Thursday, November 22, 2007

Now The Dust Has Settled...

So, McClaren has gone - rumour has it that he didn't fall on his sword last night and chose to wait to be sacked the next morning for contractual reasons. Since the majority of the money going into the FA (who are likely to have to pay him severance of £2.5m, according to reports) will, somehow or other, be coming from English football supporters, let me pass on this message: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for choosing to do us all out of a seven figure sum, having bequeathed us with the most clueless national team that we've had in getting on for half a century. Everything that you need to know about what motivates those at the top end of English football can be encapsulated in this paragraph.

While I am looking forward to the finals of the European Championships (I wouldn't be much of a football obsessive if I didn't now, would I?), and even taking into consideration everything that I said on here (which I will, in the long-term, stand by), I have been in a strangely despondent mood today. This despondency hasn't been caused by England's failure to qualify for the finals (I thoroughly enjoyed Euro 84 and USA 94, thank you very much for asking) - it is something altogether more prosaic. This isn't merely a blip on the way to an eventual World Cup or European Championship win. It feels like the start of a very long downward trajectory. I understand that other countries have had this before, but as a 35 year old Englishman, it's the first time that I've come across it. It'll pass in a day or so, but it is a wider feeling that just us weird obsessives. I shall refer you to a post that I put on a message board earlier this evening, and leave you all to draw your own conclusions.

I was listening to one of those old Baker & Kelly radio things the other day, and they were talking about the Spurs-Blackburn League Cup final in 2002. Danny Kelly described the feeling after that match thus:

"I think that when a club has been big and is on its way to the level of mediocrity, everyone knows the steps that you take in the process, and everyone knew that it was absolutely, critically important for Spurs to win that match, and for the players to show up and not realise that, and just turn up with the attitude of 'Well, we're Spurs and we know we are', kissing the badge - it was like a bereavement."

It felt a bit like that last night. I don't think that Spurs are the best analogy, in club terms, for England (I happen to think it's Newcastle, or perhaps Manchester City - for one thing, Spurs have at least won something in my lifetime), but that feeling of England being at the start of a long, slow decline is inescapable. That's certainly how it has appeared in the press, where they've managed to suspend disbelief for such a long time. The slow dawn of realisation that this is now England's place, and will be for a considerable amount of time, is starting to hit home. The manner of the defeat and the disbelief (I mean, did you hear Motson and Lawrenson in the last thirty seconds or so of last night's match? I've never heard anything quite like it - Motson was saying, "I can't think of anything to say", and he seriously sounded on the point of tears) was the sound of the majority of a nation, who have been blinded with smoke and mirrors for years and years, realising that it was all an illusion.

I'm not trying to argue the point of whether England really are or were a "big" footballing nation here. That's not the point of this post, and it's being done to death elsewhere. For me, the stinging sensation last night came, not so much from the not qualifying, as from the ultimate conclusion that it's more likely than not (because of the myriad of problems being discussed elsewhere) going to be like this forever, or at least that, in the long term, this is the likely trajectory that it will take. To have that feeling rubbed in by so much schadenfreude and bad-minding has merely amplified it (and, again, that's not something that I want to go into in too much detail about on here - suffice to say that I just find such pleasure in someone else's misfortune a bit, well, weird), but that's not really what has bothered me the most, but that sense, at least regarding England, has been there for a while. What has stuck me about the last few weeks the most of all is that it's starting to hit everyone that cares in the slightest bit about the England team.

Ballhype: hype it up!


Wurzel said...

England will be forever failures unless we get rid of the premiership.
My reasons and more comment on the same subject HERE

ursus arctos said...

Well, that's a controversial proposition.

200, I don't see how one can really criticise McClaren for taking the contract that he was offered by the FA. Surely part of the reason why he and his agent asked for a four year contract was that they knew that he would be out on his ear if they somehow failed to qualify. And just to be clear, that is not in any way meant to imply that one can't criticise him for being a shambolic "head coach" (when did that Americanism arrive, anyway?). Even the myfootballclub crowd could have done a better job when it came to team selection and tactics.

From where I sit, it is Barwick, Thompson and the FA "leadership" that has gotten off incredibly lightly in the whole debacle. They are the ones who hired McClaren; they are the ones who brought on the malign influence that is Terry Venables, and (if recent reports are to believed) they are the ones who decided not to hire Martin O'Neil because he demanded "complete control" over the team. The corollary to that is of course that McClaren didn't have such control, and that at least some of his more bizarre decisions may have been dictated (or at least heavily influenced) from above. The fact that the usual suspects appear to have gotten away with such a travesty is both a greater indictment of the state of the "national game" than England's failure to qualify and (I'm afraid) yet more reason for you to despair.

200percent said...

The problem with the FA Council is that they are completely unaccountable. So long as they remain like this (and the only circumstances under which they will resign will be for reasons that are very little to do with football - cf: Graham Kelly).

They have got (and will continue to get) away with it.

Brian said...

If the reports about Martin O'Neill are true, the situation only gets grimmer, because what are the odds that another top manager (Capello et. al.) would agree to take the job with no protection from bureaucratic meddling? Freshly disembarked from the Roman Abramovich club car, will Mourinho really be eager to sign on for three years of interference from Brian Barwick?

One thing that I think helps keep the FA unaccountable is that, like most football bureaucracies, they seem to operate with a high degree of individual anonymity. I might be mistaken, viewing the situation from overseas, but I at least don't have much sense of who's influential within the FA, who's really making decisions, where the political fault lines lie, etc. (Jonathan Hall and Jonathan Hill are two models of the same android, right?) I wonder if the best role for the media--and blogs specifically--right now would be to shine a light on the inner workings of the FA and to clarify some of these details. I'm not suggesting blogs can save the day, but it does seem that any amount of transparency would help to increase the pressure for minimal competence.

200percent said...

I plan to put something up on here about all the runners and riders, Brian, in the next couple of days. I really don't like sticking to the same topic for a few days in a row, but there really is a lot to say about this.

ursus arctos said...

I was actually going to mention the unaccountability issue, which I agree is at the core of the problem.

In most continental European countries, the FA is ultimately under the responsibility of the Sports Ministry, which is part of the government. And while we are all aware of the harm that political interference can do to football, the fact that the organisations are ultimately accountable in the democratic process and that elected members of Parliament feel responsible for their actions is a definite positive (to give one example, it was only the insistence of the sports minister here that got the Serie A clubs to agree to a more equitable (though still inequitable) sharing of television revenue).

One wonders what the reaction to Gosdiff's wonderful Early Day Motion would have been if this was the case in the UK/England.

The text of that motion in full:
"That this House congratulates Croatia and Russia on qualifying for the European Football Championships from Group E; acknowledges that the Croatian team which beat England were far superior in technical ability, skill and commitment than the insipid and inept England team; notes that £747 million was spent on the new Wembley Stadium but the match was played on a surface similar to those used by Sunday footballers on council pitches; thanks the efforts of the Israeli and part-time players of Andorra in trying to help England by doing their very best against Russia; commiserates with the fans who have spent large amounts of their hard earned money following England during these championships; believes that the over-paid, over-pampered and over-hyped English prima donnas from the Premiership who took the field against Croatia disgraced the England shirt once worn by legends such as Stanley Matthews, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton; and recognises that they will no doubt be consoled by the thought that while they are watching the European Championships from their luxurious holiday destinations their celebrity lifestyles will be protected by them still receiving their vastly inflated wages, provided by Sky and Setanta television money, from clubs in a Premiership League which is nothing more than a money making machine for players, agents and entrepreneurial club owners which does very little for promoting the well-being of football in England either at the grass roots or international level."

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