Friday 23 June 2017

Few displays of excitement left among the careless classes

The moment was illuminating. The Irish footballer had just walked out onto the lush training surface in Eastern Europe. In verdant surroundings, he had an inspirational thought. Here in the stillness was the type of place where a child would dream of kicking a football. The only sound in the air was that of the laughter of men as they played at being boys. He looked around and said, "This reminds me, I must call my gardener."

The same footballer had, a few years before, turned down an interview with the words, "I can't be arsed."

He was a trailblazer for a new philosophy, a new way of life.

"England has lost its nerve," Tom Stoppard wrote and, putting it another way, England can't be arsed.

The footballer in the above story was Irish but he was a product of the English way of life which is reflected in many Irish footballers whether they were educated in Ireland or England.

They can be seen at the highest level, playing for England or the top, top Premier League sides. They will always fancy a shot from distance, but it will be tame and trickle through to the goalkeeper because they don't really fancy the aggravation that comes from blazing one over the bar.

Fabio Capello is a man who looks like his exposure to the can't-be-arsed philosophy has driven him mad.

He has done many things in football but they all have begun with the assumption that when he encounters players at the highest level, they will be arsed.

He arrived in England and had to adapt, as they like to say, to a different paradigm. Here was the footballer as dilettante and the footballer as dilettante had been elevated to a lauded position in England.

Given this experience and the wider one of players who don't want to play and forwards who don't want to score, Capello's reluctance to allow his players to do anything but the bare minimum is more understandable.

A few of the English kids heading to the Football for Hope tournament in South Africa arrived at Heathrow and then decided they wouldn't bother. There was too much aggravation in spending a few weeks in a dorm in South Africa.

Other factors contribute to their apathy but, apart from their alienation, there is also the relentless message that to be curious about the world is merely to be curious and strange. So they retreat and retreat until they reach a state of mindfulness in which they can't ever be arsed.

Jermaine Pennant is settling back in to life in England after his long -- 14-month -- exile abroad. By the standards of the English footballer, he is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a man returning to his homeland after an instructive and enforced lifetime wandering.

There are other parallels too. Pennant's decision to leave his Porsche at a Spanish train station as he fled the country had all the desperation of some escape from East Berlin in which a man abandons everything, clinging to the exhaust of a car in his determination to be free. Pennant, of course, was a multimillionaire footballer playing for a top-level Spanish side.

Like all those who can't be arsed, he sees himself among the victims. The decision to abandon the Porsche was, he said, the best money he ever spent as he fled his oppressor and returned to the bosom of his homeland or, in this case, Tony Pulis.

Pennant is said to be enjoying the finest spell of his career, released from the burden of actually playing at a side that see little margin in actually playing.

Pennant is finally happy. He has spent so long squandering his talent, in the ways many of us might, and then finding inventive methods of his own, that the low expectations of Stoke are a blessing.

There was the drink-driving and the jail for drink-driving, the pictures of him swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels outside a nightclub. The fights with girlfriends, the police cautions and the endless drama are how the men who hold this philosophy have to live.

Like the street footballers who fled from Heathrow, Pennant has battled hardship and responded to his wealth and fame in an understandable if uninspiring way.

Like them too, he clearly sees the world as a place to fear, thinking that a man would be better off in Stoke than in Spain and if the price of the retreat to comfort is an abandoned Porsche then it is a price worth paying.

There are those who offer hope of a counter-insurgency. Arsene Wenger has always been extremely reluctant to work with English footballers, perhaps seeing not only a limited technique but a dangerous philosophy.

Jack Wilshere looks like he can be arsed. He made no attempt to hide his excitement at playing Barcelona last week and he ended up with Xavi and Iniesta's jerseys, an example of his unchecked delight at what he had participated in at the Emirates.

Wilshere is a player who doesn't appear to be afraid of his own imagination. Wenger has nurtured that acceptance and he looks comfortable with his freedom like only Scholes has among English players in the past 15 years.

The rest have shaped and reacted at best but none could truly create. Wilshere sees the football field as his canvas, not a place to consider gardening leave.

dfanning@independent.ie

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