Thursday, 10 September 2009

Laying the ghost

There have been two "Oh my Gawd" moments for me in the last 10 years so far as concerns public affairs. The first was the decision of the Blair government to support and participate in the invasion of Iraq. This is not hindsight speaking: even if there were weapons of mass destruction (as I wrongly and now it appears naively supposed there must be), I was opposed to it on the ground first that you cannot simply invade someone else's country, arguably even with and certainly without a clear United Nations mandate so to do, and secondly because occupations always end in tears which affect those who receive the invasion as much as those who inflict it. You cannot in practice run other people's countries for them, and things go sour quickly.

The second was the decision in 2006 of the Football Association to appoint Steve McLaren as the manager of the England football team. For me, the final evening in the rain in November 2007 when the Croatia national team put us out of Euro 98 was a culmination I had feared and expected. There were so many other better candidates for the post in 2006: if you wanted to go English, Sam Allardyce (who had not then suffered some of his subsequent misfortunes but I still think has real ability), if you wanted to go British, Martin O'Neill (my personal favourite for the job), or if you wanted to go international many other candidates than Scolari who the FA tried and failed to land. Unlike my view on Iraq, most of my friends and acquaintances shared my misgivings and thought Brian Barwick had simply got it wrong.

When the draw for the European groups for the World Cup 2010 was made, with England (as no 2 seed in the group) and Croatia (as no 1 seed) in the same qualifying group, this seemed to me to be a real opportunity to lay the ghost to rest, and so it has proved. My hopes have been exceeded: what a fantastic display last night of high speed, killer football.

Brian Barwick must have something going for him - you cannot be controller of sport for ITV for 16 years without having a good measure of ability - but whenever I heard the two speak after he became Chief Executive of the FA and Steve McLaren became manager, and they seemed to speak quite often, they both seemed only to be able to talk in clich├ęs which were banal even by football's standards.

By contrast, Lord Triesman seems to have a gift for reading people's ability and (in his treatment of Brian Barwick) a suitable quantity of ruthlessness and singlemindedness. Once taking over the position of Chief Executive as well as Chairman he seems to have been mainly silent, and Fabio Capello has a satisfyingly Italian grasp of English. The success of the football team has been inversely proportional to the words uttered.

Well done to both of them, and to all the players.

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