From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.27 :: Jul. 08, 2010
England players with coach Fabio Capello (red jersey) before a training session at Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex.
I swear that only in England could sporting folk be put through the turmoil that has been our lot during the qualifying games for the World Cup.
Just to think that on June 11 England were one of the favourites to win the competition — for the first time in 40 years — that Fabio Capello was being offered a new contract as coach and that, although there were clouds on the horizon, most of them were white and fluffy.
Capello's men qualified for South Africa so comfortably that the media — partly to whip up an audience, partly because it was a logical forecast — made such optimistic noises that thousands bought plane tickets and headed for the high veldt.
Why — and everyone from my barber to the Royal Princes William and Harry want to know — did it all go haywire?
Here's my version.
Capello's command of English is poor. He seems to say “It is down to the players to understand what I mean and not my job to speak clearly enough so that the roughly educated lads who play football can follow me. And as for the media — who cares?”
If you think that is arrogant you will not get an argument from me.
He is not prepared to consider British culture which is vastly different from the Italian way of life. Sven Goran Eriksson, the previous manager, said that in Italy he had to wait for the players to settle down at half time before he could speak but that English players sat down and waited to be given second half orders as soon as they entered the dressing room.
A West Indies all rounder told me he was shocked to find there was no team talk at the start of each county match. “The captain made the toss, the team was on the notice board and we followed him on to the field or the openers went out to bat. Not a word of tactics, strategy or conduct. I found it odd,” he said.
Different strokes for different folks.
Capello has put together a regime of iron discipline, with a curfew, a controlled eating routine and an intolerance of lateness. I understand why. He saw lax behaviour wherever he looked when he took charge.
At Chelsea Carlo Ancellotti, their Italian manager is much more tolerant and, as his English has improved so his players have begun to admire him.
Wiser football men than me think Capello picked the wrong players and refused to change the tactics that won qualifying games when they were obviously not working in South Africa.
Finally, the highly paid players have given all their footballing energy to qualifying for the World Cup and their Premier League clubs and have nothing left for the main competition.
(Well, not quite all their energy. The captain John Terry created a scandal in his private life and was sacked, quite brutally, by Capello. It looked as if he was going to confront Capello after the Algerian match but his teammates told him not to disrupt the squad any further.)
There is also a conspiracy that means media outlets talk up England's power in the world whether they are discussing the police, English justice, our version of Parliamentary democracy or our football team.
The English are a sophisticated, educated, thinking people and like to be treated with respect. I suspect that the footballers representing England in South Africa feel they are not being given that respect.
That explains the outburst from Wayne Rooney at the end of the game against Algeria when he protested the boos from England supporters. I have not heard him make the same noises after a season at Old Trafford when the crowd were often critical.
Sir Alex Ferguson would not tolerate that for a moment. The strongest manager in the Premier League knows that criticising your own supporters is stupid and he will tell Rooney so when he returns home.
So tiredness, intolerance of what they must see as foreign ways, football errors and being locked down in a foreign country has proved too much for the England squad.
They earn a fortune — Prime Minister £140,000 a year, star footballers £125,000-plus a week — and contrive to look miserable all the time.
Our rugby players do not earn anything like that amount of money. The game only became professional a few years ago; when I played, it clung to its amateur status like a limpet on the Titanic.
There was talk of five pound notes stuffed into boots, jobs that required no work and well paid jobs after retirement but now the players seem to have made the transition from amateur to professional with ease.
I happened to flip over to their 21-20 defeat of Australia during a pause in the World Cup marathon and saw England waiting for their kicker to take a penalty.
They had gathered behind him and half of them were laughing. Out loud. Great gales of laughter. You know, as if they were enjoying themselves. Even though the scores were almost level.
I have not seen an England footballer laugh so heartily in years for all their money and all their fame. You would think that was worth a grin at least, wouldn't you?
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