I know nothing about football, so generally keep quiet on the subject. But I have watched some of the World Cup matches and was struck by the fact that the England side seem, well, terribly pedestrian in comparison with the Argentinians or even the Swedes. So where, I wondered, did all the guff about England being likely winners come from? And then I thought: well, what do I know about it?
But now, here is someone who does know about it — Richard Williams of the Guardian, and here’s what he had to say this morning:
As the England squad made their way to a final training session in Nuremberg on the eve of their match against Trinidad & Tobago, their coach was escorted by eight police motorcycle outsiders, six police cars and one helicopter. At each road junction a couple of policemen held up the traffic for a full five minutes before the coach passed through, creating a cacophony of horn-blowing from irritated motorists whose lawful progress had been delayed by the transportation of what currently appears to be the most overrated and underperforming team at this World Cup.
That is the sort of bubble in which the England party exists. Goodness knows how much the Football Association has spent on providing the ultimate in de luxe quarters, transportation and security for the 23 players, the platoon of wives and girlfriends, and the battalion of support staff. The media, too, are the grateful beneficiaries of the FA’s lavish attention to detail, welcomed each day to a vast purpose-built centre next to the training pitch and featuring air conditioning, wireless internet access, TV screens, comfortable sofas and a plentiful supply of excellent food.
The contrast with other nations is extreme. At Argentina’s hotel, for instance, the daily press conferences are conducted in a medium-size room equipped with three trestle tables and a dozen or so bottles of mineral water.
Their coach, when it arrives from training, is accompanied by one police motorcyclist and one police car. You would never know that Argentina have won the World Cup twice to England’s once and are rather more likely, on current form, to win it again. What does this have to do with football? Nothing that could be measured with ProZone equipment, perhaps, but quite a lot in less tangible terms, if one looks at the way England played in the opening matches, and particularly in the first hour against Trinidad & Tobago, when Sven-Goran Eriksson’s starting XI — his first-choice team, with the exception of Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville — performed like a side whose bad days had all come at once.
As we have seen so many times in the past, England gave the impression of believing that they had only to turn up and the day would be theirs. It is not a question of laziness or absence of willpower; these are honest men, trying to do their honest best. But they have been seduced by their own celebrity into a delusory view of the nature of their task…
Thanks to Andrew, who pointed out that it was Richard, not (as I had said) Frank Williams who was the writer of the piece.