By Alex Netherton and Andi Thomas
If doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, then doing the same thing, with worse resources but expecting better results is the hallmark of an England footballer. This week, it was Steven Gerrard saying that England can win the World Cup in 2014. Before that, it was Roy Hodgson saying that he wasn’t convinced that keeping the ball is all that necessary.
England are doing the same thing, worse, expecting better. They’re not just going to win the World Cup, they’re going to destroy it! Get those second mortgage applications sent off, there’s betting to be done.
After winning 5-0 against footballing powerhouses Moldova, it’s surely a matter of time before the other giants—Brazil, France, Germany and Spain—simply forfeit. At this rate, there might be fewer teams attending than in the inaugural World Cup. What’s the point? Frank Lampard isn’t going anywhere, and he’s got a Champions League to inspire him/inflate his ego to bursting point. It’s been desperately clear that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have been unable to play properly together for the past decade, but if the law of averages is scientifically infallible, and it is, then sooner or later they’ll have to become the best midfield partnership ever, in the world, of all time. There were sceptics, people who were using the past years’ ‘evidence’ as some kind of ‘evidence’ that the plan was baloney. Baloney that was blown away in one glorious night in Moldova. Not just anyone beats those mothers five-nil. Oh no.
Of course, the rest of the team positively ripples with ability. There’s Leighton Baines at left-back standing in for Ashley Cole. That’s Leighton Baines who was overlooked in favour of Alexander Buttner to provide competition at Manchester United for Patrice Evra, and that’s Ashley Cole who’s been offered a single year’s extension to his contract as his abilities diminish. At centre back there’s
Nelson Mandela John Terry and Gary Cahill, twin towers of toss. At right back, there’s … I forget.
On the wings … that’s enough of that.
It’s depressing to have to resort to spelling out the obvious every time an England footballer gives volume to his manic delusion, but there’s little chance. Each tournament, English opinion gets a tiny bit more jaded, a tiny bit more cynical. If the country pulls together, and puts its weight behind this one campaign, perhaps English footballers can be finally convinced that it’s better for them to keep things locked shut up top, and introduce a kind of elegant tragedy rather than risible inevitable farce into their performances. Some hope.
(Gerrard, at least, had the wit to begin by noting, accurately, that England are “not one of the favourites” to win the World Cup, but then ruined everything by adding “You never stop believing in football. Miracles do happen”. Number of previous World Cup winners whose triumphs can reasonably be described as miraculous: zero.)
Then, most puzzlingly of all, there’s Wayne Rooney. England’s great hope appears, on the strength of his latest autobiography, to be suffering from incredible amnesia. His memory of his 2010 transfer request is so benign, so lacking in either accuracy or self-awareness, that it suggests that his persistent lack of form isn’t because he’s unhappy, unfit, or unarsed, but simply because he’s forgotten how to play football.
So, there you go. That’s the international weekend as it was seen in England. The whole nation, and this is no exaggeration, forgot that the game was on and went out and had fun on Friday night instead. It was far more productive, and only on Saturday were MDMA and booze hangovers exacerbated by the match reports. Disappointed sighs of ‘they’re still here’ passed back and forth over
gin and juice tea and toast.
There’s also the band sponsored by a pie company. Nobody likes the pies, nobody likes the band, nobody likes the players. But they’re there, like different strains of herpes. This is England. There is no cure. And it’s happening all over again on Tuesday. A school night.
The football season, particularly for those of us that put ourselves through the Premier League, is a miserable thing, a nine-month headache punctuated with misery and slashed with woe. But it has one thing going for it, and that’s momentum: as the thing develops, week on week, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the switchbacks and hairpins and the evolution of the league from equality to hierarchy. Yet here we are, three weeks in, and we’ve had to tear ourselves away from a picture that was just threatening to get interesting and stare at one that couldn’t be more dull if it painted itself beige and developed an interest in commenting on newspaper articles. Of all the international breaks in the calendar, this one we’re enduring, the first competitive one in the two-year cycle of qualification, is the very, very worst.