Monday, June 28, 2010

What's wrong with English football part 2

A crucial first step would be to downgrade our expectations from where they were until last week - roughly on a par with those of the populations of Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy - to where they more reasonably should be: somewhere between Slovakia and Japan. No wonder England's players - who are after all pros who have played against most of their German tormentors in club football - can't cope with the pressure. They are simply expected to deliver the undeliverable: as Paul Hayward points out in today's Guardian, the 1966 final was the last time England actually beat any of the big national teams in a World cup. In reality, this team is the Blackburn Rovers of international football, and my guess is the players actually know this.

The second point would be to teach coaching seriously. The most terrifying statistic I've read recently (OK, not really worse than deficits and unemployment rates) was that whilst there are 2,769 English football coaches with the top UEFA qualification, Spain has 23995, Italy 29420, Germany 34970 and France 17588. Is it any wonder England defended like schoolboys? In sport, as in anything worthwhile, success requires training, discipline, concentration and consistency. How could John Terry and Matthew Upson be fooled by a goal kick straight down the middle of the pitch, or Gareth Barry be completely dazed by Germany counter-attacking after a failed England free-kick? These are the basics, and somewhere along the line they have to be drilled into players so that they become second nature. Our players, even our best players, lack the basics, and are made to look better than they are because they play, week in week out, with others who have them.

What's wrong with English football

Where do I start?

Well this blog post from a few months back identifies at least one of our problems: Rupert Murdoch.

"SKY Sports England attempts to, and in most cases succeeds in brainwashing the English nation about the game of football. It is repeatedly shoved down everyone’s throats that the Premier League is the “best league in the world”, with it even allegedly being written into the contracts of staff that they have to repeat this line in order to keep their job.

The rest of the world is treated as if it doesn't exist, and Serie A is only ever reported on when there has been violence or racism. All negative events in England are covered up/toned down to protect the business product, while Sky ignore any big sporting events that they aren’t showing themselves. “We don’t have the rights to the World Cup final? Ok, we will hype up glass chin Amir Khan’s fight against some ‘world-class’ nobody instead”.

To be a Sky Sports pundit you must know absolutely nothing about non-English football, you must memorise every cliché in the book such as “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings”, you must spout out every stereotype such as “Italian players dive and are old and slow” and “Germans always score late goals”, you must believe that Claude Makelele invented the defensive midfield position, everyone learned free kicks off Cristiano Ronaldo, everyone is unproven until they have played in England - including Lionel Messi, and finally you must say that the Premier League is the “best league in the world” at least 20 times an hour."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not singing anymore

One of the cliches of the last decade or two is that there are 'no easy games in world football'. England set out today to prove that wrong.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Singing the azzurri

What a terrible Italian team - how can an Italian defence concede three goals like that?
Even worse, they showed in the last 10 minutes they could have wiped the floor with Slovakia if they'd put their minds to it.

Of course, I blame Berlusconi.

In fact some members of his governing coalition do blame Berlusconi - after a fashion. His Minister for Simplification (no, I'm not joking) Calderoli claims the problems are (as usual) down to the excess of foreigners, this time in the Italian league. And Berlusconi's free spending ways at the helm of AC Milan in the early 1990s set the trend for building teams around foreign stars, culminating in the success of Inter this year in the Champions League without a single Italian in the line-up. Inter is owned by the Moratti family, and Letizia Moratti has been Minister for Education and Mayor of Milan representing Berlusconi's party. So, you see, it really is his fault...

The real issue is the failure to rejuvenate the squad, where the aging legs of Cannavaro, Pirlo, Gattuso and Zambrotta are no longer up to the task. To replace the target man Luca Toni (33) Lippi called up di Natale (31). Not that youth is the panacea - witness 27 year old Pepe's excuse for a shot in the final seconds.

This could be a coincidence, but one can't help noticing that football is not the only part of Italian society where the old guard refuses to shuffle off stage with dignity.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Singing the bleus

I never thought I would ever feel sorry for William Gallas and Thierry Henry.

And in fact I don't.

However embarrassing England are tomorrow, it surely can't be as bad as that. Can it?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

FT dixit...

Budget set to cut jobs and growth

Quite a headline.
I'm sure those who sacrifice their jobs to reduce the deficit more quickly will realize that it's all in a good cause.

Meanwhile, the Economist has a nice article which states that experience tells us a fiscal consolidation should be composed of 80% spending cuts and only 20% tax increases, and illustrates the point with a neat table of ten recent fiscal consolidations, of which only two actually reduced spending by this much. Which makes you wonder where the 80:20 number comes from. The Treasury perhaps?

Meanwhile, Krugman has an amusing post in which he points out that  in German, 'debt' and 'guilt' are the same word. He also goes on to point out that there is no experience of deficit reduction helping growth when interest rates are low and world demand absent. Is it different this time? Well, if it is, that doesn't explain why Ireland's bond spreads are higher than Spain's.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How central bank independence works

Technocrats are charged with setting monetary policy to hit the inflation target on the basis of objective assessments of the economic situation, without political interference.

