A strange thing, the affection of the general public. Matt Hancock was a digested kangaroo testicle, or two, away from being crowned king of the jungle, yet if Gareth Southgate does not start Marcus Rashford against Senegal on Sunday, and England are eliminated, he will never be able to live it down.
Crystal Palace, Watford, Nottingham Forest, the potless Newcastle, Derby, Queens Park Rangers, Wolves, Aston Villa, Southampton, Leicester, Notts County — these are the jobs in English football that await the men who are perceived to have reached the pinnacle with the national team, before falling short.
Glenn Hoddle later managed Tottenham, Sven Goran Eriksson did a year with Manchester City, but back then neither were the elite clubs they are now.
Gareth Southgate is held to a very high standard by the British public as England manager
The inquiry into the handling of the pandemic may yet find Hancock’s lack of competence as health secretary contributed to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
This week it was revealed that a document submitted by senior track and trace official Dr Achim Wolf has been scathing about that track and trace system — which Hancock oversaw.
‘The finish line is in sight, and I know we can get there,’ announced Hancock from behind a government lectern on December 10, 2020.
Yet from the start of that December to the end of February, at least 63,000 people died with Covid. Wolf’s argument is that he informed the Government many times that lateral flow tests were far more accurate than initially thought and that isolation should not have only been mandatory after a PCR test.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock came third on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and has seen his popularity rise despite coming under fire for his decisions during the pandemic
He said people were allowed to return to work, or mingle in groups, while highly infectious and spreading the virus, still awaiting the results of PCRs. Even when that policy changed, teachers, NHS and adult care workers remained exempt. All of this unfolded on Hancock’s watch.
And, yes, it was hard in his position. He was dealing with a crisis unprecedented in modern times, that has changed the way we see public health and will impact on our economy for decades to come. Yet it’s hard being manager of the England football team, too.
Nobody dies if you’re wrong — but you wouldn’t think that from the reaction. And, unlike Hancock, you can’t enter the jungle, chow down on marsupial penis and emerge 10 days later as Da Man, reputation restored and a kiss from Boy George to speed you on your way.
England cruised into the last 16 with a comprehensive 3-0 victory against Wales on Tuesday
You may find this comparison disproportionate. It isn’t. The reaction when the England manager makes a decision that goes against public opinion is disproportionate. Southgate is held to a far higher standard than anyone in public life.
Don’t believe it? Try this: until recently the country’s most senior police officer was Cressida Dick, who, as gold commander in charge of the response to the 2005 terror attacks in London, was in control of the operation that fatally shot Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician on his way to work, in the false belief he was a terrorist.
She was cleared of personal blame, but a subsequent inquest into the death recorded an open verdict. In 2017, Dick was made Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Southgate must now decide whether to play match-winner Marcus Rashford against Senegal – and his decision-making will come under huge scrutiny
What is the England manager’s equivalent of shooting an innocent man point blank seven times in the head? It certainly isn’t picking Mason Mount. Yet do that and Southgate will be vilified. He certainly won’t be in line for a promotion any day soon.
He will suffer a backlash as spectacular as any affecting a public official, and for what? A football decision made with recourse to considerably more experience and expertise than any health secretary has brought to the role in decades.
Still, it must be a great comfort for those in the less serious forms of public service, knowing that whatever you get wrong, whoever you kill, unlike Southgate, you’re only a kangaroo testicle away from glory.
Ronaldo is easy to mock but give him benefit of doubt
It is easy to mock Cristiano Ronaldo over the goal that wasn’t his against Uruguay. Yet do players always know when they’ve touched the ball?
Cricketers don’t. A batsman will say he sometimes has no idea about bat pad catches, or even a feather to the wicket-keeper. Fielders are often no judge of whether they got a hand completely under the ball and TV camera angles can be deceptive.
Ronaldo isn’t bald. If the ball glanced his hair on its way through, he may have felt that and believed he made a more serious connection. Does he want Eusebio’s World Cup Portugal scoring record? Of course he does — and many will presume he will go to any lengths to get it.
Cristiano Ronaldo was convinced Bruno Fernandes’ goal against Uruguay should have been his
But while there has been much to criticise in Ronaldo’s behaviour of late; this time, perhaps, he may warrant the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich are the latest club to distance themselves from his recruitment having been sacked by United.
Chelsea, privately, are briefing the same. It may be that Jorge Mendes is doing his utmost to feed his client’s ego and make him seem relevant — in which case, what to make of the reported £172.9million-a-year deal to take him to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia?
We know that part of the world has the money and the deal plays well for Mendes’ negotiating skills but, as we can see out here, Ronaldo’s desire is to matter on the biggest stages. Al Nassr cannot offer that. Money aside, Ronaldo in Saudi might as well be in retirement.
Terry’s trip to Qatar packed with awkward reunions
Much chattering in Doha at the news that John Terry and Wayne Bridge were booked to stay in the same hotel, but that isn’t the half of it.
On the flight out, Terry arrived in the airport lounge to find a group of pundits and analysts already awaiting their flight to Qatar. Among them: Rio Ferdinand.
It is fair to say they are no longer on speaking terms. Atmosphere: nuclear winter. Once on board, however, the former team-mates checked their tickets and discovered someone at the airline had a sense of mischief.
It’s not the longest flight, but six hours is an awfully long time to be sitting opposite a man you can’t stand, and who can’t stand you. Headphones on, divider up, let’s hope the films were good.
