Total Recall

It’s only to be expected in these circumstances that people should suggest recalling Beckham to the team. And only natural that the name of Theo Walcott should, as they say, “enter the frame” given his recent performances for the England Under-21 team and for Arsenal.

Brian Clough once wrote:

Football management can be a torment, even to those who are deservedly regarded as the best. All it takes is a difficult spell, a poor run of results, a lousy season and sometimes you don’t know which door to walk through, who to shout at or clout, which pen to pick up, which bell to push, which player to pick, which telephone to answer. Panic.

For those of us who felt Erickson hard used by the English – not just the press – and by the wheel of fortune – watching gravity’s natural draw pull matters back to his point of view feels like.. I spent fifteen minutes yesterday afternoon staring into the air, unable to remember the word.. vindication.
Beckham won’t be recalled. His dropping came via an unpleasant mix of gesture politics, a genuine desire to break from the past in whatever way could be found, and footballing reasons, however imperfect those reasons were. (Pace is good in a team, but pace without product is no better than no pace but goals and assists at World Cup tournaments.) Recalling him would be tantamount to resignation on McClaren’s part.

Walcott is another thing entirely. Used by McClaren as a rod for Sven’s back, one can only hope that if he is brought into the squad, it’s not to prove another point.

12 Replies to “Total Recall”

  1. If Young Theo has played some first team football by March, he might well be a candidate for the squad. Not that it’d do the lad any good to be fielded with the present rabble.

  2. It’s not a rabble, dearie me. There are some excellent players there as the rest of the world recognizes. They played badly against two teams who played well. It happens. Just because they lost to Croatia it does not mean they have now become one of the worst teams in Europe. Spain haven’t done that well, nor did France or Italy. Croatia have always had good teams, and a combined old-Yugoslavia team would be a major force.

    What England lacked was a confident attacking midfielder and (imho James) pace up front. Pace would have made some difference (and a case for Walcott / Lennon / SWP). What Macedonia and Croatia realised is that if you pressurise supposedly attacking full backs (Cole and Neville) they don’t get forward much, and that play then tends to get frustratingly concentrated in the upper middle of the field, from which no one can be sprung by an accurate (Beckhamesque) long pass.

    If you dont have players who can beat men in that situation, or a first rate ball player, or a very fast forward, you get a big ineffective crowd of mid-pacers treading on each other’s feet.

    As in fact happened. The only time England looked dangerous against Croatia was when SWP came on, and when Rooney tried a shot without thinking three times about it.

    But there’s nothing wrong with Robinson, Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Lampard (who seems to be getting what Beckham got earlier, that is criticism singling him out though neither was worse than any other in generally bad performances), Gerrard (who, James, can be an inspirational player), Crouch, Rooney and even Carrick, given time.

    But we don’t give people time. We prefer to cut them down on a couple of performances and throw them away.

  3. I think that’s a particularly fine analysis. And I agree insofar as I also feel that the weakness is concentrated in midfield. Perhaps I suffer from a form of “survivor resentment” in that, on performance, it wouldn’t have been Beckham I’d have dropped after the World Cup.
    Lampard is tired, although a tired Lamps might just be better than what else is on offer. Gerrard, as you say, can be an inspirational player. Where we disagree is perhaps that I feel he’s TRYING to be “inspirational” where a solid performance would win the match but not the plaudits. I am as guilty as anyone of believing my own bullshit, and I suppose I think I can recognise when someone else is falling into that same old familiar trap.

  4. George, you’re wrong. “Rabble” is a team property – if they had the best 11 individuals in the world, but then played together by routinely passing the ball to the opposition, then “rabble” would be a fair description. Similarly, there’s no point callng Gerrard inspirational if he restricts that side of his nature to his appearances for Liverpool.

  5. Ah, if ‘rabble’ is a team property, OK. I think we need finer points of distinction between bunch, rabble, mob, crowd, collection etc. I was proceeding on the assumption that a rabble was such because it was composed of disorderly hapless and mindless individuals. I didn’t think the England players were quite that.

    And Gerrard. Yes, but I think the trouble lies not entirely with him. It matters greatly what is said about him and expected of him. The press, the fans etc expect him to be inspirational so he probably feels that is his role. Similar things can be said about Beckham (if he does not play as he did against Greece in that famous qualifier, he is a failure), and Rooney (if he is not scoring goals at will and shouldering people aside without being a short-tempered foul-mouthed boy, he too is a failure.) Beckham, Rooney and, to a lesser extent, Lampard, have all suffered from this. They then cannot be expected to remain ignorant of the world’s expectations of them. The world in this case being the press and the fans. And, as I said before, we have a yob press, all the worse in its yobbishness for its pretentions to suave, urbane wit. (I give you Richard Williams, I give you David Lacey, who is not so much urbane as noisome. On the other hand I give you the splendid Barnes in The Times, who seems to me better than anyone else by several miles.)

