More petulance please!

Here on TMFD they’re called petulant and sulky. On ILx our own D. Boyle calls them “blimmin’ prima donnas” and suggests that they are refusing “to be held to account by the people who pay their wages”. I’m delighted the England players have decided to shut up for a bit, and not just because when they do speak they’re dull as ditchwater.

The abuse poured on Sven-Goran Eriksson over the past few months has been grossly disproportionate. His England team are not beating the world, it’s true, but only loonies would expect them to do so. They’ve only narrowly exited the last two major international tournaments, both times at the respectable quarter final stage, and both times to finalists. That this achievement is being billed as “failure” seems bizarre at best. What’s more, I don’t believe that there is significant pressure from within the FA just now to sack Sven: surely after the chastening experiences of this summer (plus the FA’s uncertain financial position), the beblazered buffoons must know that letting things ride for a while is the correct (and perhaps the only) option. So I can only assume that the massive “pressure on Sven” which we’ve been reading about over the past week or so has been generated in large part by the press themselves.

The way the press – the only exception I can think of being the Guardian’s marvellous McCarra – go about reporting the England team destabilises, pressurises and demoralises the side, and it all seems to be done in the name of support. Today, Scott Murray whines miserably because the players seem to be acting collectively to try to have the relationship between themselves and the media a little more on their own terms. I can’t see what’s wrong with this, and I’m “the support.” Murray’s argument seems to be that, by undertaking lucrative product-related interviews, the players have a debt to the press which should be repaid by making themselves available elsewhere. But if the media want to sell papers on the back of product-placement interviews then it seems to me they’re bound in a self-sustaining advertisers-players-press triangle. I don’t understand how players should be the only parties in that arrangement who emerge with further obligations.

The relationship between the football industry and the press is obviously symbiotic, and when the players behave in ways which the press finds unacceptable, we hear about it. Strangely, we don’t hear nearly as much about media abuses (no-one’s that interested, I suppose). But when the press controls (sometimes distorts?) the messages the public receives, silence seems pretty much the only way to express dissatisfaction. The point they’re making, surely, is that the pitch at which recent attacks on the England team have been conducted is making symbiosis difficult or impossible. Looked at from this point of view, it’s the press who ‘want it both ways’.

I can’t see why people should be able to write exactly what they want about footballers: I mean, I can see the importance of the freedom of the press when it comes to the politicians and corporations who run our countries, but the absolute freedom to hound a football manager from his job unnecessarily? That doesn’t seem fair.

Now, I’m not saying that all’s well with English football and its players, far from it. It’s just that I’m not unhappy with a touch of righteous(ish) petulance from players when it’s directed towards a press whose behaviour often poses as big a problem to the stability of the English game as the players’ does. And I’m temperamentally disposed to appreciating a little petulance now and again. Sometimes, it’s good to ask yourself: “what would Vic Godard do?”