June 19, 2010


Where's the culture in our football? (Howard Jacobson, 6/19/10, Independent)

Call me hasty, call me foolhardy – for I write this the night before England kick off against Algeria – but don't call me unpatriotic. I make this prophetic pronouncement with great sadness. But make it I must. We are not going to win the World Cup. [...]

My own view is that no quotation is ever wasted, no example of another's philosophy or fortitude without its inspirational effect. And a brain stored with the wisdom of the ages must be more advantageous than a brain stored with nothing, if only in the sense that there's more to head the ball into the net with.

But this isn't exactly the educatedness I'm talking about. I mean educated in the sense of possessing the sophistication and intelligence intrinsic to your game. I mean educated in the science and the beauty of the thing you're doing.

Thus, Shane Warne was an educated bowler. And thus the Germans, when we watched them think and slink their way past Australia the other day, were educated footballers. I can see why Beckenbauer was dismissive of the English game: all kick and rush, he called it. He could have been more cruelly dismissive still. He could have called it all kick and rush and then fall over. Since that's not the Italian game, we must assume that Fabio Capello has resorted to it because he knows now that's all we're good at, Wayne Rooney
excepted. "Half bison, half viper" was how the film director Werner Herzog described Rooney at a public event in London last year. Not what the audience expected to hear – a great German film director waxing lyrical about a great English footballer who I'd make a stab at guessing didn't know much about his films.

Reciprocated or not, Werner Herzog's admiration for Rooney was as passionate as it was surprising. And he spoke the truth. Rooney assuredly does combine a viperish intelligence with a bison's brutality, so long as his team-mates are skilled sufficiently in the art of passing to get the ball to him; but when there is nothing to be viperishly intelligent about, because no ball's come within 20 yards of his boot, he is reduced, as who wouldn't be, to brute bison. It could turn out to be the tragedy of this World Cup, not to say the tragedy of Rooney's career – that men of little talent deny him the service his genius requires.

Could turn out to be? Will turn out to be. "O sorrow, sorrow!" But enough of that.

We've written here before that one of the great mistakes of the NASL and the MLS is that they never packaged their leagues the way the EPL does, with a Match of the Day program, which just shows one long highlight clip of the "best" game played that week and progressively shorter versions of the other games as they get more unwatchable. The host of the flagship Saturday night program is Gary Lineker, a prolific striker who may be the greatest English goal scorer in World Cup history. Commentary is often offered by Alan Schearer, one of Lineker's few peers as a striker and a former England World Cup captain.

Last night--where they were joined by Lee Dixon, a defender on the great Arsenal teams of the turn of the century--the telecast resembled Walter Cronkite reporting the JFK shooting. The futility of the English effort (or lack of same) and the misuse of Gerrard and Rooney, in particular, caused them obvious physical pain, not to mention emotional distress. And at one point in the "highlight" package, when cameras cut to a child in the stands wearing his England gear and looking bewildered by what he was watching, the play-by-play guy said something to the effect of: Get used to it son, you've years more agony.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2010 8:38 AM
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