James Lawton: Will the FA toast wasted opportunities and years of failure?
The FA is celebrating its 150th anniversary
George Cohen will sip a glass of wine and nibble on a canapé or two at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden tomorrow night when the Football Association celebrates its 150th anniversary and formally makes peace with its former £6m-a-year England manager Fabio Capello.
Cohen, one of only nine Englishmen alive who knows precisely what it takes to win the World Cup, was happy to accept his invitation to the festivities for which the former X Factor contestant Olly Murs has been appointed special ambassador.
But one of the heroes of Wembley, 1966, who gave a moving oration at the modest funeral of his beloved manager Sir Alf Ramsey, is not among the list of official speakers. "It is probably just as well," says Cohen. "I might have given some people a little offence."
What he would have been impelled to say is that in the 47 years since that high-water mark of the national game, English football on the world stage has suffered an unacceptable level of failure.
"I think you are bound to say that when you look around the world game and see where we are in relation to other nations like Spain and Germany and recall all those marvellous players the French produced when winning the World Cup and the European Championships," Cohen says.
"I welcome signs that today's FA is conscious of how far we have fallen behind but the truth is we do not have too many young players who are suggesting they are going to take the world by storm.
"It has been pointed out that Montenegro, the leaders of our qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup, has a population of less than a million – but they seem to know who their best players are. Can we, with a population of 63 million, say the same?"
Cohen gives a nod to the England regimes of Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables and acknowledges that the current manager Roy Hodgson is desperately restricted by his thin resources. Unfortunately, he also believes it is a situation which is hardly likely to improve significantly through the playing of the next two World Cups.
"Since the emergence of Wayne Rooney, you have to say the most promising young player has been Jack Wilshere of Arsenal but where is the level of competition?
"It is the wasted opportunity that makes you angry. English football has more money than ever before but I cannot remember when we were further away from winning the World Cup.
"When you think of the strength we had back in the sixties, and what a good team Alf was able to take to Mexico in 1970, you wonder why he and Bobby Moore, who had such a brilliant image, were not seen as the pillars of progress."
From FA chairman David Bernstein the claim is that tomorrow night is about celebrating the astonishing growth of the world's most popular game and his body's pivotal role in its development. He also points out that the opening of the national training centre in Burton marks a new resolve to drag the national team back into the front rank of the world game.
"It is a wonderful anniversary for any organisation," Bernstein says, "and I certainly hope it will capture the imagination as it has mine. From humble beginnings to today's global spectacle, we can be proud of this country's contribution to football."
Cohen, who along with Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilson and the late Alan Ball, waited 34 years for a summons to Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE, will certainly raise his glass to the game which became the core of his life.
He will put aside, also, the angst felt by him and his team-mates when they remember the modest scale of their World Cup winners' bonus. It was £22,000, the majority of which was assigned to those members of the squad who appeared on the field. Moore disputed this and his players swiftly agreed there should, before tax, be an equal share-out of £1,000 each.
The toast, after all, will be to a new and shining future and not the missed opportunities of the past. This will certainly make for a shorter if no less convivial night.
It looks very much as though 2015 will be a good year for the world economy, after all – and, if it is, that will be thanks to the fall in the oil price. It won't be good for everyone and we have already seen the pressure it puts on the Russian leadership – though, before you conclude that sometimes there is natural justice in the world, remember that the people who are hurt are not leaders such as Vladimir Putin. Other oil- and gas-exporting countries are damaged, too, and I think we will see further fallout in unpredictable ways. But the net impact is strongly positive, more so than most commentators at present acknowledge. The winners far outnumber the losers.
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