonderful FA – who at one stage it seemed to want to brush the whole Terry affair under the carpet with a handshake – and who have reigned over ‘thirty years of hurt’ (this mythology is at the heart of England’s woes – it is a wonderful articulation of the hubris behind it all, the expectancy based on a false dawn that all this crushing demand flows from: “Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming. Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming”). The reality is that no England manager has progressed beyond the semi-finals of a major competition before or since, and is unlikely to. The harsh reality is that 1966 was an accident – and that those circumstances are unlikely to reoccur ever again.

All have been crushed before this rolling expectation: poor old Kevin Keegan who resigned in the Wembley toilets, an hour after the team was booed off by the England fans; when he told the FA officials that tactically he felt “a little short at this level”. So too Terry Venables who had perhaps the greatest chance of a repeat of 66 at Euro 96 but never really had his heart in it (he announced he’d retire as a result of several court cases before the tournament even started) but blew it to Germany.

Nor should we forget the brief role of Glen Hoddle – who’s own career epitomises England’s crisis of football identity – but who’s managerial role at the 1998 World Cup came a cropper and when he outlined his belief that the disabled, and others, are being punished for sins in past lives. His use of faith healer Eileen Drewery to help pick-up the team didn’t go down too well.

Where do the FA get these people from?

Twitter seems to be the new method of choosing a manager, which might be as good as any, given the comedy capers of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s reign and exit, which included possibly the News on the World’s finest hour the Fake Sheik (he England coach told an undercover News of the World reporter he would quit “if the country won the World Cup this summer”) and certainly beats chasing Phil Scolari around car-parks.

Alarm bells are ringing about the notion that the FA are meeting and the preference will be for a manager who is “English or British”. Could England be about to be treated to the glories we are suffering under Andy Robinson? A Scot at the helm of the sacred England Ducking Stool would be a moment of madness for whoever was foolish enough to get strapped in, especially now the big money’s blown.

Are the wildly obscene amounts of money sloshing around the ‘Premiership’ part of the problem? Alan Hansen’s ridiculous £40,000 a show to recite cliches is one symbol, Toxic John Terry’s £150,000 a week another.

If huge piles of soccer-lolly have hung like albatrosses around the necks of the Golden Generation (RIP 2005-1012) then racism and degenerate off-field antics have followed them too. But – like the bankers and the City of London – it’s not just their behaviour we should focus on but their huge reward for failure. Capello – the Six Million Dollar Man – breezed his opening qualification – against such giants as Andorra – then quickly fell apart. The debacle of World Cup 2010 could be said to be down to appalling man-management, which is what his job is all about, and culminated in the 4-1 humiliation to Germany in Bloemfontein.

Harry Redknapp – a nice guy and a very talented manager – is the lost Brian Clough and as such has further latent expectation heaped upon him. The truth is that none of this is to do with tactics, players, training methods or strategies. It is to do with a deep-seated – and inexplicable sense of entitlement. Until that cultural phantasm is exorcised and England can live with themselves as a nation like any other – with good players and a chance to compete – nothing more – this media circus will run on and on.

As Glen Hoddle put it: “What you sow, you have to reap.”

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7 replies

  1. Or consider it another way. For both of the international tournaments that Capello was tasked with qualifying – and then attempting to win – he did so in style. No last minute free-kicks against Greece for him. Yes, he did beat Andorra. I seem to remember a scintillating 4-1 win against Croatia (who had knocked England out of contention for Euro 2008) in Zagreb too…

    The run up to the World Cup disrupted by? John Terry. The camp at the World Cup disrupted by? John Terry. The run up to the European Championships muddied by? John Terry. The manager resigning over…. yes, John Terry.

    Indeed, that Germany 4-1 game was intriguing. Guess who the Germans identified as a positional weak link and who they targetted to pull out of position? JT, of course.

    One may ask ”why did Capello keep picking him?” and the answer is, of course, if you don’t have Terry on side you lose the English press particularly if you are a foreign manager. The English press didn’t like Capello and never did. They’ve only ever, in my lifetime, liked Robson and Venables. They’ll love Redknapp too because he is in with them.

    That said, the piece is full of the usual slurs against the English. The lost Brian Clough? Hardly. England has a long-standing tradition of not picking the best manager for the England job (clue: Clough wasn’t the best manager in the game in the late 1970s/early 1980s he was just the one that teary eyed soccer tragics write books about) stretching back to Herbert Chapman.

