Archive | World Cup

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World Cup 2018: Remembering My Russian

Posted on 03 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

When I heard the news that the Russian Federation would host the 2018 World Cup despite a near-perfect bid from England, I remembered my Russian.

My Russian was one of the very few great men I consider myself to have met. You won’t have heard of him, and I won’t give you his name.

Our paths crossed when I was working in a public library in an impoverished area of north London. A huge, bearded man with a voice deeper than a Volga boatman’s sat down in front of me at my enquiry desk, and we got to talking. He had been a university professor in the Soviet Union, but had abandoned his home and career so that his teenaged son could have the chance to grow up in the West. His son was now tearing through his comprehensive school whilst the father kept their council flat clean and did what scraps of work he could find.

Like so many new immigrants, he did not consider what he saw around him as economic poverty. His ramshackle pad was worlds better than what his old status in the USSR had afforded him, and the Golborne Road market stalls kept him in what he considered to be the style of kings and presidents.

What did shock him were the drugs. Now, it’s not as though my colleagues and I were unexposed to this: it was around about this time that the mother-daughter prostitute team would come screaming into our building provoked by their failure to score, and we had our share of poor souls with ravaged arms amongst our regular clientele. But for my Russian, all this was new.

So it started to happen that, one by one, local street junkies would find themselves being swept up by a great Russian bear, emerging some weeks later clean, happily bewildered, full of soup and stew, the colour back in their cheeks, their clothes washed and their appetite for life mysteriously restored.

I don’t know how he did it: something about not having been told he shouldn’t, I imagine. Perhaps he felt the strength of his own new freedom in London, and wanted to share it with those who had lost theirs to a different kind of unelected power. Or just force of personality. At any rate,  he sat in front of me one day months into our acquaintance and said,

James – in my country we have beautiful laws. In your country – not so beautiful. But in your country, people obey the laws. And that is the difference.

Aye, aye, that is indeed the difference, which is why even mild displays of corruption in the UK lead usually to extended or indeed permanent banishment from public life.

So it really couldn’t have been other for me, that when FIFA handed 2018 to Russia, a decision as demanding of Kremlinology as any from Kosygin or Brezhnev,  I remembered my Russian.

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Presenting the Trophy: 1929, 1954 and 1958

Posted on 11 August 2010 by JamesHamilton

Huddersfield Town's 1922 FA Cup Open Top Bus

Commenter Will contrasts aspects of the 1929 FA Cup Final crowd (see here) with modern football audience behaviour:

They are all there early. If you imagine the FA Cup final now there would be people drifting in right up to the kick off. But the stands are full at least 10 minutes before kick off. And what an orderly crowd – it looks much more like a theatre audience than a modern football crowd would.

When they go up to get the cup you can hear individuals shouting out. Now (if you could hear it over the ‘razzmatazz’ provided by the PA system…etc you would hear a dull roar from the crowd or chanting. In this video the crowd don’t feel the need to make a noise for the sake of it – they will gladly stand and watch the team collecting the cup, unless they have something specific they want to say. It gives the trophy presentation the feel of a school sports day.

In 1929, the crowd are more specifically spectators, and less participants, than they are today, at least at Wembley.

Wembley was strange turf – an away ground for everyone present, of course, and it would be interesting to have e.g. a “talking picture” from Stamford Bridge, Burnden Park or Maine Road to contrast the 1929 Final with.

The next clip is from the closing stages of the 1954 “Miracle of Berne” World Cup Final, in which a reborn West Germany beat the Magical Magyars with a combination of tech, weather and skullduggery plus the skills and courage of an underestimated side (Morlock, Rahn & Gmb). From about six minutes in, you can watch the German reaction to the Final whistle, and then the presentation.

