Sport on TV: We are in alien territory if the England manager is successful
Sunday 03 June 2012
As the comedian Al Murray said on How To Be England Manager (BBC4, Wednesday): "The Americans must have an alien in a warehouse somewhere who could manage the England team." Given that winning a tournament is about as likely as the discovery of extra-terrestrial life, it could turn out a happy coincidence.
Everyone has advice to offer, and there was a bewildering array of it on this programme. Of the previous incumbents, only Sven Goran Eriksson and Graham Taylor gave us the inside track, though there was a brief visitation from Glenn Hoddle's spiritual guru Eileen Drewery before she returned to her spaceship.
Fabio Capello did not make an appearance, presumably because he still can't speak English. After four years on a reported £6m salary, his inability to communicate in any meaningful way led to disaffection as much as the team's displays, and it emerges in retrospect that the Eriksson reign was one of the best – and the Steve McClaren rain was the worst. The latter's subsequent adoption of a Dutch accent showed he was a Johnny Foreigner all along.
Perhaps Sven is merely seducing us in our hindsight with that well-documented charm of his. "The important thing is that you treat people in the right way," he said, no doubt patting the interviewer gently on the knee. Of the players he added: "They show respect if you don't stand in front of them talking shit." Or Italian, it seems. He added: "It was a big, big, big laugh." Hang on, that's not the way it's supposed to be; you have to suffer under the burden of 60 million people's expectations.
The thing is, do we subconsciously want to lose in cruel circumstances, as seems to happen every time, so that we can have a tormented figure to hate? If that man isn't a foreigner, then we'll turn him into something else – a vegetable perhaps.
Unlike Sven, who appears in no way haunted by his experiences, old turnip head Taylor still feels the pain and talks about it as compulsively as the Ancient Mariner. "I'm not bitter, I'm just bloody disappointed," he said bitterly. "I live with that and I have had to learn to live with it because that's what it meant to me."
Here's a man who, unlike the foreigners who just drift away, has become defined by his failure and can't escape it. Perhaps Roy Hodgson, with his experience of foreign parts, can discover a happy medium. So long as it's not Eileen Drewery again.
* It was a welcome diversion, in these days of pampered footballers who can barely bring themselves to play for their country, to see on Euros' Most Shocking Moments (BBC4, Wednesday) that England warmed up for Euro 88 by playing against Aylesbury Town. It didn't do them any good, of course. They won that one, but went on to lose every group game and came straight home again.
Perhaps they should have taken the excellently named Clint Hercules with them instead of a seriously ill Gary Lineker. Clint scored 301 goals for Aylesbury over 18 years, but still bemoans the fact that he missed a sitter of a header against England.
After watching Panorama (BBC1, Monday) with its footage of hooliganism and racist assaults on the terraces of Ukraine, it seems likely that there will be a few more shocking moments to include in the next compilation in four years' time.
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