Belfast Telegraph

Why I'd be pleased to see this pampered team go home

By Steve Richards

I have not enjoyed a World Cup as much since 1978, when Scotland limped out of the competition following months of hype.

The England performances are a glorious echo. Dire, leaden displays become a form of entertainment.

As a result of the last two blissful games, a slight dilemma arises. Do I want the exquisite, predictable anti-climactic drama to continue beyond today’s game against Slovenia?

That means the lads would have to spoil everything by playing reasonably well for 90 minutes — or at least for a few minutes.

The dilemma is only slight. I want the bunch of half-formed multi-millionaire, sluggish, thuggish, charmless footballers to be humiliated and knocked out.

I write as a football fan and not from the lofty heights of disdainful indifference. Some of my heroes are footballers or managers, Luka Modric and David Ginola from current or recent times, Brian Clough and Kevin Keegan from the 1970s.

I took particular inspiration from Keegan as a player with limited skill who became world class through sheer willpower. I got Keegan's perm, but failed to acquire the skill.

It is possible to enjoy football while loathing the England team and the set-up that accompanies it. Together they represent the worst of the UK and as they are our most prominent representatives across the globe this is a matter of some significance.

Millions from around the world must watch and sigh in bored bewilderment. What's going on over there, they must ask? We should ask, too.

The England team's failings tell us something about the state of the country as much as the collapse of our banks and the short-term, cost-cutting calculations from BP that led to an environmental crisis in the US.

In all three cases there was a complacent assumption that lightly regulated markets work. We know about the banks. We are discovering more about how BP works. Now we see the consequences in football.

The top clubs do not bother investing in younger talent or the resources required to develop them. They take the short cut of buying in players from abroad. As a result, English players do not get much of a chance and those that play for top clubs look better than they are. The only time in recent years where top clubs have risen to the occasion is when they have been compelled to do so.

The Taylor report that followed the fire at Bradford City's ground in 1985 insisted on the introduction of all-seater stadiums. No club would have acted on its own accord.

Similarly, banks will only learn the lessons of the lightly regulated era if they are told to do so.

Like the bankers and senior managers at BP, the footballers and the FA are unaccountable until something goes drastically wrong.

On the basis of his performances, the chief executive of BP could not win an election for a seat in a parish council, yet has floated to the top of a major global company.

The bankers' apologies were so formulaic and over-rehearsed they would not have passed muster at a school debating society. Now it is England footballers' turn to represent the worst of what has happened since the 1980s.

While they have more cash than they know what to do with, some seem pretty miserable. Compared with some of their foreign counterparts, they seem to have no language or inner resources.

The 1980s mindset that created wooden England players, the deranged market in which football functions and the drink-sodden atomised culture that arises from it, is still firmly in place.

A few more gormless performances might lead at least to a few hard questions being posed. I, for one, can't wait.

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