    Gerrard, it is true, is a strange exception, in that the press have never got on to him in the same way. This may be because he is projected as a straighter, less glamorous ‘character’ than the others. There are, I suspect, important questions of myth, both national and universal, involved in the presentation of any public figure, and football in particular.

    Whether this myth bears much relation to the truth is questionable, of course. It is, I imagine, unavoidable given the state of things. Maybe it is up to the club managers to mediate them. Or indeed the England manager.

  6. “It matters greatly what is said about him and expected of him. The press, the fans etc expect him to be inspirational so he probably feels that is his role.” In that context, it makes a real difference that we’re not talking about e.g. the England ice hockey team (I assume one exists). The dynamic changes when everything you do is instantly reflected back as though in some gigantic distorting mirror. That is very definitely up to both club and international managers to handle. Clough’s autobiography is packed with anecdotes about his attempts both to shield players from the attention and to prevent them getting carried away with it. Roy Keane’s, on the other hand, is obsessed with what happens when they DO get carried away (I think he’s made an absolutely admirable start to his management career btw – good to have my expectations confounded).
    Are we saying, at the bottom of it all, that the England football team are just too famous at the moment?

  7. No, we are saying that have to satisfy the emotional/aesthetic/ philosophical (no time to fine tune other adjectives) needs of any person who calls themself an England fan and that their performances as a team and as individuals are magnified and distorted by television and the press who have their own agenda. I think a great manager would try to manage people’s expectations by spelling out a simple football credo and by asking the public to behave with common sense. It comes comes down to what the manager believes and is willing to reveal. A statement of football/religious/ etc faith.

  8. Managing expectations – yes; see Martin O’Neill’s recent realistic comments about Aston Villa, his forecast of down times etc. Harder to do, from the England manager’s chair, as one wouldn’t expect any such comments to be taken at face value. “I can’t lead these players to victory Says Second Choice Steve”.

  9. It is not fame in general, I think. It is being famous for specific things, and for being constantly – and savagely – judged by the very peak of your achievement. It’s the lack of realism that bothers me. That and the confusion between simply winning (winning ugly) and playing well.

    I suspect that the ritual repetition of nuggets like “Second is nowhere” and “No one remembers a loser” does not help. It is so ingrained in the sporting psyche that I think it might actually be doing considerable harm. It is not even true. Johann Cruyff’s Holland was much more memorable than Gert Muller’s Germany, for a start. I am sure you could point to more examples. Would you care to?

    I would far sooner see a wonderful team playing exciting football and lose by the odd goal in five than a dull drone of a team grinding out a 0-0 draw.

    That freedom of spirit used to be used to be associated with Corinthianism, I believe. Learning to enjoy and be generous with your enjoyment.

    I even think people might buy it and go and see it. In fact they do.

    Incidentally, Rooney seems to have had a good game today.

  10. “Second is nowhere” – it does do harm, simply, as you say, by not being true. And it encourages fear of failure, which in turn discourages, paradoxically, precisely those actions or attempted actions that win games and thus competitions.

    Cruyff’s Holland – perhaps only the Brazil of 1982 come close. Argentina 2006 were just as obviously the superior side at the tournament, but there’s always that sulphur about them that takes away some of the pleasure.

    I’ve been interested to discover that some rather famously influential football people regarded with distaste the way certain aspects of the professional game impinged on the Corinthian spirit. Herbert Chapman, English football’s all-time most-modern, felt that league structures (and high transfer fees) did damage to the development of skill and entertaining football (something reminiscent there of the way teams suddenly burst into flower once definitely relegated). The whole campaign in the FA against professionalism was to save the quality of the play from bookies and industrialists – something the press, who are against bookies and industrialists, might want to consider when accusing the FA of being old-fashioned and backward looking.

  11. What is so fascinating about football is the way it can transform anger into an individual/group performance that produces something wonderful to watch – Maradona in full flight or something very ugly – Roy Keane in full fight. The “pursuit of excellence” without George’s playful/moral dimension can lead to ugliness disguised as triumph. Clumsy nut you know what I’m getting at. The FA is a good case for nationalisation as you can muster

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