    It has little to do with a ”deep-seated” entitlement. Few really think that England ”deserve” to win World and European trophies for being England. Many think, given the players we have had in the last 10 years, that quarter-finals are probably not a true reflection of the talent available. Would we have won the 2010 World Cup with a better manager or with better squad morale? No. Germany, Spain and Holland were all better teams.

    Are you actually saying that in 2010 the issue was that the England players thought they would win because they were English? I think there’s more to it than that. I wouldn’t judge us all by the morons in the press. Most know full well that England are a decent enough team who can, on their day, compete with anyone (note a recent victory against a Spain which wasn’t far off their starting XI).

    Harry Redknapp will be outsmarted by clever continental types in the knockout stages. England has, living in its shores, one of the finest cup managers in the World. He won’t be chosen because the English media is obsessed with the idea of an Englishman (as the Scottish media, post-Vogts, are obsessed with the idea that Craig Levein is better than any available foreign manager).

    The English, by and large, are pretty happy with their lot and understand their shortcomings and strengths. Writers in Scottish publications like to write otherwise, of course.

    RCM

    • Hi Rob, no I don’t think the players expected to win, I think the English media did and they put huge pressure on the team and ridiculous pressure on the manager. I also think there’s a huge gap between being a feted Premiership player then turning up at a World Cup where there’s 24 very hungry and proud countries. Suddenly it’s all very different.

      Not sure if I agree with you about ‘Clough wasn’t the best manager in the game in the late 1970s’. I’m struggling to see how Clough’s achievements at Forest have parallel given his resources? The reason he wasn’t appointed was because of the stuffy hierarchical tragically backward-looking FA which persists today and is itself a relic of grand self-importance.

  2. “The harsh reality is that 1966 was an accident – and that those circumstances are unlikely to reoccur.”

    Brilliant Mike, absolutely brilliant.

    I agree completely. I’ve often wondered if England’s presumptuous, expectant attitude is solely because of that “accident”, and if they might be a bit more gracious had a certain Azerbaijani linesman not effectively handed them the world cup; or if it is more deep-rooted than that, most likely due to thinking they “gifted” the world the game of football, and are therefore entitled to eternal greatness. Or is it perhaps just a defensive reflex to the knowledge that their crowning glory is based on a lie?

    Anyway, they need to stop believing their own hype and realise they’re just a second-tier football team. They think they’re of the same quality as Germany, Brazil, Netherlands and Spain, and that their lack of success means they’re merely sleeping giants in the same way France used to be and Argentina still are. The reality is they’re at the same level as Russia, Croatia or Serbia – teams that are good but entirely beatable (at least let’s hope so in the case of those last two since they’re in our next qualifying group!) In club terms, they’re Everton rather than Liverpool. It’s interesting that when Germany felt they were slipping, they completely restructured German football, from the bottom up; yet you just can’t imagine England doing the same (to be fair, the SFA are not exactly great at this either…) The difference between France and England’s attitude to failure in the 1994 qualifiers was telling, as were the results afterwards.

    The premiership is their problem, though they’ll never recognise it because they think it’s the greatest league in the world. Whether it is or not is entirely debatable (Spain would certainly debate it), but the fact is it’s where it is as a result of foreign talent, not English talent. With the possible exception of perpetual spoilt brat Wayne Rooney, which English players spring to mind when one is thinking of the top players in that league? The last Englishman to truly rule the roost in England was Alan Shearer, and they’ve never found a replacement, both in terms of quality and how he conducted himself in the public eye.

    One day the massive debts in the Premiership will have to be repaid…

  3. “I wouldn’t judge us all by the morons in the press. ”
    .
    Or TV. My recommendation to anyone wanting to watch an England game on telly is to mute the sound. It’s a totally different experience then. Switch of the stream-of-consciousness racist jingoism from the commentators and you might be able to see that, actually, they aren’t a bad team (I thought the one captained by Lineker was great).

    • I watch all sport on TV with the sound off, football, tennis, snooker the lot,

      Surely its not beyond the modern technology that TV viewers could have a commentary on/off button, and leave the sound of the game only, available.

      • What a good idea. But isn’t the commentary fulfilling the same marketing role as canned laughter in a TV comedy? It tells you that what you are watching is funny, when left to your own devices you might have come to a different conclusion. In sport the commentator assures you that what you are watching is wildly exciting. Motor racing is a particular case in point – round and round and round and round they endlessly go, to the most breathless commentary of all.

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