The presentation – like that of 1929 – is treated as a short hiatus in the celebrations. For the players, it’s a moment for dignity and self-respect. And from Puskas, sportsmanship:

In today’s cup tournaments, the trophy presentation has become the moment of climax. Like so much in this homophobic sport, it’s highly sexual. The trophy is handed over – it enjoys an intimate moment with the captain – and then the captain turns to the crowd, and, bang! (And streamers fall, fireworks go up, a narcissistic single by Queen jerks into action: whatever else it all is, it isn’t in anyone’s idea of good taste).

In 1929 and 1954, the presentation had relatively little to do with the crowd as such. Even the chairing of the skipper – or, in West Germany’s case, the manager – looks like a comparatively private affair, something that took place amongst an inner circle, team and the team’s backroom support.

FA Cup Finals have always been a case unto themselves. Yes, they decide an important competition, but it’s also the national Football Association’s big annual day out, a chance to thank the many volunteers who keep the real game going. Of the 100,000 tickets sold at the old Wembley, only a proportion would be destined for the fans of the finalists.  In addition, until the 1950s, when the price of football admission and rail travel both diminished in relation to the growth in the standard of living, a journey to London would have been beyond many who attended home games. Saturday morning working would rule out others. To celebrate “with the crowd” at Wembley in 1929 might not have meant “celebrating with your core supporters” as much as it does today.

So when would the supporters’ moment come? When would they be acknowledged, in public, by the team they followed?

If this 1934 film marking Manchester City’s FA Cup win is any clue, then the pre-War fans’ “moment” wasn’t at Wembley: it was at the railway station, and in the streets, with the Cup held up to them from an open-top bus (ignore the voice over on this: usual ill-informed, patronising rubbish)

The bus would be bound for the steps of the Town Hall or City Chambers, where the trophy would be raised to a cheering crowd in a manner similar to but less sexualised that that now seen at Wembley.

Inevitably, bus parades aren’t the events they once were. Chelsea’s parades, for instance, go down the Kings Road, and once ended at my former workplace Chelsea Old Town Hall. Chelsea Old Town Hall hasn’t been a Town Hall for 45 years, and has never been in the same borough as Stamford Bridge. In 1970, the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea stood at the Town Hall window, pouring champagne into the Cup. In 2010, with an attendance similar to a minor political demonstration of the sort London sees almost every day during the summer – rather fewer than they’d taken to Wembley itself -  Chelsea’s bus took them to Parson’s Green. (Chelsea’s support these days are a diaspora – coming from Sutton, Epsom, Dorking, Redhill and further afield as much as from West London – so a Wembley focus for celebration makes more sense in any case, as it would for most clubs who win the Cup these days).

This last British Pathe clip shows Nat Lofthouse of Bolton Wanderers in 1958. Changes are underway in the Wembley Ritual: he gives the Cup a chaste peck, and, a minute or two later, holds it up – somewhat – chest high – for photographers. You’ll also see his speech and his holding up the Cup on the steps of Bolton Town Hall – a traditional element still in full force 52 years ago. No easing past this crowd – it’s quite clearly something those present will remember for the rest of their lives.

There’s no doubt in my mind that football between the Wars was at its peak in terms of crowd behaviour and etiquette. The Edwardian game was a more violent and corrupt affair altogether. As for the 1950s, trains began to be vandalised by travelling supporters, and fan segregation surfaced as an issue outside Glasgow.

It’s not the world fan nostalgia harks back to. That world, one full of loyal players with hygienic lives, Gazza skills and workman’s boots, who go everywhere by bus and never lose an international match, is a media-fuelled fantasy. And what rough fuel the media provide.

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Agincourt and England 2010

Posted on 18 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

Paul Carpenter (Carpsio) takes the “passion and commitment” line of England criticism in an interesting direction with an informed comparison of Agincourt to that 4-1 defeat to Germany:

In all these cases (Agincourt, Waterloo, Dunkirk, The Battle of Britain, Rorke’s Drift), we are assured that it was English ‘spirit’ that was critical to our victory against the odds (or more commonly British, but that’s splitting hairs). All battles are framed thus in the national mind: outnumbered and outgunned by foreign forces and perfidy, our innate spunk and refusal to concede defeat see us through.