Central bankers will never intervene in political debate to favour one party over another.... unless that party gives them a huge slice of extra power in exchange for rubbishing the outgoing government and backing the incoming government's plans.

Mervyn King is a very clever man, but failed to take any action to prevent a colossal housing bubble lead to the worst collapse in output since the Great Depression. The unsustainable boom should have set alarm bells ringing in Threadneedle Street from 2002 on, but Mervyn (save a quickly forgotten statement in summer 2004) said nothing. The Conservatives then saved his skin by blaming everything on the FSA.

Just like Alan Greenspan, whose concerns about the low level of US public debt (yes, you read correctly) in the early 2000s gave political cover to GW Bush's ridiculous plutocratic tax cuts, Mervyn has served the interests of the powerful, and gets his reward.

Now Mervyn comes out for fiscal tightening even though we have no certainty this will not increase unemployment and make the deficit worse. Bond yields are low, the deficit is projected at £15 billion less than a couple of months ago, but we still need to fire tens if not hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

Well, at least one government employee's job is safe.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's worse than we thought

Even though the deficit is now £11 billion less than before the election campaign started, George Osborne insists things are even worse than we thought, and that we wouldn't have known things were even worse than we thought had he not set up an Office for Budget Responsibility charged with producing a report on budgetary issues which would give us the painful truth.

The OBR is independent, sure, but has been set up by a government convinced that things were worse than we thought. I wonder what kind of future the office and its chair would have had if they had opened their account by saying things are actually better than we thought?

Either way, the government appears determined to cut fast anyway. Let's hope they don't cut fast enough to halt the recovery - that wouldn't be very responsible.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Our way of life...

... is under threat. According to David Cameron, our PM.

 We must now start to cut public spending, because otherwise we will be spending 10p for every pound in taxes on interest - £70 billion a year to finance our 'staggering debt'. The problem, Cameron states, is that the size of the public sector got 'way out of step' with that of the private sector.


First point to make is that obviously, if you can avoid paying £70 billion a year in interest, that is £70 billion you could spend on something else. But cutting spending to reduce the deficit doesn't just free up money spent on interest for other purposes - it also has other effects, which can be counter-productive to the purpose of balancing the government's books.

First, cutting the deficit could slow economic activity (think of all those sacked public sector workers no longer spending money on goods and services) and reduce government revenue, so just cutting spending doesn't automatically translate into cutting the deficit. In a worst case scenario, output could shrink so much that the deficit would remain just as big.

Second, £70 billion sounds like a lot of money, to those of us who struggle to think of numbers bigger than what we carry in our wallet. But GDP last year was £1396 billion, so that's just over 5% of total output. That's still a horrible number, but it wouldn't be that exceptional in historic or comparative perspective. After all, with interest rates at their lowest for centuries, there's never been a better time to be a debtor. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't worry about the deficit; it just means that we shouldn't panic into adopting masochistic policies just because of it.

The other slightly ludricrous statement Cameron made was that the deficit problem was the result of the public sector getting too big compared to the private sector. Trouble is, the deficit is the result of the private sector shrinking, more than the public sector growing. The shortfall in revenues is the result of the collapse of an unsustainable private sector boom, which in turn left the public sector rather bigger than a shrunken private sector could sustain. Not quite the same thing. Sure, Labour should have been more cautious spending the proceeds of the boom, but its critics - such as Cameron and Osbourne - were not exactly warning of the unsustainable housing bubble at the time.

Sure we have a deficit, and sure, this is a problem. But my fear is that Cameron wants to use this problem to redefine the role of the state in Britain, in a way which wouldn't be possible without the economic crisis as a pretext.

Same old Tories?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My England line-up

Anyway, I would go for an England line-up built around a midfield trident of Locke, Mill and Wittgenstein (naturalized English even though he played for Austria under 18s). As usual, having an England team instead of a UK 11 deprives us of players of the talent of Adam Smith, David Hume and Ryan Giggs.

Back home

Poor old Rio.

There always seems to be an injury crisis whenever England is in a major tournament. This seems to affect us more than other teams. It could be the physically exacting nature of the Premiership, but I would advance another hypothesis: the lack of replacements. England does have some good players: Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole and most obviously Rooney. But we also have a lot of really mediocre ones, so the moment one of these players gets hurt, we're calling on players who would never get considered for stronger national teams.

For example, when Nesta got injured in the last World cup, Barzagli came in and no-one noticed the difference as Italy defended their way to the title. But Ferdinand gets injured, and suddenly we're thinking of Upson, Carragher or Dawson to line up with the unpleasant but effective Terry. Last World Cup it was Owen that was crocked, and the alternatives were so difficult to contemplate that Eriksson ended up playing Rooney on his own. We all know what happened there.

So, Capello may be the best manager England have ever had, but the same old weaknesses on the pitch remain.

Quarter finals again it is.