The maddening mysteries of motivation

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The Independent Online
The theory, advanced with semi-jocularity in this space a few weeks ago, that the England football team is an encumbrance we could well do without would not have gained in absurdity last week. Indeed, tens of thousands returned their attention to the domestic leagues yesterday considerably comforted by the knowledge that their local partisanship could never be challenged as seriously as their patriotism had been.

Furthermore, they could have remained safe in the bosoms of their clubs for fully six months before England's next nervous venture into the European Championship qualifying ties - a much deserved and welcome rest even for the most zealous devotees to the national sport of manager-mauling.

It feels as if we have been force-fed an incessant diet of the English team, and those associated with it, since before the World Cup began in June. We've suffered the adventures (in chronological order) of Gascoigne, Drewery, Sheringham, Gascoigne, Drewery, Beckham and friends, Hoddle's book, Drewery, mysterious injections, Gascoigne's entry into dry-dock and, to cap it all, Hoddle's remuneration. To such a background, their appearances on the field should have been a relief but their play merely reflects the turmoil which, according to claims emerging yesterday of a dressing-room confrontation after the Luxembourg game, may go deeper than we think.

If ever a nation has had a bellyful of the indigestible it is England but, I fear, the rumbles are far from over. The subject of Hoddle's pay overshadows even that of the nurses and plans have been laid for the England team to play a friendly against the Czech Republic in one month's time; a game that risks prolonging the agony.

The latest quiz question is: if the wages of sin is death how much do you get for being the current England coach? The answer ranges between pounds 100,000 and half a million and does nothing to solve the perplexities of the situation. Either his salary is bad-performance-related - i.e., the worse they play the harder he has to work - or his agent is so good he ought immediately to be put in charge of getting us out of the recession.

The Football Association should try to get this story out of the headlines by any means short of paying him. Then their spin doctors should apply their skills to the Czech match. It doesn't require a profound knowledge of football history to be aware that England have caused more damage to their reputation in friendlies than in tournaments. Hoddle needs a game to sort a few matters out and is talking of trying fresh players, so why not play up the experimental nature of the match beforehand and drop the admission price to a tenner (kids half-price)? This will take off the pressure and lessen the threat of another woeful Wednesday night at Wembley.

Motivation appears to be a serious problem. After the Bulgaria game, the defender Gareth Southgate claimed that because they didn't go around shaking their fists and outwardly expressing their emotions it didn't mean they lacked a strong desire. But surely they could manage to look a little less like languid thoroughbreds and a touch more like bristling chargers.

Spirit, however, cannot be decreed and can enter a team as if by magic, which is only a marginally ridiculous word to describe the transformation of Wales last week. Bobby Gould's situation was probably less comfortable than Hoddle's before last weekend. He doesn't have to run the gauntlet of such an impatient Press but fans printed bilingual posters demanding his sacking and former players were queueing up to denounce him.

Then came the quite unexpected victory in Denmark which was more than a mite fortunate but the effort couldn't be faulted and a split camp became a united one. Staying together for two games in six days had the opposite effect on Wales than it did on England and the fighting display against the technical superiority of Belarus on Wednesday was a joy for Welsh eyes to behold.

In the eyes of some, Gould is still a suspect saviour but if you suddenly stumble on the elixir of life you don't dare tamper with the ingredients.

BBC Sport have of late waxed long and heavily on their past - Grandstand's 40th anniversary and all that - when they should have been concentrating all their efforts on the future. Perhaps it was a subtle plot to give the cricket authorities a timely nudge about tradition and to remind the rest of us what we owe them in memories.

It didn't work. They still lost the rights to televise Test matches for the next four years and, as much as some may weep, you can't blame cricket for making a judgement that suits themselves and not some lofty and well-rusted principle.

Channel 4 put together an offer which beefs up the game's revenue to the going rate and promised a more imaginative approach to coverage. It couldn't happen to a nicer channel. Their courage in bringing the mysteries of American football to our screens 20 years or so ago opened up a new interest to many viewers and even sumo wrestling is no longer beyond the outer limits of our comprehension.

We'll have to brace ourselves for adverts in between the overs but I'd accept those in return for more frequent displays of the score and a quick flash of who is bowling to whom (an idea I offer free of charge).

Any sympathy for the BBC should be directed to those who have to work within the shrinking frontiers of their sports department. Once the envy of the television world for all-round excellence - the current World Matchplay Championship is a perfect illustration - the members of this department are being slowly, some may say systematically, stripped of the events they need to feed on.

Other television outfits, Sky and Channel 5 particularly, have used sport to bludgeon their way into public awareness. The BBC are being propelled in the opposite direction. Someone has his priorities wrong.

Mercifully, there will now be a respite in the export of English football hooligans. This is due not to any great masterplan but to the fact that the England team are not going to be bothering the continent until next summer. Since the venues, Bulgaria and Poland, are unlikely to prove enticing to our brave louts we may even escape being disgraced yet again as we were in Luxembourg on Wednesday.

I had the shaming misfortune to see them wreck the place in 1977. They roughed it up once more in 1983. Last week, the Luxembourg police were waiting in force and arrested 100 rioters. Good for them and congratulations, also, to the Belgian police who on the previous day sent back home a few dozen who had paused to get pissed on their way to the game.

Apparently, some of those concerned had caused trouble in France. Why were they permitted to leave Britain? And will we meekly allow them free passage next time and let other countries do our dirty work for us? Or will the Ministry for Sport, the Task Force and Home Office prefer to accept the findings of a report on the trouble during France 98 prepared by the Football Supporters' Association which claims that not only was it "exaggerated out of all proportion" but that the ticket allocation, the French police and media enticement were the main causes. If the England team had the same nerve and imagination and were fired by the same sense of injustice they'd be unbeatable.

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