Sometimes an idea of such staggering stupidity is aired that to ignore it would be an almost criminal dereliction of responsibility. I’ve resisted posting on the World Cup so far, largely because there is so much already out there and I don’t want to bore what few readers I have with my obsession. But then I saw this idea being seriously discussed.
David Beckham should be England’s new manager.
I checked to see the date of the paper was not 1st April. But it was yesterday, in the London evening Standard. And doubtless in all media very soon. Here’s the paper’s football writer Michael Hart’s view. “He may have no experience as a coach and may be more interested in pursuing a celebrity lifestyle but if there is one man who could unite a country, it is Goldenballs.” This man is apparently a professional football writer!
If reading those words alone does not convince you of how utterly wrong the idea is, I fear there is little hope. But inside the paper, cerebral-blokey New Statesman editor Jason Cowley also floats the same idea. Could Beckham, he asks, be the man to “help all who pull on an England shirt to elevate their vision”.
This is just so unambitious. Why not go the whole hog and have a reality TV show in which Floella Benjamin, Ozzie Osbourne, Gordon Ramsay and Alan Titchmarsh compete with a group of randomly-chosen punters drawn from the shopping centres of Britain to coach hand-picked teams through a tournament using line-ups and tactics voted for via a premium rate phone line. The winner then gets given the job of England manager. What could be more in keeping with our traditions?
Hart argues that Beckham is not such an outlandish choice if you consider that Jurgen Klinsmann and Diego Maradona had no coaching experience but made a good fist of managing their national teams. What this completely ignores is the fact that they weren’t in charge of the English game, with all its problems. In Argentina, kids still learn to play football, rather than hoof the ball up an oversized pitch. In Germany, Klinsmann took over well into a complete reorganisation of football in Germany.
The calls for Beckham show exactly why too many in football just don’t get it, and why I am pessimistic about change. We are obsessed by personality, by surface rather than substance. In his World Soccer blog, Gavin Hamilton – a well-informed journalist whose analysis is far too astute to featured regularly in the mainstream – refers to a piece in the Spanish paper El Pais which puts the blame at Thatcher’s door. That will sound far-fetched to some, but from what I can gather from the badly translated version I’ve read, the argument goes something like this. Thatcher set out to destroy manufacturing and a cultural tradition which understood and valued the craft and the process of creating a thing, as well as the thing itself.
No doubt the expert journalists and figures in the game will scoff at such an idea, but it has more going for it than the hare-brained Beckham for England wheeze. In his well-observed piece, David Hepworth draws attention to the lack of serious analysis on TV coverage by the old boys club of pundits, and particularly how Danny Baker, who knows his stuff and made some good points, was marginalised. Yesterday morning on the radio, Mark Perryman from EnglandFans made some very good points about the state of the game, And these too will be ignored.
Instead, we’re left missing the point that maybe the players just weren’t good enough. And missing the chance to look at how the game is structured and cached from the earliest age. Because he people running the game are not interested in the game itself, just the products of money and celebrity.