Who to support in the World Cup final?

If you’re a pope and you’re reading this, why not find another pope and watch tonight’s match together? There has never been a better time to do this, and there probably never will be. It should be obvious who to support. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is German and Pope Francis is Argentine, though only the latter is understood to care much about the beautiful game.

But most of us are not popes.

What if you’re English? Who then will you support?

After England were ejected from the last World Cup (2010), I blogged on how match stats suggested Fabio Capello was the most successful England manager of all time. The problem then, as I noted, was that England were knocked out by Germany, one of their two footballing nemeses (the other being Argentina).

Tonight, for the third time, Argentina and Germany (or West Germany) face each other in a World Cup final.

  • 1986 – Argentina 3-2 West Germany
  • 1990 – West Germany 1-0 Argentina

If you’re an England fan, it may not be easy to decide who to support, or who you want to lose. Perhaps it’s jingoistic – British forces have shed blood fighting both nations; Argentina’s president remains antagonistic over the Falkland Islands and Germany is the clear hegemonic power in the ever controversial European Union.

Both teams have brought great strife to England in previous international competitions. An excerpt from my 2010 blog:

  • World Cup 1966 – England defeated West Germany at Wembley. An anomoly.
  • World Cup 1970 – West Germany defeated England in the quarter-final in extra time.
  • World Cup 1982 – England drew against West Germany in the second round group stage, costing them a place in the semi-final, which the Germans later won.
  • World Cup 1986 – Argentina defeated England in the quarter-final.
  • World Cup 1990 – West Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • Euro ’96 – Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • World Cup 1998 – Argentina defeated England in the round-of-16 on penalties.
  • World Cup 2010 – Germany 4, England 1 in the round-of-16.

Who will you support this evening?

Choose wisely, but don’t expect it to make a difference…

A King’s authority – inherited or earned?

A review of The King’s Speech.

After years of wayward behaviour, Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Two days later, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. And so, an escalating global conflict became World War II.

On the evening of 3 September, from Buckingham Palace, King George VI addressed the nation and the Commonwealth. His role was to inspire his people for the tribulations ahead.

His Majesty had suffered from a stammer since early childhood. As he stood before the microphone in September 1939 he may have felt he was born for such a time as this. But it would have been deeply uncomfortable.

The King’s Speech” is the story of his preparation, over more than a decade, for that moment. Colin Firth plays the lead role, as Prince Albert (or Bertie), the Duke of York, later King George. His Golden Globe is well deserved.

There are excellent portrayals of other characters too. Among them, Queen Elizabeth (Bertie’s wife), George V and Edward VIII. Timothy Spall plays a delightfully observed Winston Churchill (prior to his premiership) and Geoffrey Rush is convincing as Lionel Logue, the Australian-born speech therapist to whom Prince Albert turns for help. I could go on.

The King’s Speech went straight to the top of the UK box office chart. It’s proving especially popular in the blogosphere where many have sung its praises as an example of their own good taste. That includes me.

There are exceptions, of course. Siôn Simon bemoans an “insidious anthem to the notion that nobility of birth and spirit are usually, if not always, linked.” This is simply untrue. Other main characters are noble by birth, but less so in spirit; and Logue, a commoner, is portrayed as dignified and honest. It is true that Bertie (as portrayed) was noble of both birth and spirit; but what else should we expect with Colin Firth in the title role?

It is a very human story of a man with a challenge, a critical weakness and a fear (glossophobia) which only serves to aggravate the problem. It recounts fascinating historical events that few of us know much about. It is a tale of another era, but not so very long ago. It is within the living memory of many: George VI was our last monarch and his daughter Elizabeth, portrayed as a small girl in the film, reigns today.

Microphone
Inspiring fear in King George VI

While the whole films hangs upon the challenge posed by Bertie’s stammer, there is a more profound underlying theme. It is about the issue of authority: particularly the authority invested in a constitutional monarchy, and the earned authority of two men struggling to assert themselves. The first, of course, is Bertie. The second is Lionel Logue, under whose personal authority the King eventually learns to manage (but never fully overcome) his greatest weakness.

Many question the authority of Prince Charles, a man who has been heir to the throne since 1952, when he was just three years old. He has no real power, and in that respect little will change when his mother passes away. But there is real authority in his office. And through that, real influence.

One day Prince Charles will, probably, succeed to the throne. When that time comes, he will be invested with even greater authority. He will carry it willingly, but perhaps reluctantly. He will be measured by how he combines his personal authority with the authority of his office.

