Terence Blacker: Too much genius can unbalance a soccer team

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The Independent Online

Some of our more sophisticated readers will have been startled by one of Will Self's replies in this week's Independent questionnaire.

Some of our more sophisticated readers will have been startled by one of Will Self's replies in this week's Independent questionnaire. Asked to nominate a football team of cultural heroes, Will named a line-up of "all-star, all-time players". As a playing unit, it was naive and unbalanced to the point of perversity.

Proust as midfield general was all right, but what kind of sense did it make, putting Coleridge in defence between Céline and Nietzsche? As for playing William Burroughs up front, he is the man who famously shot his wife while aiming at a glass on her head. By anyone's standards, that's poor form for a striker.

Not that I have ever had much confidence in Will Self's commitment to the beautiful game. Back in 1994, while at the University of East Anglia, I asked him to talk to the students on the MA creative writing course. It happened that our writers' football team was due to play Geology later that day, and I planned to invite Will to play as our target man ­ geologists are notoriously windy and a few minutes of that enraged, psychotic thing he does so well would soften them up nicely.

But the offer was never extended. The theme of Will's talk was the solitude of the writer's life ­ "We're not team-players," he boomed. After he had gone, we managed to stuff Geology 2-1 but somehow the joy had gone out of the occasion.

If only he had called to ask my advice when it came to this week's selection. I would have told him that putting the notoriously inconsistent Camus in goal was asking for trouble. In my team, George Eliot is between the sticks ­ not the flashiest player on the park, admittedly, but reliable, a safe pair of hands.

My central defensive pairing of John Donne and Willie Nelson may cause raised eyebrows, but a comparison of the imagery in "To His Mistress Going to Bed" and "Hullo Walls" removes any doubts that the metaphysical maestro and the good ole boy will link up well.

There will doubtless be controversy over my inclusion of CPE Bach at right back. Obviously, it's a big ask of the lad at this level ­ particularly since his father, along with Shakespeare and Tolstoy, have been left on the bench on the grounds that too much genius can unbalance a team ­ but, if he can produce the kind of form that he showed in the Magnificat, we should have no problems.

It's good to have a clogger on the left of defence, and Wagner is an obvious choice to be a cultural version of Psycho Pearce. Playing in the hole at the back, will, of course, be DH Lawrence, whose favourite position this is.

We need a playmaker in central midfield, and, ignoring the claims of Matisse, Dickens, Mahler and Balzac, I have opted for John Updike, whose work-rate is stupendous. On his right, I'm going for Bob ­ something of a gamble, I admit, since Dylan can drift out of the game, sometimes for years at a time.

One of my biggest headaches as a manager has been where to play Philip Roth. Although he's got bags of attitude, Rothy's temperament has let him down badly in the past, and the recent brawl involving him, Ezra Pound, Harold Pinter and, more surprisingly, Gwen John, remains a day of shame in the history of my team.

I've therefore decided to put Rothy up front with Titian, who can't speak a word of English and who is 500 years his senior. In the left midfield spot, I'm opting for youth in the form of the hugely under-rated player Lorrie Moore. So long as the game is played to her strength ­ short stories rather than novels ­ I'm confident that Lozza will be one of the revelations of my world-beating cultural eleven.