Something different to start today’s proceedings. Yes, it’s about football and no, don’t switch off….it’s cultural, not “‘e’s ‘eaded it in an’ the ref’s said offside” moronism. I have a point to make that’s relevant to anyone trying to work out what’s wrong with what used to be the United Kingdom, and is now (increasingly) England.
“I can do that” (Catherine Tate)
England beat Tunisia 2-1 last night. The BBC’s build-up to the match consisted of a silly (and largely unfunny) leap into a future where England win the World Cup. The “expert” panel was fronted as usual by Gary ‘Virtue’ Lineker (a man I find more and more irritating with every year) who was, if you remember, not going to go to the World Cup in protest at “the poisoning of the Skripals”. His protest lasted as long as the BBC didn’t offer him even more money. Then they did, so now he’s there.
All three former players on the panel were at the more intelligent end of the soccer spectrum, and with a bit of winding up from Gary, they all thought yes, England can go all the way this time.
Let’s start with the positives. Much to my surprise, new England coach Gareth Southgate has proved to be a shrewd media ambassador and a man of some dignity. Furthermore, he does have an attacking way for England to play that seems to suit the players we’ve got. And finally, he has quite clearly produced a happy squad that plays as a team. Given how little support he gets from either the FA or the clubs, this is a miraculous achievement.
From the off, the Tunisian side played to the rules. Sadly, they were the rules of American football, where blocking and wrestling players with the ball nowhere in sight are all part of the fun. The referee reacted to all this in much the same way as I imagine Yvette Cooper deals with criminal Calais rioters. He looked the other way a lot. This only encouraged the north African side to chop down every England player going past them with the ball, and then protest the ref’s decision to give a foul.
But England rose above it with zero retaliation. They created three clear chances, and missed them all. Then Harry Kane inevitably got behind a rebound to score. English confidence was sky high. Until the referee awarded (justly) a penalty to Tunisia, which their specialist took with aplomb. At which point, England fell apart for about fifty minutes. At last, Southgate brought Marcus Rashford on, who immediately ran the Tunisian defence ragged and upped the tempo in England’s favour. In the 90th minute, Harry Kane scored the winner, only to suffocate under a mountain of English players and substitutes.
For the first time in living memory, England had won their opening World Cup Game. Back in the studio, the panel felt vindicated: Our Boys could go All The Way.
Now let’s get real and examine why we’re not going to go all the way.
- Although the attacking style is a major plus, we don’t finish the job like other top footie nations do. This is because the English skills and temperament aren’t good enough – with three exceptions: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and the goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. English players have “learned” to do the slow-motion pinball passing coming out of defence, but they still don’t look at ease doing it.
- As captain, Kane leads from the front and is a fine young man who commands respect. In defence, there is no equivalent. Put under pressure, the England defence looks panicky, and the back line is vulnerably square when threatened by pace.
- Southgate as a manager suffers from the same problem José Mourhino has at Old Trafford: he won’t give Rashford his head. For three seasons now I have been saying that he is the only English Premier League player who scares the crap out of defences, bamboozles defenders with ball control and hits a shot with the effortless power and direction of a young Arnie Palmer.
- I italicise the word ‘English’ above, because Marcus Rashford is a once-every-generation natural footballing genius. He doesn’t need academies and ball practice to be the best: that has helped his precocious talent, but it’s not why he’s playing for England. In the same way, Harry Kane has the sixth sense that only natural goal predators like Jimmy Greaves and Gert Müller had: always in the right place, and nervelessly clinical in the finish. But leaders in defence and midfielders with vision will only come through regularly with full-on football academies staffed with brave talent spotters. We don’t have those in England, because the FA (two entirely appropriate letters when it comes to substance) is too busy raking in the Murdoch cash and kow-towing to the clubs…whose sole strategy is money thrown at global talent.
- None of that is Southgate’s fault: he is doing, based on the evidence seen so far, a very good job with the raw material he’s got. But he could help himself by playing twin strikers upfront with an intelligent feeder behind them. Kane and Rashford are so different in style, they would be a complementary duo and potentially deadly.
- There is, however, the small matter of the other teams playing in Russia. We’re going to get a taste of this in just over a week’s time, when England play Belgium. If we proceed from the Group stage (and I think we will) there are teams like Spain, Portugal and (albeit more unknown quantities at the moment) Germany, Argentina, Brazil and France. I’ve watched the first three of those sides a lot over the last two years. I don’t think England could live with any of them.
This is my point as – at last – the sun rises over a clear sky here in South West France: England as a nation has a culture that is symptomatic of the age dictated by Thatcher and exacerbated by LibLeft pc.
We overrate ourselves without properly interrogating the evidence behind that rating. And we put personal money-obsession before the cultural investment required to make us once more “world-class” (a ludicrously overused term) in any genuine sense.
Unthinkingly, we expect success but lack the will to wait for the fruits of, for once, NOT having everything immediately.
The Anglo-Saxon culture does this in relation to exports, manufacturing regeneration, farming, political policy – and a consumption-service-driven economy based on insane levels of financialisation in general and personal credit in particular.
We need Brexit to wake us up, but in one narrow sense the Remaindeer are right: we probably will make a mess of upgrading our export performance….on the extremely unlikely condition that we are allowed to leave in the first place. The Remaindeer case is cowardly, sociopathic and myopic: “we’re crap, so lets stay and hide in the herd….even though the herd consists of vandalising rogue elephants”.
There is a lesson we need to learn, and we’re already well into extra time: if England wants to survive at the highest level in any walk of life, it must invest once again in a Meritocracy of the People….and stop giving “special case” privileged status to those taking the piss at all levels of society….be they foreign footballers, foreign multinationals, billionaires, investment bankers, Oxbridge poseurs, aggressive feminists, Islamic moaners, and cynics hiding behind their sexuality, ethnicity and narcissism.