Fabio and the Ducking Stool
“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.”