I do not mean any disrespect to any of the England players, but it is time for Plan B, folks. There must be reasons for England’s systematic underperformance at international level, and we need to work them out. In the days when I was on speaking terms with Sepp Blatter, he said he thought the problem with the England team was the Premier League. We had too many highly paid foreign players, he said. They clogged up the top teams; they took the money and the sponsorship and the affections of the crowds – and then, like Suarez of Liverpool and Uruguay – they vanished back to their home countries.
The result, he said, was that the English system failed to nurture enough indigenous talent. Like the City of London, or the building trade, or the NHS – or like just about any other successful sector of the UK economy – the world of Premier League football depended to some extent on immigrant performers, he said; and it is the definition of an international football competition that you cannot depend on your foreign imports. If you put these points to the Football Association, they deny them fiercely. They say that Fifa is just jealous of the Premier League and wants to see it taken down a peg or two.
Who is right? I honestly don’t know. Nor do I know whether the critics are right when they say that England footballers somehow lack esprit de corps or will to win – though I always suspect that the problem is more to do with leadership: that it’s not the quality of the men, but the quality of the officers. Whatever the reasons, I think we have got to the stage – almost 50 years after we last won the World Cup – where we can no longer collectively ignore this chronic feebleness in a game we invented and codified. As any anthropologist will tell you, sport is the imitation of war.
Success or failure in sport conditions national psychology, and football is the global game. There are millions of people like me, who end up feeling downhearted and pessimistic when they could be feeling altogether bucked and buoyed. There is abundant evidence that sporting victory leads to feelings of well-being and confidence – and confidence, as we all know, can be economically decisive. The reverse is also true. It may be absurd and unfair, but when England crash out – yet again – from some international tournament, we all go into the office the next day feeling a bit winded, with our heads down.
Germany seems likely to impose this Juncker geezer on the European commission, in defiance of British wishes. Wouldn’t it have been splendid to whack the ball in the back of Merkel’s net, and beat her team in the World Cup? And why should that seem so totally unthinkable? For the sake of our self-respect and psychological health, we need someone to get a grip on the England football team – and turn them round. Of course it can be done: look at what they did to get Team GB ready for the 2012 Olympics. We need an eight or 12-year plan to rescue our international footballing reputation.
I am not suggesting we should follow Saddam’s son Uday Hussein, who used testicular electrocution on non-scoring members of the Iraqi team. But we might pass a gentle current through the tender parts of the management. We need to get it across to the Football Association that their current uselessness and fatalism is intolerable and politically damaging to this country. When England fly home, we need to hear from Greg Dyke and Roy Hodgson about the plan to win and sometime soonish. Or else: pzzzzzt – figuratively speaking.