Well after all the excitement of the build-up and the opening match, the French soon bought things crashing down to earth. I normally have a bit of a soft spot for France but what with Henry’s handball against Ireland and the utter negativity of their approach last night, by the end I was a fully-fledged Forlan-cheering Uruguayan.
Anyway, enough of the onfield, it meant by far the most interesting aspects of last night’s BBC coverage came off it, in the form of build-up interviews with Fabio Capello and Wayne Rooney, the two most important members of the England set up.
Capello is an impressive type. I have only met him a couple of times, once when he did a private q and a session, the other time at a social event, but as with all good leaders, he exudes strength and calm in varying quantities according to the moment.
A lot of has been made of his ‘losing it’ with cameramen trying to take pictures inside England’s dressing room and medical quarters, with the media suggesting it showed the pressure getting to him, and that to the watching players it would have suggested a chink in his armour.
Nonsense on both fronts, I would suggest. What players like to see in a manager is someone who knows his own mind, expresses it clearly, and who stands up for them.
What the players will have taken out of his blast at the media is that he stands up for their interests, not the media’s.
Even the players who court the media, some with a view to a future career, have something of a love hate relationship with the press, whereas the bulk of top athletes probably veer closer to the hate than the love.
But one of Capello’s undoubted strengths is his determination always to set his own agenda, not have it set for him. (Modern politicians take note) We saw that in his handling of John Terry. We are seeing it again in his handling of the team announcement. He knows the team. They will hear first. Two hours before kick-off. That’s it.
So he was polite but firm with Gabby Logan, and it all added to that sense of strength and calm. If England fare badly in this World Cup, it will not be because they picked a dud manager.
As for the Rooney interview the Capello influence was again clear. Did you see how engaged and happy Rooney seemed when he was talking Alan Shearer through some of the manager’s rules – no mobiles, no leaving the table at mealtimes until everyone had finished, obsessive attention to detail in filming and analysing training sessions (‘he can take 20 minutes to go over a thrown-in’). The respect for the manager – vital in any team in any walk of life – shone through.
Earlier I had been at Queen’s having a bit of a barney with Will Greenwood’s wife who was saying it was a shame footballers couldn’t be better role models.
I’m not sure I quite buy this role model thing in the way it is sometimes presented. They are footballers. They have been footballers from an early age. Their dedication has often meant other aspects of learning have gone by the wayside. Someone like Rooney, from an early age, was on a conveyor belt to where he is now. Why should we expect him to be hyper-articulate, lose sleep about social issues, reject the offers of corporate largesse that make him a young multi-multi-millionaire?
Could modern footballers behave better? Some of them, yes. Do they earn too much? By most people’s standards, yes. But would they still be footballers if they had lived in a different era when film stars were the biggest names, and their wages were capped? In Rooney’s case, without a doubt.
Because what also came through last night is that all he wants to do is get out there tonight and play football. And in that, the pursuit of excellence and commitment in a chosen path, he is a role model. I just don’t think we should expect him to be a mix of politician, diplomat, campaigner and world seer too.
I was at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground visiting Alex Ferguson on the day Rooney suffered that freak injury when he stepped on a piece of equipment left lying around, which put him out of a massive game. The look on his face as he lay on the treatment table said everything. ‘You can have all the money and the Coke deals and the adulation. But I feel sick to my stomach that I won’t be playing.’
The flipside of that attitude, added to a young life honing skill under the watchful eyes of David Moyes, Fergie and Capello, is the reason why he was inside every American defenders’ head as they awoke this morning.
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