Former England team-mates John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are no longer on speaking terms
Shame on anyone who valued Agnelli
Andrea Agnelli was always mediocre. He wasn’t a great visionary or thinker beyond what was in it for his club, Juventus.
Inside, he was frightened — of new money, of fresh talent, of rival leagues and competitions. He was frightened of English football, of Atalanta, of Paris Saint-Germain, of all the challenges to the established order.
He came from an entitled background, and thought Juventus were entitled, too. And having failed to destroy competition in European football in one final attempt to preserve undeserved superiority, now he is gone.
He leaves a mess behind. Juventus’s numbers do not add up. Last year the club lost £220million and are under investigation from the Turin public prosecutors’ office, amid allegations of false accounting and market manipulation.
Andrea Agnelli stepped down chairman of Juventus this week after over a decade in charge
They won nine league titles on Agnelli’s watch, but it is not the first time success may have come amid ethical compromise.
There are allegations of hidden payments to Cristiano Ronaldo, of illegal commissions from transfers and loans, invoices issued for non-existent transactions. As many as 16 Juventus employees, including Agnelli, are implicated.
This is the man, never forget, who has been pontificating on the future direction of European football for some years now; who was among the prime movers in the Super League; who judges and decries the most successful clubs in English football.
This is the man our elite institutions wanted as a business partner. They should be ashamed.
Qatar can call the west hypocrites all they like… but they are still in the wrong
‘Of course slavery is the worst thing that has ever happened, Of course. Black people in America, Jews in Egypt, every time a whole race of people has been enslaved it’s a terrible, horrible thing.
‘But maybe… every incredible human achievement in history was done with slaves. Every single thing, where you go, “How did they build those pyramids?” Well, they just threw human death and suffering at them until they were finished.
‘How did we traverse the nation with the railroads so quickly? We just threw Chinese people in caves and blew them up and didn’t give a s*** what happened to them. There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a f*** about particular people…’
Louis CK, Of Course… But Maybe, 2013.
And that is the argument in Qatar. That what they are doing now is only what the supposedly civilised west did when we first got our money.
That the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor is in its way the modern equivalent of the Suez Canal or the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat, formed the Suez Canal Company in 1858 and his project cost between 3,000 and 120,000 lives, depending on your source; deaths building the architectural wonder that is the Brooklyn Bridge are estimated at 50 per 1,000 workers.
Louis CK finished his bit by referencing that other modern miracle, the smartphone. ‘Even today,’ he says, ‘how do we have this amazing micro-technology? Because the factory where they’re making these things people jump off the roof, because it’s a nightmare in there.
Qatar’s alleged mistreatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums has come under fire
‘You have a choice. You can have candles and horses and be a little nicer to each other, or let someone suffer immeasurably far away just so you can leave a mean comment on YouTube…’
Or drive an empty six-lane highway to a gorgeous jewel of a stadium in the desert with a realistic useful shelf life of one month. So the point isn’t that the west is better. We’re not, we know.
The same explosion of wealth and energy that once built railways and London’s grand museums drove stadium construction in Doha. But that doesn’t make the working conditions right.
So when Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, finally admitted this week that between 400 and 500 workers died on World Cup-related construction projects, this is not a moment of progression.
Yes, Qatar have been in denial about the figures, but the vagueness remains appalling. ‘I don’t have the exact number,’ said Al Thawadi (left), but why not?
‘One death is a death too many,’ he added, but how can that be true if a hundred deaths are airily covered in guesstimates? It’s wrong. It was wrong in the 19th century, it’s wrong now.
If we could call out the company that built the Suez Canal we would. But it’s too late. It need not be, however, for Qatar’s migrant workers, or those sweating in factories to put together your smartphone.
So let’s do that, and keep doing it long after the last ball here is kicked.
Infantino’s own goal
He’s in the VVIP section. That’s why Gianni Infantino looks like he hasn’t a friend in the world when he attends matches at this tournament. VIP seating isn’t enough for high society out here.
So there are VVIP tickets and VVIP parking, and VVIP lanes affording swift access. The VVIP seats, meanwhile, have huge arm-rests and space, giving the impression the occupant sits alone. Some observers may even begin to feel sorry for Infantino in his World Cup equivalent of Eeyore’s Gloomy Place.
When Wales played England, his little eyes lit up as the camera zoomed in and he appeared on the stadium big screen. This is, after all, the man who tried unsuccessfully to get an underwhelmed crowd of locals to chant ‘Qatar, Qatar, Qatar’ and then ‘FIFA, FIFA, FIFA’ at a pre-World Cup gathering.
Infantino’s message is that football unites and as the boos swelled from each end of the ground, it would appear he had achieved his aim. Everybody was united in thinking he was a total (that’s enough kinship).
Gianni Infantino wants to become the first FIFA president to attend all 64 World Cup matches
Go long or go home
Once, managers used to be furious when their goalkeeper lumped the ball aimlessly downfield — now, it’s the reverse.
The disagreement that saw Cameroon’s Andre Onana leave the World Cup this week was caused by his coach Rigobert Song requesting he stopped trying to play out from the back.
Onana, now with Inter Milan, was seven years at Ajax and clearly sees the sweeper-keeper role as a key part of his game. Song disagreed. So Onana’s out and the inexperienced Devis Epassy, playing with Abha in Saudi Arabia, is in.
On the bench now is Simon Ngapandouetnbu, a teenage reserve at Marseille, yet to play a game for club or country. Song must really not have fancied Onana as a footballer then.
Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana left the World Cup after a disagreement in playing style