I’m going to have to spend yet more time away from screens – so one more post and then back in a week or so.
I can’t be the only one finding rich veins of comedy in poor Steve McClaren’s plight over Beckham. After all, had his dropping from the England squad really been entirely down to age and form, Lampard would have gone too.
It was all about signalling a new era. And, it turned out, everyone was ready, so they thought, to move on to the Beckhamless sunlit uplands. The Premiership didn’t want him back (I think those commentators who described a return to the Prem as a chance for Beckham to “restore his reputation” are forgetful creatures as well as rapacious ones). Real dropped him, apparently forever.
This isn’t the first defenestration of its kind, not by any manner of means. A run through the England line-ups of Bobby Robson’s first couple of years shows that if Beckham has been hard to replace, Keegan was far harder. Trevor Francis endured a series of part-time strike partners, none of whom (the ageing Paul Mariner aside) ever established themselves in quite the same way.
But at least Bobby Robson had his captain. Today, it looks as if John Terry might miss the rest of the season. Gerrard is ready to step into the breach, of course, but that is supposed to be something of a rarity.
The real problems for McClaren have been of two kinds.
Injuries, first. I’m not of the “no-excuses” school where these are concerned. Of course injuries are an excuse. McClaren can’t get a goalscorer onto the pitch. With Owen injured, it was time for Ashton to bring his genuine international class to the fore. But Ashton broke his leg.. and we are left with an unenviable choice: either field Crouch and Rooney, who’d usually play in the same position, or risk Defoe or Johnson, with whom form, fitness and talent compete for the title of principal weakness. There are similar, but thankfully lesser tales, to be told of midfield and defence.
I think McClaren has had an idea of what he wants to do with the team. He just hasn’t had the players, and he just hasn’t had the support. But as to the latter, his second real problem, who can he blame but himself? Given the inhuman treatment of his predecessors, his appointment of Max Clifford is easy to understand.
But the blarney about an “English game” is not, nor the delusional nature of the claims about “progress”, nor the “beauty of England” line he used to cover over the cool relations between Joey Barton and England’s undroppable central midfield. I grant that the best thing to tell a press conference is nothing at all, but Ericksson could say nothing with a great deal more panache.
The combination of the injuries and the PR has been to take England from looking like England to looking like a school play about England. As people lose any faith in the idea that things are going to get better, they do what the English football fan always does – fantasize about a glorious past. Or, in this case, one that could at least put a free kick to good use. The change in journalistic tone around Beckham in the last weeks has been remarkable.
My best guess is that it’ll come to nothing – that Beckham’s England career really is over. And I’d suggest that once Owen and Ashton are fit, England will find goals flowing once again and a feel-good factor will return. Whether McClaren is around to benefit along with the rest of us depends on whether that other set of rumours – emanating from Soho Square – are true or not.