It’s a good place to start. Most of the popular reaction to England’s 2006 and 2010 World Cups has been to deride the team for spineslessness and lack of courage. The spunk and refusal to concede defeat that are, we must assume, typical of the fans, were not, we are told, seen in the behaviour of the “overpaid privileged primadonnnas” – and you can put your own choice of words between those inverted commas.

We see this unspoken story in our sports. Recall us to Beckham’s game against Greece in 2002 or “Botham’s Ashes” in 1981. In the iconography of the game, Terry Butcher’s heroics against Sweden in 1989 gave us the defining image of English sport: a man covered in blood yet unyielding in his defiance, a performance which single handedly gave us the result we needed (i.e. a draw with the footballing giants of Sweden when viewed more prosaically).

Yes, and some of us will be able to remember the 1980 Winter Olympics and a programme on the BBC called “Come on Cousins” in which this principle was extended to figure skating…

Typically, we have learned entirely the wrong set of lessons from these games. These events were exceptions - not rules.  The Beckham who charged around the pitch, tackling anything that moved might have stirred the blood – but ultimately delivered nothing. It was Beckham the dead-ball specialist who ultimately won the game by doing something he’d practised until it was a personal art form. There is no greater lesson to be taken from Beckham’s game against Greece other than clichés about “heroism”.

It’s worth noting at this point that Beckham himself used to be seen as the epitome of the weak-willed unEnglish pampered ego who, along with Sven, was keeping all of those English lions from making the nation proud. This, despite having kept going through being burnt in effigy, having abusive chants about his wife recited by English crowds, being dropped by McClaren and Capello..

The popular reaction to the World Cup in general, and the Germany match in particular, has been to accuse the team of spineless cowardice and letting the country down, of not trying, of not showing passion. Carpenter disagrees, provides a succinct alternative analysis, and caps it off quite brilliantly:

So we end up at Bloemfontaine, where Gerrard’s desire to win the game himself by himself through English virtues like willpower and passion and grit meant that he consistently drifted from his position on the left in the game plan that Capello had set for him. Terry likewise pushed ever higher up the pitch, trying to will the team to victory while Johnson uselessly attempted to conjure blood and thunder via clumsy challenges (no doubt “letting the Germans know he was there”).

Sadly, the Germans even knew that this would happen. Coach Joachim Löw:

“We knew that Gerrard and Lampard always support the forwards and that the midfield would be open, there would be spaces. Our objective was to use Miroslav Klose to draw out John Terry, to force him to come out of the defence. We knew that the fullbacks would be very much to the side and this would create the spaces between the English defenders that would help us penetrate their defence”

Far from being our killer app, those English virtues of ‘commitment’ and ‘desire’ are our achilles heel.

Read the rest.

I watched the entire Germany game again this afternoon, and once again failed to recognize any of the popular criticisms that have been levelled at the team. I agree with George Szirtes’ analysis – this was a game in which Upson, Terry and Barry played unusually poorly. That’s true. I also find myself amongst that tiny number of people who see the disallowing of Lampard’s goal as a turning point: England troubled Germany deeply at times, and although Germany were the better side, it wasn’t 4-1 better, or even 4-2.

What did for England was the speed of attack Germany’s youngsters could provide. Muller and Ozil were just faster than the men assigned to stop them, and Klose not far behind on the day. That use of speed is worth reflecting on: both McClaren and Capello felt that speed out wide was the future for England – as it has proved to be for Germany.

Some fans felt so too, in 2006, although that had more to do with a reflexive desire to punish Beckham for not being a shouting neckless skinhead than anything else. It’s precisely the failure of England’s fast young wide players that has marked both the Englands of McClaren and Capello.

Injury has had much to do with it. Aaron Lennon spent most of 2010 “coming back from..” one worrying setback after another. Walcott, the younger of the two, didn’t play a full match until December, but was nonetheless a surprising omission from the World Cup 23.

