As George Orwell put it, “If you want a vision of the future of the England football team, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”. Actually, he didn’t quite say that… but if he had of done then it would in hindsight have been an extremely prescient analogy.
In a display of valor that brings to mind the heroism of St George himself, David Bernstein has rid the land of the unwanted Italian scourge plaguing English football and sent Fabio Capello packing with his tail between his legs and a lesson in racial sensitivity to boot (don’t believe any of this “resignation” mumbo-jumbo). Coinciding all too conveniently with the acquittal of Honest Harry Redknapp, the timing could only have been more perfect if the date was the 23rd of April. The future of the England team hasn’t looked so bright since… um, last time.
There can be no doubt that Redknapp is the perfect man to take Capello’s place in the hot seat. As the tabloids tell us, EVERYBODY thinks that the job should go to the man who, for all his faults (“can’t write, is disorganised, can’t work a computer, doesn’t know what an email is, has never sent a fax or a text message”), is self-aware enough to admit that he is a “fantastic football manager”. Apart from Tottenham fans, of course, who are loathe to lose this football alchemist who so disdains the notion of wheeling and dealing. Little known fact: Spurs only had two points from eight games when Redknapp took over.
After the iron fist of Fabio Capello, what England’s players need to soothe their gentle sensibilities is surely the velvet touch of Harry Redknapp. Who can forget the Italian tyrant’s draconian decision to incarcerate his team in an isolated hotel camp for the duration of the World Cup in South Africa? Would Robert Green have allowed Clint Dempsey’s pea-roller to squirm through his grasp if he was staying in a more stimulating environment? Doubtful. Would Gareth Barry have been so embarrassingly outpaced by Mesut Özil if he had his Wife or Girlfriend to keep him company in the team hotel? Unlikely. Would referee Jorge Larrionda have disallowed Frank Lampard’s perfectly legitimate equaliser if the Chelsea midfielder had been out the night before doing the “dentist chair” with his teammates? Seems almost inconceivable. Yes, what the England players really need is someone who will love them and understand them, not discipline them and lecture them.
But wait… Isn’t this all very familiar? This feels like déjà vu all over again. Didn’t the fallout from the previous icy foreigner’s tenure result in the appointment of an affable Englishman whose managerial highlights included a solitary domestic cup win and an entertaining but ultimately fruitless run in European competition? And didn’t that end in failure accompanied by some sort of feeble rainwear-based pun? Wasn’t that episode deemed a painful lesson in the need for a sophisticated foreign manager to return England to its rightful place at the top of the football tree? It seems that English football is stuck in an infernal cycle, and observing events unfolding is reminiscent of watching endless daytime television. It doesn’t take long before it starts to repeat itself.
In reality, English football does not want progress. The press and its readership long for a return to the good old days of 66′ and all that. Never mind that England’s kick and rush style is fundamentally the problem, we don’t want to change it because it is English and therefore it is best. Everyone else should play the way we play, then we’d win… Foreigners don’t play fair. We invented the game, after all.
It is this attitude that is holding English football back, not the managerial incumbent. England is on the periphery of European (let alone world) football, and as much as spectators may love the English game and its blood and thunder approach, this tactic (or lack thereof) will usually come unstuck against the more sophisticated continental sides and their obscene fetish for possession. The national team seems doomed to perpetually fall short of England’s unrealistic ambitions, held back by a general unwillingness to either lower the bar or evolve culturally. How can anyone improve if they don’t accept that there is anything wrong?
Whilst Greece recognised their isolation from Europe’s footballing hub and submitted to the leadership of a wily German manager to win Euro 2004, England are celebrating the loss of one of the continent’s most decorated manager’s shortly before the tournament. The Greek phenomenon could never happen on these shores as the population would not allow it to happen. We are England, Britannia rules the waves. Almost a thousand years after the fall of their empire the Greeks were finally able to swallow their pride and accept that perhaps they could do with a bit of outside help. Will England have to wait until the next millennium to admit that British is not always best? As it stands, England prefers to lose playing the English way than win playing foreigner football.
With this in mind, Redknapp is perfectly suited to the England job as he is someone that the press can wholeheartedly get behind and who won’t try and confuse things with trivialities such as tactics or gameplans. Although Capello is clearly a far more accomplished and successful manager, his qualities were wasted on a collection of players that were for the most part not ready or not tactically astute enough to respond to his instructions. It’s like having a Harvard professor lecture a class of primary school children and expecting them to write a sophisticated dissertation. Whilst England were happy to buy the Italian’s hefty contract, they were not so comfortable buying into his ideas.
Who knows, perhaps Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Holland and Portugal will all underperform this summer and Harry Redknapp will come home signalling a Churchillesque V for Victory that also serves as an inverted two-fingered salute to the European game and its namby-pamby ways. Or, in the more likely scenario of a quarter-final elimination, at least the press will be able to console themselves with pictures of ‘Arry with his arm round a tearful Wayne Rooney and the fact that it was all down to cheating foreigners or a dodgy referee. Or the “lottery” of a penalty shootout – that most un-English of contests. It’s a win-win situation, and one that is destined to reverberate throughout the ages. I hope you like the taste of boot…