No doubt there have been worse nights, deeper betrayals, for English football than the soporific one in Paris this last week, but perhaps rarely quite such a slow-burning sense of hopelessness, of being rooted in a profound mediocrity created, above all, by neglect.
The overblown sideshow homage to our ersatz superhero David Beckham probably did not help, nor the worry of speculating whether Fabio Capello, for some of us the best chance of introducing some long-delayed reality and authority to the England cause, was being serious or diplomatic – or merely, and very disappointingly, pandering to popular malarkey when he said that the man from Los Angeles Galaxy might be the one to unlock the frustrations of the team's only world-class creative player, Wayne Rooney.
Yet on reflection – some of it going back more than a decade and a half to the birth of the Premier League and its bogus manifesto – you had to acknowledge a deeper root. It was the terrible evidence that a French team without such luminaries as Thierry Henry and the potentially sensational young striker Karim Benzema was capable of almost sleepwalking to victory over the best that Capello and his football paramedics from Italy could scrabble together. And this a few days before the mighty Premier League, the most exciting league in the world, the one we cannot wait to export in the flesh to every corner of the world, which can drum up the right amount of sponsorship and TV rights, dominates so strongly the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
This is some dichotomy, no? When you throw in the fact that the home of football still doesn't have a place where the best of its young talent can be gathered together and educated properly along classic lines that have long been the norm in every substantial football nation, and the suspicion that even the strong-minded Capello was playing the game with the big-league bosses when he pulled off his four best players at the halfway point of a match which he considered vital to the first stage of his World Cup qualification planning, you are bound to ask a question.
It is a rhetorical one, of course, because we know the answer well enough. How is that while the Premier League waxes so strong on foreign coaches and foreign players – the national team so moribund, the pool of talent so lacking in depth it was embarrassing to be English in the Stade de France – that we have to pay £6m a year to Capello in a desperate attempt to provide some credence? It is because the Premier League and its mother lode of money is all and the England team for so long has been nothing.
The basic problem has never been more evident. The FA-approved Premier League manifesto was a lie, a pack of platitudes attempting to mask myopia made total by greed.
The manifesto came, appropriately, in a glossy brochure. It said that the great benefit would be the enhancement of the national team, the end of the old club versus country controversy. Heightened TV revenue would cut down the need for fixture overload. The First Division would be cut from 22 clubs to 20 initially and then, soon enough, to 18. Think of it. A league programme of 34 matches and wonderful windows of time for the development of a winning national team – and who could forget the cross-over value to club football when England won the World Cup in 1966.
Now we can see and hear the drip-drip of reality. We see four Premier League clubs, coached by a Frenchman, a Spaniard, an Israeli and a Scot, throwing shadows over Europe and an England team run by an Italian – who posits, seriously or not we do yet know, the superannuated Beckham, the pride of the Major Soccer League, as a potentially key factor on the road to South Africa – being dismissed from the company of a France who scarcely needed to draw breath.
Capello is a hope, a serious investment, no doubt, but in Paris he seemed more like a mortician than a saviour.
These are the wages of Premier League glory. This is the result of squeezing the money and neglecting to nourish the grass roots of the national game.
It is the dud prize for selling the game so hard – and ourselves so short. There is much agitation now that the penny has dropped so hard and depressingly, much talk of new and gleaming facilities, a new emphasis on lifting coaching that has yielded so little that a Rooney often appears to be no more than a freak of nature, a throwback to days when English football created its own strength from generation to generation and there was never shortage of character and talent that someone like Alf Ramsey, the first truly professional and independent coach of the national team, couldn't gather into a force which would never shame itself on the global stage.
Can we feel such hope for the labours of Capello? Not in Paris you couldn't. Not when Franck Ribéry and Nicolas Anelka played the game on an entirely different level and a glum Michael Owen, 10 years ago the brilliant, precocious hope for the future, glumly shook his head when he was asked if he, or his team-mates, had been given a clear purpose.
It is a question that is bound to become more intense in the coming months. But then of course we have the glory of the Champions League, confirmation that we have the power and the money.
Adequate compensation? Not for anyone who saw bankrupt England in the city which on this occasion gave us no light.
It's brash and it has cash but the IPL just isn't cricket, the glorious game of Bedi and Close
With the news that Shane Warne was off to cricket's Indian Klondike and that five Kiwis who in another age would have regarded a tour to England and walking through the Long Room as a pinnacle of their careers will arrive late, but laden with piece-rate cash, memory's old eye went back to another place, another planet really, and another time.
It was to Taunton, Somerset, in the seventies and to a duel between two great performers of a game that used to be known as cricket.
One was Bishan Bedi, who had the talent of a snake-charmer but the competitively devious mind of a spin bowler.
His adversary was Brian Close, who used to giggle when he showed you bruises inflicted by men like Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. It went on for hours, the guile of Bedi and the Tyke resistance of the former England captain who was sacked for no better reason than his attempt to throttle a bothersome heckler. One forgets the conclusion but it doesn't matter because it wasn't the immediate point. The glory was in the subtle battle, the drawn match an irrelevant appendage.
Now if you put this item up in an auction of the Indian Premier League, you might be lucky if you mustered a few rupees. There is no market now for the old cricket, and it is terribly sad and ironic that the greatest force of rejection is being felt, of all places, in India, where cricket has always been more than a sport; an expression of fine nature and oriental depth.
Of course we shouldn't lament too hard because Twenty20 is the future of cricket, we are told by a representative of the Professional Cricketers' Association, who also says that the England and Wales Cricket Board is dreaming if it thinks it can squash the hopes of some of its members for a mighty injection of pay-as-you-clout.
No doubt it is the future, but how long will it stretch – and how long before the classic skills of a Bishan Bedi are gone forever? Twenty20 is a circus act of ferocious spectacle and of course it has appeal.
But it is not cricket as the game was conceived and dreamed about and written of in the most poetic terms. Of course you cannot fight the realities of today. You can say that teams like the Rajasthan Royals do not represent the cutting edge of mass appeal.
But nor do you have to rush to celebrate – or forget the undying beauty of a day in Somerset when time stood still and you were absorbed in something beyond the first tingling of the blood when you saw the smiting of a six.Reuse content