Monday, 18 September 2017

Even if you hate sport, Rod Liddle's article about the uselessness of England footballers will make you laugh out loud (h/t: SDG)

Rod Liddle's article in last week's Spectator - "Why English footballer's are so useless"- addressed the question that those of us who gave up expecting anything from the England football team around the start of the new Millennium have been asking ourselves for years. No, the question hasn't anything to do with those specific issues that have seen zillions of man-hours squandered in discussions in pubs, TV studios, websites and newspaper sports sections, i.e. is 4:4:2 the best formation for the lads, or could Stevie G. and Lamps play effectively together, or whether Wayne Rooney was a real striker, or why did the so-called "golden generation" fail to come close to winning anything, or whether the team was staying in the wrong hotel. or wearing the wrong strip, or whether an English manager might rouse the team into a patriotic frenzy which would help it fulfil its destiny by winning the World Cup after a 50-year hiatus? The main reason for the England team's lack of success isn't the formation,  or the manager, or the incompatibility of certain "key" players, or whether they're being made to play in a different position from the one they're used at club level, or whether their World Cup hotel was a bit noisy - it's that the players, compared to foreign footballers, just aren't good enough. And if they're not useless when they burst onto the scene...

...they will be by the time they're 23 or 24 and playing for England.

When was the last time an England player fully and triumphantly fulfilled or exceeded the potential they gave glimpses of at 18 or 19? The likes of Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott inevitably seem to disimprove with experience - unlike, say, Ronaldo, Messi or Ibrahimovic who seem able to use their experience to compensate for any diminution of stamina or pace:  "Either we were deluded about their potential... or we somehow suck the life out of them," says Liddle.

This doesn't seem to happen as regularly to England cricketers - at least, not looking at the current crop. Joe Root and Ben Stokes began with tremendous potential, and are busily fulfilling it: they're undoubtedly now truly world class.  Moeen Ali is wildly exceeding expectations, both as a bowler and as a batsman, following in the footsteps of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, who've both get better with age. Certainly, that has something to do with a system that ensures that the players don't turn up for test matches utterly knackered by county cricket - but every international football side is stuffed with multi-millionaires who spend most of the year slogging away for their clubs, and yet seem perfectly capable of turning up to play for their country with a spring in their step.

Of the England football team's performance against tiny Malta, Riddle writes:
The England players (average wages of around £100,000 per week) laboured and laboured, with the wit, guile, ingenuity and pace of a recently gassed badger. 
Addressing the issue of crap England managers, he has this to say:
Some blame the insipid and equine manager Gareth Southgate — who in truth does not inspire much confidence. He continues to play the lamentable Joe Hart in goal, for a start, when I would prefer almost anyone else, such as Stevie Wonder, Helen Keller etc. But England has had many managers, some good, some so-so, and none have elevated the national team above mediocrity, above the level of Slovakia, in the past 15 years.
He brings up the embarrassing fact that no European club is in the least bit interested in signing English players:
The transfer window recently closed, and if you’re a football fan you may have followed the excitement at finding out who was going where and who was after whom. You might also have noticed that not a single England player was wanted by any European club. Not one. There were no bidding wars over our lantern-jawed striker, Harry Kane. Nobody came in for the two (comparatively) bright prospects Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford. The top teams in Europe (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, PSG, Juventus, Barcelona, Internazionale, Monaco) have jubilantly diverse squads. In addition to the Germans, Italians, Spanish and French nationals, there are Czechs, Poles, Turks, Croats, Slovakians, Moroccans, Dutch, Belgians, hordes of Latin Americans: every nationality under the sun, except for English. No English at all at any of the top clubs. Nobody wants them, because they’re crap.
So why are these English second-raters so handsomely rewarded? Because, Liddle reckons, domestic clubs have to have a minimum of eight home-grown players in their squads, resulting in inflationary bidding wars over deeply mediocre players who wouldn't be allowed to clean the reserve team's boots at any top European club. And, while the Premier League remains the most entertaining football league in the world, and while the main attraction of watching an England team in action continues to be the opposition, nothing's going to change any time soon.

I support Manchester United, albeit in an extremely desultory fashion: I like to watch them play on TV, and I feel good when they win and annoyed when they lose. This year, Wayne Rooney returned to Everton, after becoming United's all-time top goal-scorer - and yet nobody was sad to see him go, just as nobody could care less about him"retiring" from international football (Southgate doesn't want him in the team). Football commentators are forever wondering why the club's fans don't tend to hero-worship Rooney: hell, he helped them win enough damned trophies while he was there. Was it because he kept holding the club to ransom, even threatening at one point to join City, for God's sake?  No - I reckon it was because Manchester United fans always knew, in their hearts, that he just wasn't as good a player as they had always expected and wanted him to be (unlike, say, Ronaldo), and that he didn't have the sort of personality or character that makes a sportsman loveable (unlike, say, Cantona). In some indefinable way, Rooney just fell short - as a player, as a man, and as a hero. Like so many England internationals.

Great article.


  1. On the other hand the amount of home grown English talent coming through on the rugby scene is wonderful to behold.
    Is it a tale of two cultures?

    1. I'll have to take your word for what's happening in rugby, southern man. While Britain's success at the Olympics in recent years seems to depend largely on "posh" sports, the actual contestants seem to come from a wide range of social backgrounds, which suggests it's more to do with the way the various sports are run and funded rather than any difference in the opportunities offered by private and state schools. But, as I have somewhat less than zero expertise in this field, I'm perfectly happy to be told otherwise.

  2. Root and Stokes. Is there a rogue 'not' where you meant to put a 'now'? I would argue that statistics such as his run of scores over 50 in successive tests suggest that Root is now genuinely world class. While a cold analysis of his batting and bowling averages might suggest the jury's still out on Stokes, they disguise the fact that at key moments in vital games he can change the course of the match with either bat or ball. You could mount a case for saying that the present standard of international cricket casts doubts about whether either stands comparison with the great batsmen and all rounders of the past, but compared with their contemporaries both are outstanding at international level.

    Pesky blighters, 'not' and 'now'. In the days of diplomatic telegrams, the originators were under instruction to use the formulation 'not repeat not' where the meaning was particularly important in the context, as in "This to acknowledge proposal you now invade Norway. This not (repeat not) considered advisable at present'.

    Suggest you now (repeat now) instruct blog moderator to go on proof-reading course.

    1. Well spotted, ex-KCS. I meant to say that Stokes and Root are "now" genuinely world class. I have changed "not" to "now" so that other readers won't wonder what the hell I'm trying to say. I almost invariably make mistakes when I add a word just after proofreading and just before hitting the "publish" button, as I did in this instance. I have taken advantage of the iniquitous "zero-hours contracts" system by firing the whole of the Grønmark Blog editorial team - apart, of course, from myself. As a result, several unpaid internships for under-assistant trainee editorial slaves are now available to those applicants whose parents are willing to bribe me handsomely in order to give their offspring something to put on their CVs.

    2. Thank you for this, which nails as a falsehood the earlier suggestion that I do not study every word of this blog with a forensic intensity.

      By the way, how can you be a Manchester United supporter? You don't even live in Surrey.