James Lawton: Lineker's gesture was understandable but Triesman's loose words were mind-boggling
Saturday 22 May 2010
A straightforward business you might say, Gary Lineker's resignation as a Mail on Sunday columnist after the newspaper's decision to publish the taped results of Lord Triesman's "entrapment" by a young woman apparently hell-bent on exploiting their relationship.
So why am I a little uneasy that Lineker's gesture launched him into the instant status of English football's No 1 patriot?
It is certainly not for any lack of admiration for a great striker of superb professional values and a man of considerable charm, whose company has long been one of the rewards of inhabiting a sports culture which isn't always too scrupulous about whom it chooses to lionise.
No, the concern is triggered not so much by Lineker's action as the clamour of approval it provoked. As an official ambassador of the 2018 World Cup bid, which the former FA chairman Triesman might have hindered only marginally more spectacularly had he rolled a live hand grenade across a committee room floor, Lineker may reasonably have felt that he really had no option.
What is most troubling is the eagerness with which so many in English football and the media, in the latter category most notably The Sun, whose record for unequivocal support of England's cause at the expense of sales figures is maybe less than spotless, have proclaimed the value of a common front imposed by silence.
According to this thinking, it was better for Lord Triesman to proceed as someone who turned out to be an extremely loose cannon in his pivotal role in the national game than to have the extent of his indiscretions published, which, incidentally, may yet run rather wider than those revealed last Sunday.
Here, surely, is where we are right to worry about the idea that it was in the national sporting interest to draw a veil over the fact that its most important organisation was being run by a man of mature years whose apparent urge to impress someone whose company he apparently "craved" and wished to bombard with "kisses all over" led him to a freewheeling review of issues which were at the heart of his official responsibilities.
Lord Triesman's private life is his own business, but this ceases to be so when it intrudes on his ability to do prudently the job with which he had been entrusted. Then surely it becomes a matter of public interest.
Brush it all the under the carpet, we were told. Such an imperative is perhaps valid when a nation is fighting for its life, when the message that "walls have ears" is daubed in public places with the justification that it may well save thousands of lives but what we are talking about here, perhaps we should not forget, is a vast commercial enterprise.
It is one that no doubt has the potential to bring considerable joy to the nation. But is it so vital that we all tumble into the column of opinion that has the fourth estate in the new role – outside of war – of carefully selecting only that news which helps a certain cause favoured by a majority of the people, and if it is where do we now draw the line between the Daily Bugle and the Ministry of Information?
Triesman tells us that his allegations about a corrupt partnership between Spain and Russia aimed at bending referees and carving up the vote for the 2018 World Cup were not intended to be taken seriously. If not, they were not worth the breath that carried them because all they did, however unknowing their author, was excite suspicions that Triesman's organisation was plainly unable to resolve.
What we were left with was a public relations disaster of mind-boggling dimensions and some repercussions which reach beyond the significance of success or failure in any one World Cup bid.
One is the suggestion that information, however it is acquired, has now to be weighed – for the moment this principle is presumably only to be applied to the playpen of sport – for its positive impact on certain nationally approved causes. Another is the argument coming from inside the game that the idea of an independent chairman of the Football Association is a concept that cannot any longer be countenanced.
It is surely alarming that the national game now believes, despite decades of disaster largely created by what could so often be described as detachment from the real world, that its future will be best protected by "experienced football administrators."
The kind, presumably, who thought it practical go to another Sunday newspaper a few years ago and suggest a deal that would list chapter and verse the romantic indiscretions of Sven Goran Eriksson in exchange for silence on similar activities by the chief executive of the Football Association, Mark Palios?
One undisputed consequence of an extremely sad affair is that English football is once again in an extremely uncomfortable place. Samuel Johnson claimed that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel. Perhaps in this case he might have added the sanctuary provided by a cover-up of time-honoured bungling.
Shades of '67 for Internazionale if Van Gaal goes on the attack
It is surely not too fanciful to anticipate in Madrid's Bernabeu stadium tonight something more than a straight battle between the football resources – and egos – of Internazionale's Jose Mourinho and Bayern's Louis van Gaal.
There is also rather more than a small war of coaching instincts.
At Barcelona the Dutchman admired the drive of his young Portuguese assistant and gave Mourinho his first serious promotion. But he was less enamoured with his protégé's personality and priorities.
Van Gaal concluded that for Mourinho winning, however it was achieved, would always be the supreme imperative. From his viewpoint, the nature of a team's performance would always be important.
It means that maybe we have to go back 43 years to find a European final of quite such philosophical intrigue.
Then, in Lisbon, Mourinho's Inter predecessor Helenio Herrera, a coach of similar mystique, believed in the power of catenaccio, the bolted door of defence. Celtic's Jock Stein told his players to play the purest attacking football they could muster. Celtic won in what might have been described as moral slaughter.
Bayern, the suspicion has to be, may not be strong enough to follow in those warrior-like footsteps. But let us hope that they try.
A Freudian sip diluted by a steward's inquiry
If they should return to the highest level of English football, Blackpool will inevitably evoke memories of those salty days when Matthews and Mortensen were the Ronaldo and the Rooney of their time – and the club's bar steward handed out Scotch in the boardroom as reluctantly as the beloved centre-half Harry Johnston ceded a yard.
The late Sir Clement Freud once queried the composition of a faintly yellowish drink handed to him after a match played in an Arctic wind.
"It's whisky," he was told. Freud asked: "But did you put something in it?" The steward said, "Yes, water."
Freud frowned and replied, "I thought it was something I hadn't tasted before."
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