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Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Dire, Deluded and Divorced From Reality

In Football on June 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm

“Nice to hear your own fans boo ya’, that’s loyal supporters” was Rooney’s thoughts on the matter as boos rang out around the stadium. They came not just from travelling English fans but from many African neutrals who had expected so much more from big name players they would likely never get the chance to see play again. Were they right to boo? Well, they had just witnessed a performance from England so bereft of ideas and, even more criminally during a World Cup, bereft of passion that it seemed the only logical reaction. Rooney’s anger belies just how far divorced from reality English footballers are.

Of course, perhaps it is wrong to suggest that fans who have used their savings and large portions of their wages, meagre earnings compared to the world’s footballing elite, to travel to the other side of the world to watch their team play should be allowed to boo. I mean, the English are that used to jingoistic, blind patriotism that is displayed even in the face of abject failure. For proof of this you need only ask Tim Henman. It doesn’t help when the Sun declares the group to be the “easiest” England could have hoped for. The media’s lack of perspective and understanding of international football has only contributed to unreal expectations each international tournament.

Most people will agree that being allowed to express your views from the stands is the very least of what you are paying for. It would be wise then for England’s players to understand that something is desperately wrong and perhaps take stock of the situation instead of looking for lazy scapegoats in the form of the fans. Indeed, why not point the finger at the media that went out of their way to turn John Terry into the nervous mess he looks like at the back for England now, a nervousness that will surely spread if unchecked. He wasn’t the only player subject to the usual attempt to derail English preparations in a bid to sell newspapers and in truth the players should be used to it now.

The fans booed not because of the result, although that of course played its part. Had England scraped a victory the boos would still likely have rung out. Why? Because Algeria played the open and attacking football a squad of England’s capabilities should be achieving with ease. They strung together sequences of passes that moved well into the double digits, something England couldn’t match resorting to the “kick and chase” football Beckenbauer had rightly identified. Algeria treated it like a World Cup game and gave it their all – can the English truly say the same?

Not by a long stretch. What was more alarming than Rooney’s comments were those made by Steven Gerrard after the match where he put Algeria’s performance down to a match against England being “their cup final”. It is disrespectful comments such as these that expose the ego, arrogance and ignorance of those in the current England set-up. Algeria have won the African Cup of Nations, one trophy more than England have won since Gerrard has been involved with the national side. The African team were a revelation and showed England how a World Cup game should be approached. No credit to the opponents though, not from the players, the media and hardly any fans.

While such delusions are a contributory factor Fabio Capello seems to be proving once and for all that Italian managers will never grasp the English game. In a squad where only one striker has scored in the build up to the tournament– Peter Crouch – he leaves that player out, doesn’t pick the second highest English scorer in Darren Bent and insists on starting Emile Heskey, a player who has a scoring record eclipsed by some international goalkeepers. He leaves Scott Parker at home and takes the woeful Michael Carrick, wastes the youthful exuberance and engine of James Milner by playing him in a holding role and ignores the two most statisticlaly successful English goalkeepers in the form of Joe Hart and Paul Robinson. While the former may have made the squad – and in truth should be starting – the latter was not watched once by the international manager despite fine performances.

Most criminal of all? When a game cries out for someone to unlock the defence, Joe Cole is left on the bench. Under-appreciated by both club and country, Cole is a player who really must wonder what he has to do for his managers to acquire the same level of respect for his game as most neutral fans do.

Rooney might well spit and snarl, blame the fans and anyone else. He was the worst player on the pitch last night and probably knew it as he trudged off in one of his trademark tantrums. The other truth is that England looked average before the World Cup, no less than when they struggled against the South African premiership team Platinum Stars, and have carried that form into the tournament. The players might be surprised about the fans turning on them, but I’m not.

