Anorak News | Suitable For Miners

Suitable For Miners

by | 27th, June 2006

GELSENKIRCHEN is a mining centre in the heart of the Ruhr Valley – a “football-mad town” according to the Guardian, but one which “has never witnessed the kind of scenes it can expect when more than 50,000 English fans arrive for England’s quarter-final against Germany”.

Why, are there no televisions is Gelsenkirchen? Have they not seen the clips of England fans on tour in previous tournaments? Are there no newspapers? Have they not read the dire warnings? Come to that, have they never heard the theme tunes of the Great Escape or the Dambusters – not regular Sunday afternoon viewing in Germany, we admit, but surely not unknown to the city’s good burghers?

Even if they haven’t seen England’s barmy-but-sometimes-charmy army, they will certainly have seen the England team in action, and will know exactly what to expect from Eriksson’s workmanlike side, who have been workmanlike in the sense that they have conformed to the worst newspaper stereotype of English workmanship – unskilled, commanding extortionate fees, shoddy performances, and the rest.

With four more newspapers to go until the match, the papers have yet to dream up a suitable angle for the mining connection. They could talk about the “lumps of Cole”, but both Ashley and Joe are two of the more cultured players, and are disinclined to lump and hoof. Any reference to “strikers” is obviously out. Perhaps they will settle on “digging deep” and “mining a rich seam of courage”. This seems a better bet.

The ground is already being prepared for this, with a variation on the “lions led by donkeys” theme. The argument appears to be that Eriksson simply doesn’t have the passion to inspire his players. Indeed, the Mail reports “Sven’s astonishing plea” to John Terry to “be our leader”. Eriksson is said to have asked Terry to make a speech in the dressing room before the game. Perhaps Terry is at this very moment studying the recordings of Lord Birkett and other masters of the art. Or perhaps he is thinking more along the lines of head-butting the wall, Terry Butcher-style.

Either way, the implication appears to be that Sven doesn’t think either he or his captain is capable of rallying the troops. Of course, the most likely explanation is that Eriksson senses that Terry is going through a bad patch, and needs a confidence boost. All good psychology, no doubt, but in the context of Sven’s own anaemic style this is likely to be seen as a weakness on his part. Sitting impassively on the bench looks clever and authoritative when you are beating Germany 5-1 in Munich, but it looks like helplessness when you are drifting out of a quarter-final.

To make things worse, Eriksson is once again pitted against “Big Phil” Scolari, who is not only a highly successful shaper of attractive football teams, but also a man whose public displays of passion and commitment make Alex Ferguson look like Graham Kelly. The Star says that Scolari has “arrogantly” claimed to be a “better manager” than Eriksson – and “warned that England are in for a fight”. At this point it has to be said that Scolari doesn’t appear to be particularly arrogant. In his recent BBC interview he appeared to be polite and friendly. It’s not inconceivable that he does believe that he is a better manager than Eriksson, but who can blame him? In the last two international tournaments his teams have been winners and runners-up and knocked out Eriksson along the way.

“What we needed in there was Churchill, but what we got was Iain Duncan Smith." That was how Gareth Southgate described Eriksson’s half-time talk during the first of those exits, against Brazil. The papers have decided to return to this theme. In the absence of any new injury and selection developments to report, they focus on the differing styles of Sven and Phil. “MR BURNS v GENE HACKMAN,” says the Sun, along with a list of the men’s characteristics (Sven: sitting still, looking constipated, scratching head; Phil: letting players know who’s boss, waving arms about, etc). “MR MOTIVATOR SHOWS SVEN UP” declares the Mail. “Passion? Energy? Does Eriksson even know what those words mean?” asks the Mirror.

Sven remains calm. “I think you have to suffer in a tournament like this,” he reflected at yesterday’s press conference. “You have to trust me –
You don’t have any choice.” And with that, the icy Conspirator-in-Chief returned to his HQ to put the final touches to his master plan for England’s demise.

Posted: 27th, June 2006 | In: Back pages Comment | TrackBack | Permalink