There are many precedents for hoofing England sides when they’re down; players and managers having frequently felt the pointy end of a brogue/doc marten/baseball boot/Manolo Blahnik (delete according to choice of accessories or date.) For those blessed with responsibility in the high profile sports – I’m thinking men’s football, rugby, cricket in the main here – judgement lurks cruelly close.
Currently one hypothesis, supported by hugely influential figures such as myself, suggests English football and rugby are still critically enmeshed in post-World Cup trauma; but that cricket is on a significant high. Capello and Johnson presided over such epically lurid debacles that their ability either to motivate or to proactively act seemed paralysed. In contrast, a certain Zimbabwean-born England and Wales cricket supremo has brought direction, unity, discipline and success to his side. Management, it appears, is massive. Perhaps especially when it makes comment superfluous?
Perceptions inevitably link results to the performance or authenticity of managers as well as players; thus Harry Redknapp, a ‘proper football bloke’, good former player and now demonstrably an inspiring coach is admired and respected precisely for the realness of his understanding of the game. Encouragingly, this implies judgements beyond mere (acknowledgements of) rates of success – a belief in genuine quality, no less. Would that we could sustain such generous worldviews.
Paralytically conversely, memorable custard pie-plus moments have surely included the tide of puss emanating from the tabloids towards the unfortunate Graham Taylor – a decent but not, arguably, a brilliant enough or sophisticated enough man to be at the helm of a national side generationally in skill-deficit rehab. Sven, McClaren and indeed now Capello have, on occasion, likewise felt most of the full force of press and public contempt. It –as they say –goes with the territory. Martin Johnson, whilst leaving, accepted that – almost nobly.
The fabulous diversity of opinion over teams we think represent us prevents the meaningful construction of a graph following median/mode/mental views of a particular manager’s status during office; there are, for example, wildly divergent views of Capello’s performance even when England have been cruising through qualification for the majors. (These range from the jingoistically buoyant to the cerebrally disturbed. Just when is he going to sort out Lampard/Gerard/Wilshere, Johnson/Walker?) Certainly the Capellograph would have to twitch alarmingly, as though reporting back from Etna rather than say, The Emirates.
Fabio, like a whole host of previous incumbents, may be in the process of being reconstructed by fluky inheritance. Recent friendlies against Spain (where they were outclassed but won) and Sweden (where they showed little but won) have thrown up sparks. Whether Phil Jones manages to continue to make absurdly serene progress towards a central place (literally?) in the England side whilst shouldering Duncan Edward’s comparisons may now be influential. Whether the likes of Rodwell/Walker/Wellbeck, through a kind of swifter natural expression of their talents come to Capello and England’s rescue may be… influential. The truth is, Capello has found them chiefly/only after
a) injuries to seniors
b) depressing performances by seniors.
My last word on the Italian is that having presided over such a shocking World Cup, having failed utterly to inspire or change a visibly desperate side, he should have been gone.
Martin Johnson has. With that familiar mixture of churlishness, largeness, restrained vitriol and … almost some emotion, he jumped the ferry before being escorted down the plank. England RUFC, having hugely overachieved at the previous World Cup under a player-undermined manager, appointed Johnson hoping for quiet, broodingly Churchillian leadership. He couldn’t do it. In his absence, there now ensues a near-interesting and even mysterious phase of non-appointment, featuring a non-Mallett but lots of clattering in the background. As with the football scenario, a sea-change in direction as well as personnel may trip or bumble towards us, either obstructed or otherwise by the RFU furniture. But given that Shaun Edwards has stayed righteously in Wales, it seems too much to hope for radical improvement.
It may be, therefore, seasonally unfortunate for all of us that we are denied much-needed sporting cheer due to a current lack of England cricket -that being by some distance our most upliftingly successful game. Suddenly, it seems, we have a worryingly stable and consistent crop of outstanding players. And a generally brilliant team ethic. This has not happened entirely by chance – although the contemporaneous emergence of top individuals (Strauss, Cook, Trott, Swann, Anderson…) clearly helps, cool and authoritative leadership off the pitch has been critical. To the point where the following notion bounces in.
Surely numbers stricken by Seasonally Affected Disorder could have been hugely reduced by heart-warming exposure to the further exploits of Strauss , Cook et al this winter? Contemptuously tonking all-comers at Test Level would plainly be markedly beneficial to the national psyche so, why on earth did the government fail to act on this? Couldn’t somebody have rigged up a few Tests/few big screens in shopping malls and…
Back to cool and authoritative. At a time when crises of management or certainly leadership run rampant over our whole lives(!) some contemplation of what works might seem appropriate. (A yes for cricket, no and no for footie/rugby.) But, sporting opinion and contemplation being mutually exclusive, maybe I’ll bawl with the rest of them… Just who is running this ship, anyhow?