Both Lennon and Walcott are very young men with developing still to do. Lennon’s 23, and Walcott 21. I want to be fair to them. For comparison, Germany’s Mueller is 20, and Ozil 21. Neither of these men is as yet a club player of the stature of Lennon or Walcott, and it might yet prove that their 2010 will be a version of Michael Owen’s 1998: a footballing demonstration of a kind that we would never really see in the same way again. It wasn’t that Owen who scored the bulk of his 40 international goals.

At least the Lennon and Walcott stories aren’t about lack of first team opportunities. Both have had exactly the careers you’d have wanted for them – barring the injuries, of course.

But if England’s fast players really are key – and the success of Mueller and Ozil suggest as much – then what Lennon and Walcott serve to underline is that there really was something about the real Golden Generation – the United kids plus Owen, Fowler, Campbell and the Cole brothers – that set them apart from the usual products of the English system. The excitement about that group was not completely delusional, and neither was the desire to find them proper European management.

Lennon’s injury struggles this year make it unfair, as I’ve said, to set him up against his predecessor on England’s right.  Lennon at his best is fast – really fast – a Finney on skates. A player who can get you on your feet in a second. So is Walcott.

But just look at David Beckham, aged 23..

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All of the World Cup Balls 1930-2010

Posted on 13 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

Here’s a gallery of all of the balls used at FIFA World Cups from the beginning. (H/T Metafilter).

The top row of the gallery contains the kind of footballs that would have been familiar both to participants in friendlies in the 1960s and British schoolboys ninety years later.

Row 2 contains what my generation might consider the Ur-ball, the Adidas Telstar, father of a million hollow plastic replicas. A couple of months of being kicked up against a brick wall would take off that clean black-and-white and leave the basic leather exposed, but the panel pattern would still show through.

The most recent footballs – the aerodynamic, waterproof serious pieces of sporting kit – are the ones that look most transient, temporary and liable to break. You could say the same for today’s boots. Odd that the footballs and the football boots look least like their ancient forebears just at the time when shirts, shorts and socks have gone back – on the surface at least – to a bagginess Billy Wright might have recognised and his Hungarian opponents rejected.

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The World Cup Final 2010

Posted on 12 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

It was, in the end, a Final for people who enjoy complex, technical, thinking football. There has been plenty of this throughout the tournament, especially from the three European semi-finalists, and the standard of commentary on television and in the press has struggled to keep up. It struggled in the Final too. In musical terms, this was late Bach and late Beethoven, interpreted on screen by fans of Korngold.

Radio 5 have been a cut apart as ever, but even they have had low moments. Graham Taylor and Mark Pougatch proposing an Argentina-style set-up for England (“a morale-raising figure – an Alan Shearer – with experienced coaches around him to help him out”), for instance, although that idea didn’t survive Argentina’s encounter with Germany. And last night, Alan Green decrying an enthralling and skilful stand-off as “one of the worst finals ever” which is an opinion he’s entitled to of course.

For me, the best part was simply being able to sit back and watch Howard Webb cope with the quite incredible levels of psychological pressure which the two teams deliberately placed upon him. Such is the fear factor at huge games like this that even experienced and capable sides like Spain and Holland can spend them doing more to deflect the blame for defeat than to win the thing. And they asked the question of Howard Webb in the first half: are you going to ruin the game? Because we’ll push and push and push and make it hard for you. Because it’s the World Cup Final, ref. And when you’ve given way, and splashed out the red cards, we’ll relax and play – because whatever happens from then on is your fault, Webb, and not ours.

They couldn’t break him. Time and time again Webb’s calm and good judgement kept the lid on things. By the end, the behaviour of the Dutch in particular had shaded into the embarrassing, and Iniesta’s goal, for which he and Spain had waited with such patience and strength of mind, prevented injustice and fiasco.

Webb made one error over 120 minutes – a minor error, which only overheated minds could see as having any effect on the outcome of the game. And even that error could be put down to the Dutch, who were pulling on Webb’s attention yet again as the shot was tipped over.

