Robin Scott-Elliot: Two wars and one world cup make for an identity crisis

View From The Sofa: Can England Win the World Cup?/Is Professionalism Killing Sport? BBC 2
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The Independent Football

There has been a lot of worrying going on at the BBC last week, not quite as much as among archivists at Sky as they scramble around for old golf footage, but plenty to ponder nonetheless. There's been the issue of strikers – the English don't have enough, according to Jose Mourinho, although he may have been talking about Emile Heskey rather than people concerned about pensions. Gary Lineker is worried about English football and wants to find out why his country is rubbish.

Actually, not absolutely rubbish just a bit rubbish – a few months on from South Africa and the painkiller that is the Premier League is kicking in. The programme had a working title of "Why are England so Bad?", but as the men in white have set off on another all-conquering qualifying campaign it was diluted, which is the problem with English football according to some big names.

There are too many foreign players in the key positions at the top English clubs said Mourinho, ever an engagingly knowledgeable talker about the game. Johan Cruyff also suggested too many foreigners is the issue. Jürgen Klinsmann, who now resembles a New Age self-help guru with his mittel-Atlantic accent and sunshine lifestyle, took a slightly different tack.

According to Klinsmann, German success stems from national identity. "What is Germany?" he pondered. "It is a country that likes to attack, unfortunately twice in the wrong way in the last century." He appears to be suggesting that if England wasn't a nation of shopkeepers and could just start a few more wars then international footballing success can follow.

Lineker has become a slick and adept presenter and this programme demonstrated he is also an able, or well-briefed, interviewer. It was good of him to spend time worrying on behalf of the nation, what with it being Ryder Cup weekend when any cries of "get in the hole" echoing around the Match of the Day studio may not be aimed at someone slotting into that hard-to-mark position behind the main striker.

Ed Smith, the former England cricketer turned leader writer for The Times (what do you reckon, Freddie?), had done his worrying earlier in the week. Smith's concern is that sport has become too professional and nobody is having fun any more. Smith decided to talk to Colin Montgomerie about it, using the Ryder Cup as an example of one of the last bastions of amateurism in view of the fact that some of the best-rewarded sportsmen on the planet play in it for nothing but a pair of non-waterproof waterproofs.

Montgomerie has developed that style of strained smile Tony Blair deploys in an effort to convince people of his sincerity but instead has the hairs on the back of your neck making a dash for it. But he put on his thoughtful face, like a cartoon bloodhound wondering where the villain went, when Smith posed the question: do you need to have fun to succeed in sport?

"If you go to work at a widget factory," suggested Monty, "and enjoy making those widgets and take pride in making those widgets, you will be a very good widget maker." Which is just the problem Klinsmann identified – we need to make war, not widgets, if we want to win the World Cup. But try saying that in a German accent.