2 years ago
I was in a bar one day last year (a few days actually but this one in particular), watching football on the TV and passing the time of day with the Greek landlord, when he asked me the ultimate question that all foreigners get around to asking all Englishmen at some point or other in their lives:
"Every World Cup, the England football team are favourites, but they always fail. Why?
And I gave him the usual answer:
“The players are good enough, but the managers, chosen by the conservative forces within the Football Association, are only ever mediocre and inevitably get it wrong. No shape, no style, no imagination."
And ultimately, I could also add how the English themselves seem to prefer their teams to struggle through the qualifiers, unpunished for their mistakes by ineffective opposition (whom England should thrash), until they reach the quarter-finals, where they raise their game only to lose heroically. Heroic failure you see, it’s the English way.
We would have won, if only... We SHOULD have won, but we were cheated... At least we won the moral victory. Etc. (A mindset unthinkable amongst most Australians & Americans)
But like every other World Cup before it, the next one should be different. And why is that? Because, as is usually the case, the current squad is undisputedly the most talented in the whole of England's history.
So why are they so awful then? And believe me, they ARE! They are nothing short of uninspired, gormless, directionless, and error-prone: in short, they’re a bunch of under-educated, over-paid, highly groomed and moisturised Nancy-boys.
And apart from the fact that they're all too rich to care these days, I think I've accidentally recognised the huge void between their talent and their inability to deliver, and their wealth is something to do with it; not in their club wages, but in their commercial activities.
A few years back, I watched an England v. Sweden fiasco at a friend's, having previously seen all the preceding games at home, alone, where I'd been sitting down at kick-off, then popping out for a spot of gardening at half-time, and switching off at the final whistle, to get on with my life. The Sweden game was on Britain's commercial ITV network, and thus the match was enveloped with ads, all featuring members of the England squad, flogging cell phones, beer, Nike sports gear, cars, you name it and they were flogging it for all they were worth. And it struck me that every advert, with their high budgets and chic production values, portrayed our chavvy over-achievers as very stylish and smooth operators. Brilliantly lit, with slick editing and moody scene-setting, they all take on the role of the Super-Celebrity, the film star in waiting; the style-leader in chief.
A) I wondered why they were being lauded so much BEFORE they'd even won anything; shouldn't this wait until after they've brought the trophy back home with them?
B) It occurred to me that the posturing in the adverts (the virtual reality of an iconic status) was actually influencing their performance on the pitch.
This self awareness, honed by an ever-watching media (even the "Wags" (wives & girlfriends) had competed with the players for coverage) has created an idea of success that is near impossible to recreate on the pitch. For example, watch Beckham as he takes a free kick. He'll stand there posing ridiculously for the cameras before he steps up, no doubt at the insistence of his sponsors.
They are really no different to how New Labour was, with one eye constantly on the tabloids as they turn to their PAs for advice. In the past, crappy England sides have just shrugged and denied it, often reacting belligerently to their critics. But not any longer; each member of the new side these days has to be seen to take their turn to admit "we've not been good enough", and have insisted that they're going to make every effort to improve, while stressing their sincerity in feeling the public's hurt.
This time round in Brazil, “the impossible job” of team manager was left to Roy Hodgson who had the unenviable task to deliver the sound-bite: "We're just two games from a World Cup Final, three games from winning the World Cup!" And I was saddened to here this repeated with enthusiasm by a BBC reporter in his own summary of England's chances just prior to them once again being kicked out.
So we clearly now have a situation where the players on the pitch are no longer able to identify the possibility of winning the world cup, within the terms of their public persona, created by the media that pays their outrageous fees, and the reality of actually getting out there on the pitch, talking to each other and taking responsibility for the task at hand.
None of them have the character to stand up and take the initiative. Their pampered lifestyles have rendered them victims of an arrested development and reduced them back to the status of adolescence, which no doubt explains their inability to tell their manager to stick it.
Can they ever win then? Well, there is a possibility. Particularly if the other side is missing crucial players they can. But can they ever win the World Cup though? Well watching the determination of the Germans and the Italians to settle for nothing less than a win, one has to honestly say no. Neither of the aforementioned teams could be describe to be classic at present, but the simple fact that they are TEAMS speaks volumes.
So, can England ever play well and lose then? Well why ever not? They’ve been doing it for years and now we might know why.
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