I was proud of Howard Webb. And, as I’m declaring that the refereeing was successful, only the football questions are left, and there’s only one of those: what happened to Holland?

In the end, Spain were a step too far for them of course, but nonetheless Holland have played better than that against tough opposition. The patience and clever passing which they displayed against Brazil were absent here. It was as if for all their pre-match talk about their long unbeaten run, and their sense of invulnerability, they went into the Final nonetheless with low expectations. What fragile belief they retained didn’t last out Spain’s scintillating first fifteen minutes. Thereafter, the game plan was to kick and harry, and trust that Arjen Robben’s bullet-proof sense of entitlement would pull them out of trouble.

He had the chance to do it, but even he, a man who has never doubted his own ability nor his own right to win despite the most unencouraging of circumstances, went into that chance with one eye over his shoulder for help from the referee.

At least the Dutch knew that they weren’t quite good enough. I don’t think the commentary teams on UK television or in the UK press have that kind of self-knowledge. Anyone who has read Italian sports newspapers, or seen reports from Dutch youth training camps, or (insert your own alternative) must find themselves wondering at the state of football thinking here. Perhaps the idea that what we have here amounts to a football culture is one of the few remaining hangovers from our invention of the modern game in 1870-1885. I didn’t see a football culture in the UK this World Cup. Yes, the usual recycled footie tropes were there, but these don’t change and the Brits rehearse them like lines from a foreign phrasebook or Proverbs. The UK interacts with football with the same personality-driven, storyline approach that it brings to novels, TV drama and reality television.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It works with George Eliot, or Alexander McCall Smith, or Ashes to Ashes. But I worry that the UK wants this approach to deliver footballing success. And the only things down that road are yet more faux outrage and yet more lingering bitterness, betrayal and disappointment.

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Putting a Curse Upon Uruguay

Posted on 10 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

Given that I’ll be shouting for the Germans in tonight’s 3rd place playoff, I thought it appropriate to show this clip of the Uruguayans – when the South American team were still World Champions – coming a horrible cropper against Scotland:

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Lost 30 minute film of the 1938 World Cup

Posted on 08 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

A “lost” official-esque 30 minute film about the 1938 World Cup: fantastic work in uncovering this by Tom Dunmore at Pitchinvasion, and you can read his account of it – and watch the film – here.

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Weight and the Jabulani Ball

Posted on 07 July 2010 by JamesHamilton

Football made for the 1936 Berlin Olympics

I just wanted to post a clarification to my previous post on the historic weight of the official football.

The Jabulani ball’s dry weight is 440g. That’s 15.52 oz. (Typo corrected – Thanks to @darcysarto)

You’ll recall that since 1937, Law 2 has specified the dry weight of the ball. It has to be between 14 and 16 oz. Thus, in terms of the dry weight of the ball, the Jabulani is at the high end of what’s permitted.

This is not to deny two things:

  1. Issues about the flight of the Jabulani ball and how easy it is to predict that flight. Clearly the new ball is different in terms of aerodynamics from the balls of 10, 20, 30 or 70 years ago. But most commentary on the matter seems to assume that the primary difference with this ball from its predecessors is its weight. It isn’t. The flight of the ball is all to do with shape. Don’t forget that most of the complaints are comparing the Jabulani ball with other recent modern balls that were subject to the same complaints in their turn. 
  2. Previous balls taking on weight from accumulated moisture. Modern balls are better at staying dry. This means that on a wet pitch, a 1937 ball was very likely to finish 90 minutes heavier than it began. Furthermore, the 1937 ball would most likely stay on the pitch for the whole game – something that cheap, reliable football production has rendered unnecessary. Pace Dearieme, not every football match in the black-and-white era took place on a mud pudding. More Mitchell and Kenyon films show dry, dusty, grassless surfaces than soaked ones, and in such circumstances, the weight of the ball would be the same – or even lighter – than it is now.

