When we were getting daily bulletins on the course of negotiations, or what were delicately described as "feelers", between the Football Association and Jose Mourinho we were surely bound to reflect that there was something worse than being the poor man of international football.
It was being a poor man prepared to flog off the last of his pride on the off chance that in a moment of whimsy or, much more likely, carefully considered best interest, Mourinho would condescend to say yes. Now we are told that no, not for 6m a year, will the "Special One" deign to attempt the feat once engineered by Sir Alf Ramsey from a modest house in Ipswich.
If he had said differently, after his various meanderings, we can only guess quite how orgasmic would have been the reaction to the success of the grovelling suit being paid to him on our behalf by the FA and the editor of The Sun. Sufficiently shrill, you have to guess, to have impressed on us the need to keep a sick-bag close at hand. Also, a practical understanding to remember that while Mourinho is plainly a formidable football man, he is not the genius some of the slavering attention being paid to him in the matter of finding a successor to Steve McClaren suggested.
Furthermore, and this is quite important when we consider what kind of man is really needed to lead England away from all those wasted years, he is not exactly laden with dignity or class. If he was in possession of these qualities to any significant degree, his intentions would not have been allowed to swim around in such a tide of speculation that could have been turned back with one short statement.
He would have said what Marcello Lippi, a man of much greater football achievement, had already said. He would have stated his interest, his willingness to talk or not. He would have said quite brusquely whether he was in or out. He would have cleared the way for those more interested in the job than making still another shoal of headlines.
Now you may say that life isn't always as simple as this and that all of us, however modest our station, need to retain a certain negotiating position whenever we are able. But what was Mourinho's need after his massive pay-off from Chelsea? It was surely not to feed his ego on the back of a football nation which, when you remember how so much of his behaviour was outrageous, proved itself conspicuously hospitable. Surely, it was to give a clear and courteous response to any job offer. And then, if the verdict was negative, make way for serious and respectful contenders.
Yes, respectful, because if England's football team needs anything more than a football man who knows what he is doing when selecting and shaping the side it is one who can also bring back a certain aura to the job. Between them, Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren surrendered all sense of true leadership, of separation from the players who were supposed to be in their charge. Eriksson did it with his hopeless subservience to the star system, failing even to put his foot down when some players talked of a strike on the eve of an important European qualifier because of the FA's decision to suspend Rio Ferdinand for failing to take a drugs test. McClaren did it with his serial changes of mind and the risk he ran of developing a hernia with the number of times he got on and off the fence over David Beckham.
Mourinho would almost certainly not have displayed those particular failings, though it should not be forgotten that he performed a whole series of acrobatic compromises at Stamford Bridge once it became clear he was no longer special in the eyes of Roman Abramovich. No, the danger inherent in any appointment of Mourinho was of a circus: his show, his image, his mood.
It is not what England should want and it is certainly not what they need. What they need, if they can't have the more locally grown passion and intelligence of Martin O'Neill who unlike Mourinho has been, right from the start, a model of candour in his revised view of a job, and employers, he was once ready to embrace with much enthusiasm, and we can be sure, steady commitment is someone of the cut of Lippi or his compatriot Fabio Capello.
They are in the market, are young enough for the job indeed some would say at a perfect point of maturity, and also, unlike Mourinho, with no demons to slay or points to prove, on a daily basis and Lippi, particularly, can generate more gravitas with one disdainful glance than the Portuguese can in a 20-minute rant.
Neither would be summoned from their dinner table as Eriksson once was by a wave of David Beckham's hand until they were done.
Lippi and Capello have been down the road to glory, the former has won both the European Cup with Juventus and the World Cup with Italy, and yet they have seen in England an opportunity to do valuable work, to put into practice all they have learned. England's need is not their opportunity for another piece of grandstanding. They have behaved like men of substance not incorrigible boys of chance and speculation. Making it an Italian job, rather than the now necessarily aborted Portuguese gamble, would also have a certain force of history. As in, of course, six World Cup finals and four wins.
Fallon's failings bring Piggott's achievements into focus
Lester Piggott, as the income tax authorities and Geoff Lewis, a rival jockey who had his whip taken from his hand in the shake-up of a race in France found out, was not always a paragon of virtue. But perhaps it is only when you measure the extraordinary consistency of his achievements, and set them against the relentless agonies of another genius jockey, Kieren Fallon, that we can get a true measure of the man.
The comparison comes to mind with Fallon's latest positive test for cocaine, which if proved will be further evidence that he is the victim of his own addictive personality ... and, beyond any argument, surely the most demanding regime in all of sport.
You would need a degree in psychology, at the very least, to even guess at the contribution of the rigours of wasting to the unstable pattern of Fallon's behaviour over years which, if natural talent had been the only test, would surely have been as untroubled as those of the Long Fellow.
However, Piggott's contemporary Jimmy Lindley once spoke of the extraordinary will that was separate from all others in the jockey room. "Lester is amazing because he rationalised the need to waste from an early age he realised that he had to do it if he was going to satisfy his addiction to winning. That's why he lived for so long on not much more than black coffee and a cigar."
The great Fred Archer perished at the age of 29, by his own hand because he couldn't stand the hunger and then the grief when he lost his wife in childbirth.
For Fallon wasting is said to be less of a trial than it is for some of his rivals, notably Johnny Murtagh, who treats its handling as a form of science. Still, if some of Fallon's behaviour is judged to be extreme, and self-destructive, maybe we should occasionally remember that physical misery happens to be one cornerstone of his troubled life.
Calzaghe given just reward for place on mountain top
How odd that it was only when the BBC left its lavish stage in Birmingham, and syrupy script, for Las Vegas, of all places, that the Sports Personality of the Year show engaged properly with the reality of winning and losing.
Joe Calzaghe, supporting the beaten Ricky Hatton in the brotherhood of the ring, finally won the acknowledgment his 10-year reign as a champion of the world would surely have been granted much earlier in a society less given to placing instant celebrity before hard-won achievement.
It was difficult to know who was the more bemused, the winner Calzaghe or the loser, Lewis Hamilton or quite what condolences were being offered to the 22-year-old runner up by the show's host, Gary Lineker. Chances are, though, that Lineker was saying that the trophy would be his soon enough. No doubt it will, but in the meantime we can only rejoice that the public took one step back from the proposition that finishing second, however brilliantly or precociously, can ever be ranked above the supreme goal of proving yourself the best.
When England were ejected from the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup a newspaper spoke to George Cohen, a winner in 1966, to check his enthusiasm for a planned parade through the West End of London and the inevitable Downing Street reception. "It's not high," said George, "because in my time you didn't get prizes for finishing eigthth." Nor second.
Lewis Hamilton is filled with promise, which is a matter for great expectation. But Joe Calzaghe is already on the mountain top and the sports fan, at least once in his life, has been wise to note the difference.Reuse content