Bertie did not want to be King. For many years he did not expect to be. But when the time came, he accepted his duty and the responsibility that came with it. His challenge was to express his authority clearly.

By 1939, he was ready to meet this challenge. His speech is the climax of the film. It deserves to be seen. But the speech itself, the actual King’s speech, deserves to be heard. It is far from perfect. But heard in context, having seen the film, Bertie’s authority as King George VI is unambiguous.

Paul is dead. Long live Paul II!

Paul, the Bournemouth-born cephalopod international match pundit of UEFA Euro 2008 and FIFA World Cup 2010, passed away in Germany last week.

Was he a genius, or blessed with a special prophetic gift? I reckon he was just lucky. Regardless, I have no doubt many mourners will consider him irreplaceable. But Sea Life in Oberhausen has found a way:

Long live Paul II!

May he be an octoprophet with honour in his own aquarium.

Capello – the most successful England manager of all time?

On the face of it, England did rather well. A great performance in qualifying and undefeated in Group C. They made it through to the final 16 of the World Cup and even scored against Germany. Twice.

I was on a (pre-booked) train during most of the match. I wasn’t expecting to watch it, but when I got my laptop out various strangers took an interest and chipped in for internet access from T-Mobile via the Virgin connection. But the live video was unavailable because of BBC copyright concerns that we might be in some foreign country rather than rolling through the shires between Birmingham New Street and London Euston.

So for a rather bizarre hour or so, four strangers sat around a BBC text site updating us on the dazzling developments every 30 seconds.

It was 2-1 when we left the train, and the rest is history. My mobile phone revealed the final scoreline later and I texted my commiserations to Vanessa.

Three Lions
The Pride of England

It would not be fair to measure Mr Capello’s performance based on the events of recent weeks. While his team played okay against against Slovenia, it was a somewhat less-than-satisfactory show in the other matches. But England won nine out of 10 games in qualifying. That is quite a performance.

The trouble is, England is always expected to qualify. And the manager will always be judged on his final few weeks (ie on the point of failure), especially by the British media.

I simply don’t know enough about football to judge Mr Capello. But I do know England have been short of any serious success for 44 years. Capello’s career in football covers the same era and he has not been short of success.

But here in England there is a wide acceptance that the England players are better than their World Cup performance. A belief that somehow the results are a deceit against the team. Fabio Capello was employed to do better than his predecessors (including such luminaries as Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson, Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren). He has outperformed them all.

Indeed my analysis of the statistics shows that – at competitive level – he has outperformed every manager in the team’s history. 10 wins to four draws or defeats (two each) is a success rate of 71%. It is an average of 2.3 points per game. Both stats are unrivaled in the team’s history. And it is the same headline fact when friendlies are taken into account.

Fabio Capello is the most successful England manager of all time.

He just lacks a trophy. Or an appearance in a worthy final. Or a semi-final. Or even a quarter-final! How depressing.

To see the team on the pitch, England’s performance in the World Cup matches was humiliating. My colleague, Ibrahim Mustapha has much to say about this at The Ibyss, including other issues for FIFA to explore following the referee’s failure to acknowledge Frank Lampard’s goal.

For me the biggest issue seems to be the opponent. Germany and Argentina are particularly problematic. Don’t mention the wars:

  • World Cup 1966 – England defeated West Germany at Wembley. An anomoly.
  • World Cup 1970 – West Germany defeated England in the quarter-final in extra time.
  • World Cup 1982 – England drew against West Germany in the second round group stage, costing them a place in the semi-final, which the Germans later won.
  • World Cup 1986 – Argentina defeated England in the quarter-final.
  • World Cup 1990 – West Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • Euro 96 – Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • World Cup 1998 – Argentina defeated England in the round-of-16 on penalties.
  • World Cup 2010 – Germany 4, England 1 in the round-of-16.

If this pattern sounds familiar it shoudn’t be a surprise. This stuff really happened. England keep meeting the same opponents, time and again. And losing.

Let us assume they will keep facing the same teams. There are other questions to explore. Are there systemic problems which cause the team to underperform? Are the players too tired after a tough season? Is the Premiership style of play unsuited to international football? Are the WAGs a bad influence? Is the press too hard on the little lambs? Has the coaching style been too relaxed (Sven)? Or too tough (Fabio)?

The World of Wad does not have all the answers. It never does. I leave such erudition to others.

In the meantime, I must go and check whether Northern Ireland made it through to the quarter-finals…

UPDATE: I honestly don’t think this is the time to sack Capello although the mood has been overwhelmingly against him. It seems FA board members are swinging behind him, although this could be led as much by financial concerns as by football.