How much drier is a Jabulani ball compared to, say, the balls at France 1998? For a size 5 ball, FIFA requires that it not take on more than 10% of its dry weight during official water absorption testing. The Jabulani ball, so the test results claim, takes on no extra weight at all. (FIFA’s actual criteria are slightly more complicated than I’ve described, but that’s the gist). But every World Cup ball from the Adidas Etrusco Unico of 1990 on has been completely water resistant. It’s not weight: it’s aerodynamics. And old men forget: former players, now commentators, talking about “new lighter balls” are giving people the wrong idea.

Given that many of the matches at the 2010 World Cup have taken place in torrential rain, it’s interesting to speculate just how much would have been different had traditional materials been used for balls, boots and shirts. You can find out for yourselves: get your shirts here, and your ball here. I’ll be Holland, and you can be Uruguay.

UPDATE: Alive and Kicking are right: the South African World Cup should have used their leather footballs – hand stitched in Africa and providing African jobs. Read more about Alive and Kicking Here.

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England v Algeria: Not Fear, But F*** Off

Posted on 19 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

Four years ago, the press wanted an English manager who understood English players and the English culture. They got one. It didn’t work.  Then they wanted the players’ backsides (so arrogant! so wealthy! so.. what that bloke just said!) given a kicking. A disciplinarian – all Capello will now be remembered as – was duly imported, at great expense.

It seemed to “work” for a while. And the sadistic wing of English football journalism thrilled to tales of enforced mealtimes, restricted conjugality and millionaires scrambling for the approval of “Mr Capello.” All that’s forgotten now.

Truth to tell, the press were already tiring of Capello, and the tide had turned against him before the match against the USA. Such was the atmosphere amongst the splendid gentlemen of our broadsheets and redtops that only a series of Croatia-like results could have kept them at bay. I think this difficult start to the World Cup, combined with British reporters’ bleating, churlish desire for more “access” to the manager (and they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them) has most likely ended his tenure.

I have no sympathy with press turnabouts, nor with “fans” who complain about the money they’ve spent to go to South Africa. The latter at least still have the money to spend – they are English, not Icelandic, Greek or Irish or Spanish – and they are, after all, still on holiday. But there is something happening here, with England, and if I’m right, it’s something we’ve not seen with the international team for a decade. I think the players are on psychological strike.

There are three separate but interlinked components to this.

The first is the very discipline and distance that brought England to South Africa in such good style. For Capello, the players-as-pawns strategy is a given. It’s what he’s always done. The principal advantage to the players is its simplicity: as a player,you are to focus on getting your game right, you are responsible for that, and, by and large, your shirt depends on it. During qualifying, English players always had something to play for: it was quite clear what they had to achieve. But I suspect that, unlike the manager, the players saw all this work and discipline as something with a natural end-point. The prize on offer to them was qualification and a recovery of pride after the McClaren debacle, then, that achieved, a place in the squad. And, with a place in the squad achieved, the proper work could begin. The real business of the World Cup would get underway with a squad secure in the knowledge that they had won their coach’s esteem and trust.

It didn’t work that way. The squad arrived in South Africa to find nothing had changed between themselves and their coach. In a sense, the prize wasn’t the World Cup, not at first: what they wanted was the trust of Fabio Capello. But it wasn’t granted them, nor will it be, that trust: the players understand this at an intuitive level. Despite qualifying so well, what they felt was meant to be punishment for the sins of the McClaren era grinds on, with no sign of an end.

The second is best summed up as “Robert Green.” My heart sank when I heard that he’d been dropped. Dropped, indeed, after a week of what amounted to psychological torture from the management team, made worse by gruesome press coverage. Reflect on the patient years Green has spent, never complaining, in working his way up to the no. 1 spot, reflect on the moral courage with which he faced up to what happened last week, reflect on the betrayal of one of the genuinely good guys of an England squad not overloaded with them. (Do all top managers have a goalkeeping blind spot? Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger do, and so it would seem does Capello). I suspect that, to the England squad, Green isn’t a pawn or a keeper needing to prove himself all over again at this climax of his career, but a mate and a colleague, and one who is being ripped apart in public to no purpose, abandoned and humiliated. It could be them next. After Green, what safety and solidarity can there be for this England squad?

