James Lawton: Loss of respect, loyalty and passion ruins football from Real to the South Coast

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The Independent Football

Not so long ago a chord was struck here by the question of what Ted Bates, the brilliant old football man who gave Southampton a rich sense of purpose and colour and character, would have made of the current plight of his beloved club. Now that speculation must intensify with the news that, amid the latest chaos, Sir Clive Woodward believes he is not "yet" ready take over from Harry Redknapp.

According to Woodward, it is as if you can take a course and emerge from it owning a fraction of the storehouse of knowledge that someone like Bates accumulated as man and boy; as if there is some short cut to all the nuances of this peculiar trade which has from time confounded such titans as Sir Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and, most recently, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Nothing illuminates more starkly the folly that is going on along the South Coast - where the Portsmouth chairman, Milan Mandaric, rivals his Saints counterpart, Rupert Lowe, in imposing the most outlandish regimes - than the World Cup-winning rugby coach's assumption that all he needs is a little time, a little learning. Woodward does not need a course. He needs a reincarnation, and then a new lifetime in football.

That Woodward should be allowed to use a club precious to its fans as some kind of career self-help laboratory would in other circumstances make Lowe a candidate for football's most unwanted trophy - the one that goes to the most misguided chairman of them all.

However, even Lowe is made immune from such a fate by a man who now surely shoulders football's greatest dishonour, the one who in just a few years has ruined the image of Real Madrid, made the world's most successful tradition a laughing stock.

Florentino Perez is presiding over a quite grotesque disaster. On Sunday night he fired his latest coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, the fifth to go in two and a half years. Perez is the man who thinks selling millions of shirts as a celebrity is more important than being able to energise and excite a team with the scale of your talent. He thinks that you can go out and buy a team, that you don't have to build it around specific, hard ability and under the consistent supervision of a top-flight coach.

He will now dangle the job in front of successful men like Arsène Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez. All of them, you have to hope, care enough about the game and their own dignity to linger on the Madrid line no longer than the time it takes to say no thanks.

The average Saints or Pompey fan might think affairs at the Bernabeu are another species of madness, football malfunctions in a world beyond their own. But in this they would be wrong. What is happening in the Spanish capital is essentially the same as in Portsmouth and Southampton. Responsibility and leadership can feed ego or profits. Ideally, for the men in charge, they would do both, but the reality is that the formula of football success is blessedly simple.

In this, football is no different to most walks of competitive life. The winners are those who know their business best, who have learnt it through some success and failure, backing their own beliefs but also learning what to take and what to leave when they consider the work of those who have most influenced them.

Where are Perez's points of reference, from where does he draw his insight into what is most important in the running of a football club? If you are a Real fan it would be pretty to think that he might from time to time defer to the knowledge of someone like his director of football, Arrigo Sacchi, the man who shaped the Milan dynasty and pinpointed the young, already great Franco Baresi as the on-field enforcer of his victory plan.

Perez's legendary predecessor, Santiago Bernabeu, once offered the Real job to Sir Matt Busby. The club were already on their way to a record nine European Cup wins, but the old man thought that Busby had a feeling for the game that could bring still more glory. Busby said that he was rooted in Manchester; the old town had claimed his heart and he had work to do there.

Today, that seems more than ever a story from another world. Imagine it: a bond of trust between a manager and a football club and its followers so strong that it could not be shaken by the most powerful football organisation in the world. Old Ted Bates would have understood that well enough. It would, after all, have had something to do with loyalty and respect and true passion.

Eriksson neglecting problem of Beckham's suitability as captain

There is absolutely no point in belabouring any worries about the frailty of David Beckham's temperament, especially in this quarter where some suggest anti-Beckham sentiment was long ago a matter for psychiatric review.

But then maybe we should shift the focus to the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who just a little more than six months before the World Cup finals again brushes aside questions about the suitability of Beckham (right) for the captaincy.

Eriksson agreed that the tackle which earned Beckham his third red card in two months was "not the best" but, no, he saw no reason to consider the captaincy claims of Chelsea's John Terry. Eriksson has written it in stone that Beckham will lead out England, and the fact that in recent years the captain has missed three vital qualification games because of suspension and built himself up to a total of seven career dismissals, two for England, is apparently of no importance.

Nor are the Spanish reports that "the Englishman was fighting with even his own shadow, couldn't control his temper, and finished off his hysteria with a ridiculous kick to earn his expulsion".

If it was Robbie Savage, say, parading his lack of discipline, we might merely nod at the wisdom of the decision of the Wales manager, John Toshack, in saying that his presence in internationals had become too fraught with risk.

But Beckham sails on without provoking a public flicker of concern from Eriksson. It is quite shocking neglect of a problem which is not likely go away in the heat of the World Cup. At the very least, Beckham should be reminded of his responsibilities to himself - and his country.

Crouch hits heights with help of Benitez and England's wisest fans help Crouch to hit the heights

Peter Crouch was always going to score for Liverpool. He is too good a player not to have done it at some point and had the additional advantage of total support from his manager, Rafael Benitez.

Ultimately, Benitez's faith probably outweighed in Crouch's mind all the cheap sneers that came from the terraces and elsewhere, but even the backing of a man who has won the Spanish League, the Champions' League and is even reaching nodding terms with the demands of the Premiership, perhaps did not take away all the stress.

Crouch was, after all, a victim of "heightism" and worse. He was even booed before taking the field for his country, and there was little softening of hostile attitudes when he played a not insignificant part in delivering a victory that left England winners of their World Cup qualifying group.

It was particularly satisfactory that Crouch should make his breakthrough at Anfield, which houses the most knowledgeable football crowd in England. High in the acumen of the Kop is an understanding of what constitutes genuine character in a professional footballer. Crouch has proved to some splendidly supportive fans that he has this to a striking degree.

England lost in the glory cloud

Nasser Hussain and David Gower are two of cricket's most erudite critics, as you would expect of former captains of England. Strange, then, that both should focus so strongly on England's chronic lack of world-class spinners in their analysis of the team's abject defeat in Pakistan.

More serious problems, surely, were the spineless batting and the general sense of a team still floating on the glory cloud of the Ashes. When that cloud was at maximum density, Michael Vaughan said that the priority was for the team to stay honest. An Australian captain would not have had to say that. Now Vaughan has to say it twice.

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