The Underdog You Can’t Cheer For

In Football on June 16, 2010 at 1:12 am

North Korea played their first world cup game in 44 years today and given that their opponents were the number one seed in the form of Brazil, they could be forgiving that their absence was being punished in some way. With bookmakers ranking them at 33 / 1 for the win, talk of a record goalscoring victory incoming and anyone who drew North Korea in their workplace sweepstakes cursed the gods when they took a closer look at the group they were in. However, the underdogs came out and matched the mighty Brazil, keeping it to 0-0 at half time and only losing by a single goal when the game finished 2-1. It didn’t take a trained tactical eye to be able to see their discipline, enthusiasm and effort. In defeat they earned the respect of the footballing world and their next opponents will not be taking them lightly as a result.

So why is it wrong to offer congratulations to the team in what should be one of the stories of the World Cup? Of course there is an answer to that question, just not one that is perhaps obviously explained. On the surface of it all, it is a simple football match on the biggest stage – a David vs Goliath encounter where the giant was victorious, yet not by much. However, football and politics are too closely entwined for one to be picked apart from the other. The people’s game is all too often seized upon by the powers that wish to control the people. In turn the game humanises those in such regimes, and the team’s fortunes quickly become an extension of national pride. With the spectre of Kim Jong Il hovering over the North Korean team their efforts are polluted even in the eyes of the most neutral of onlookers.

The fact that there were no North Korean journalists present during such a historic fixture tells its own story. What would they document? And what would be the point of documenting it when any account of the proceedings would have to be fed through state apparatus and altered until it met their approval. Well, you can churn out propaganda from home. Indeed the word coming out of North Korea is that the match would not be broadcast live, however a delayed showing would occur if North Korea won.

These stories were hotly denied by the national coach Kim Jon Hun who said of course the game would air live in their country. The truth is the Western media will likely never know either way. However, it’d be a lot easier if the coach simply would not be drawn on the many political based questions that were always going to come his way, instead of sounding like the hand of the Kim Jong Il regime was aggressively flicking switches located in a hollow in his back. His press conference ahead of the game was needlessly antagonistic of the media and did not portray either himself, his team or his country in a positive manner.

“There is no such country as North Korea” he chastised “Next question”. The party that rules it with an iron fist prefers the name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. For many it is too ironic to be uttered. When one journalist asked if Kim Jong Il had a say in team selection a FIFA representative cut them off to ensure the press conference ended abruptly. Indeed there were strict guidelines regarding what would constitute a political question – which were strictly forbidden in this instance – and what wouldn’t. Mention of the dictator was very much off the menu.

Interestingly enough FIFA have been at the forefront of trying to soften the North Korean image. They issued statements completely contravening what every other on site press association had said about the North Koreans, who had been reported to be “insular” and “isolated” from everyone else in attendance. It was also reported during the press conference that the reason for the possible non-televising of the game live was not to do with the North, but because it was a South Korean broadcasting company that held the rights to the matches and would therefore not be transmitting the games into North Korea. A standard practice, even if it does come with political tensions close to an all-time high.

Still, it is interesting that people would try and make excuses for a coach that when last seen in Seoul stormed out of a post match meeting with the press slinging around wild accusations that the South Korean officials had poisoned his players. Clearly he is someone indoctrinated and very much behind the regime in North Korea. Portraying him in a positive light is extremely difficult, even though a Western press would much more happily write about someone forced into doing a tough job and doing it with much success, as opposed to someone who seems to be an embodiment of why the country is rightfully ostracised and criticised by the international community.

The North Korean side is not the first team with a tyrant in charge to compete at a World Cup, not by any means. However one thing that usually holds true is that the players are allowed to express a freedom on the pitch that the people can’t in their oppressive regimes. It is a display of defiance and reaffirmation that we are alike all over. Yet here with the North Korean team you have a group of people that seem not to want to use the World Cup as a means to draw back the veil on a notoriously secretive country, but rather begrudgingly interact with the other nations. Success shall be reported but only success… That in itself is a grotesque failure.

On the pitch the players acquitted themselves brilliantly. Yet their efforts had all the grim mechanics of a team being overlooked by a firing squad. It was not enough to have got this far and to have a chance to put aside their grubby politics as they competed. Instead, their football simply became an extension of it. On reflection, while through that ninety minutes I had rooted for the Koreans, I realised I should have been behind Brazil all along.