The third point relates to the press. When it comes to the hacks, Capello is not Mourinho, or Ferguson, or Wenger, or Clough: he does not seem to see the need to shield his players from the worst of the criticism. The sudden, press-driven intimacy of a World Cup, with every player the subject of remorseless speculation and destabilising criticism, changes the nature of what Capello calls “the group.” It’s no longer something you fight to get into: it’s where you are, inescapably, wagons circled. The dropped – Green, Milner – can’t escape back to their clubs. The underperforming – Rooney – find themselves trapped in the searchlights, ripped by offensive fire. This morning, had Mourinho taken the job, the Special One would be in the most almightly contrived battle with FIFA or the FA, and those searchlights, that fire, would be his and his alone. I say this with reluctance, but I think Capello is using the players as human shields for himself, and David James’ interview, in which England’s fair-minded, intelligent and articulate veteran could scarcely keep the note of contempt out of his voice, shows the result.

All of a sudden, England’s an unhappy camp, and last night’s body language said it as loudly as did the performance. As had some of the comments made by players in the run-up: Terry and Gerrard have lapsed back into McClaren-era declarations that the team can play better than this, into promises that the team know what they have to do, into flat predictions that the next game will put it all right. That tells me that something has fractured: that the trust and belief are gone.

It’s as if only by downing tools as a team, without actually sacrificing the game altogether, could the England squad communicate the depth of their unhappiness to the manager. That’s how I read Rooney’s parting comments:

“Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that’s what loyal support is … for fuck’s sake.”

There’s been no loyal support, not since arriving, not from the fans, from whom it is no longer expected, and not from the manager. Rooney’s come in for criticism for this, but he’s absolutely right. The time for punishment for the past has been over since the squad was announced. Yet it’s gone on regardless, and fan narcissism doesn’t help.

Cast your minds back to the qualification games for the 2000 European Championships. Glenn Hoddle had made an excellent start as England manager. A side built around Adams, Ince and Shearer had come home early from the World Cup, but on the back of the best all-round set of performances since 1970.  The young Manchester United midfield were bedding in, Michael Owen had arrived, and the future looked bright. But, a couple of lacklustre games into Euro 200o qualifying, Hoddle rowed with Alan Shearer, saying “Tell me why you are producing performances like this.”

Shearer replied: “Have you ever thought the problem might be you?”

It’s not pressure. It’s not nerves. It’s not fear. It’s a message to Capello, and it reads f*** off.

Postscript:

All of the above is speculative to a large degree, and were England to go in at half-time 2-0 up over Slovakia, my guess is that a great deal will be forgiven and forgotten. What I mean is: we’ll know by then.

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Slapstick

Posted on 17 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

THAT Pires/Henry penalty

Athletics, cricket and swimming have their blooper reels and ice hockey its fights. But only football has cock-up at its core. Only in football is savage and ridiculous public error key to so many significant moments and germaine to so many results.

That’s down to the random element, of course, and (let’s get it over with) the ball is round. But the slapstick element at the top of the game is in decline. Increased fitness, tactical sophistication and technical ability conspire and the outcome is Portugal v Ivory Coast.

Nevertheless, even this World Cup has had its moments, and can I just say that subsequent first round matches have made England’s performance and result look better and better?

But it’s not England who have impressed me the most. They’re in the second rank, alongside buccaneering Chile, the US (those boxers’ names: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Clarence Goodson..) and Germany.

No, it’s Brazil I’m admiring – that mix of strong, capable defence, patient midfield and two wild talents up front. So that’s what Robinho is really about.. and it’s good to see a country developing from backwoodsmen into a major sporting power. This Brazil is a mature, rounded squad, tactically and technically capable of taking on the Italys and Spains. Compare the 2010 team’s skill and efficiency with the hapless, ill-disciplined, panic-ridden and gallumphing Brazil of 40 years ago:

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