Well, if Blair were truly the football aficionado he likes to claim he is, he would know from the experiences of Gordon Strachan at Southampton and, indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United that any leader who announces months or even years in advance his intention to resign, instantly surrenders a sizeable chunk of his authority. Rightly or wrongly, his underlings decide that his heart is no longer in the job, and the future immediately assumes more importance than the present.
Clearly, politics can learn a great deal from football. These, after all, are two professions with plenty in common. They both proclaim their grandiose intentions to serve the general public, yet they are both crippled by ego, venality and deceit. Having been educated in Edinburgh, the Prime Minister should also have paid attention to the recent affairs of Heart of Midlothian, whose Lithuanian owner, Vladimir Romanov, this week fired his chief executive Phil Anderton, having already forced out the manager, George Burley. And this in a season when Hearts have confounded Scottish football's traditional certainties by leading the Premier League. To lose one architect of the club's success might be considered unfortunate; to lose two looks like carelessness, if not lunacy.
So what is the message from Tynecastle for Blair? That you should never let success go to your head, for a start. Anderton - a hugely likeable and able chap on whom I can't dish any dirt even though we were students together many moons ago - was reportedly fired because he declined to endorse Romanov's addled vision of Hearts winning the Champions' League. Also, that in the western world you can't run a country, any more than you can run a football club, like a personal fiefdom. Sir Bobby Robson and the other managers courted by Hearts surely know now that they would be mad to take the job. Romanov has paid a high price for hubris, and in this case I'm not talking about a nifty left full-back from Panathanaikos, although the Hearts owner, behind his manager's back, would doubtless pay a high price for him as well. There's another lesson for the PM: there's no point appointing talented people if you're going to act like an autocrat. Politics, like football, is no place for imaginary responsibility.
So, although this column has never before offered a hint of its political inclinations, and has always, with regard to politics, subscribed to the Gladstone Small school of sticking its neck out, it will now state unequivocally that Blair should stand down before the January transfer window and allow Gordon Brown to take over.
Brown, I have no doubt, would make a terrific Prime Minister. Being a Raith Rovers fan has manifestly informed the principle with which he runs the Exchequer, that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves. And he also knows from football that you should never pretend to be a bigger player than you are. Where Blair sees Britain as a Celtic or Rangers among nations, I think Brown would view us more as Raith Rovers, and that as a consequence we would have a safer, brighter future.
Moreover, there is this business of the Prime Minister's authenticity as a football fan. You can't tell anything about a chap from the team he supports, but you can tell a great deal from how he supports them.
This column once asserted that Mark Byford, acting director-general of the BBC, was not a suitable man to take the top job on a permanent basis because he supported both Leeds United and Southampton. Had I questioned the integrity of Byford's leadership of the BBC, I doubt whether I would have heard a peep from him, yet in a week when he had some major industrial relations problems to grapple with, he tracked down my mobile-phone number and spent 20 minutes explaining how he came to be both a lifelong Leeds fan and a St Mary's season-ticket holder. And when I brought up the subject of his favourite player and forced him to choose between Peter Lorimer and Matthew Le Tissier, his anguish was downright audible. So I dropped the question mark over his character.
The question mark over Blair's character, however, remains. Anyone capable of embroidering his credentials as a Newcastle United fan is capable of going to war on a false premise, and then refusing to take the rap.
Brown wouldn't have done that. The Chancellor's former press secretary Charlie Whelan tells a story about him keeping half an eye on television coverage of Celtic v Dunfermline, during a meeting with the Prime Minister. Celtic won 5-0 and each time they scored, Brown cheered, purely on the basis that Dunfermline are the fierce local rivals of Kirkcaldy-based Raith Rovers. The story goes that even once Brown had explained the reason for his jubilation, Blair still couldn't understand it. And that, as they say, figures.
Who I like this week...
Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecombe, the first couple of National Hunt racing, who responded with immense dignity to the horribly unexpected death of their beloved Best Mate at Exeter on Tuesday. Even at the best of times, Knight (below) could barely stand the tension of watching Best Mate run, so goodness knows how traumatic it must have been for her to see him collapse like that. And hats off too to Jim Lewis, Best Mate's colourful owner, who talked to the media when he probably just wanted to curl up in a corner and cry. Really, the appeal of Best Mate had a great deal to do with this engagingly eccentric trio, and they deserved as much as he did the chance to enjoy his retirement.
And who I don't
Roy Keane, whose hypocrisy as the self-appointed guardian of Manchester United's values reached new depths with the skewering of his team-mates on MUTV. Keane (below) is repeatedly praised for his passion, but to me he's always been a verbal and physical thug, whose attack before the 2002 World Cup on the Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy was utterly irresponsible. He's now done it again, savaging young players in his own team in the most public forum; after all, he didn't know that the interview wouldn't be screened. It ought to be a sacking offence. As for the commonly held belief that he will make a great manager, don't make me laugh.Reuse content