Wednesday 28 June 2017

Psycho's warm-up routine will never appease the baying mob

Dion Fanning

Despite reminding people of his availability for the European Championships, Stuart Pearce's period as England manager has to be short.

If the England manager is required to win something then it is, as often stated, an impossible job. This is not the primary purpose of the England manager. For the manager to succeed in his primary purpose, however, it is necessary for everyone to engage with the pretence that the England manager must win something.

In the last few weeks, we have seen a perfect example of what the England manager is expected to do. Loosely, it can be described as entertainment or showbusiness, an indication of how important it really is.

A brief recap of the departure of Fabio Capello would begin with the FA stripping John Terry of the captaincy to prevent the European Championships turning into a circus before his trial in July, then watching as Capello disagreed with the decision on Italian television (in Italian!) and then resigned shortly afterwards. When you remember that the initial decision was taken to avoid unpleasant headlines, you are reminded of how good these men are.

These are song and dance men with pretensions to be hommes serieux, as if Woody Allen had been stuck making Stardust Memories for 46 years.

What we get to witness is the contortions in pursuit of this hubristic business. The England job is not impossible: they very rarely fail in their mission to entertain.

Certain dynamics are required for this to work. There must be a savage denial of reality from everyone involved. It must be the crowning glory in a manager's career, he must have great ambitions and he cannot be a caretaker. Life is too short for caretakers.

Stuart Pearce cannot give the people what they want so his stint as caretaker manager is only denying everyone the chance to see what they came to see.

If the England manager's job was a prizefight, we would now be at the stage when the microphone had been lowered into the ring, the mc in a tux has entered, roared "Let's Get REAAADDY to RUUUMBEEELE!' and stepped from the ring. The microphone has disappeared into the sky and the crowd are tearing at themselves in a frenzied state, high on bloodlust, beating on their chests in a primitive cry for action. They would be beside themselves, caught on those agonising pincer jaws, the moment of tremendous excitement, tempered by enormous anxiety.

They would now be expecting the arrival of two taut, savage men who would satisfy their atavistic urges. Instead, with the appointment of Pearce, something odd as happened. The crowd roars and prepares to eat its own arms in a manic state of feral excitement, but, instead of two prizefighters entering the ring, it is as if a small, strange man wearing braces and a boater has climbed through the ropes and attempted to entertain the crowd with a balloon-folding routine.

They will watch politely for a second but these urges cannot be ignored. They had come to see savagery dressed up as entertainment and instead there is a man making giraffes out of balloons. It is a totally unnecessary diversion.

This interregnum removes the engine that makes the England manager the most entertaining job in football.

Nobody wants it at this stage, indeed at any stage. Where is the gore? Where will we find the awe as the staggering chase unfolds. Sure, this man can fold balloons, they'll say, but what about the human sacrifice?

Perhaps he has drawn the sting from the crowd, lowered their expectation for the prize fight to come.

Slowly there will be a need for the hysteria. Soon the hypnotic cloud that falls over a mob when they are unified by some unconscious urge will descend before one man finally breaks ranks and asks, "Can we win it?" Then another, and another until they all chant together "Can we win it?"

At that moment, the England manager's job is the best job in the world. At that minute, when they all forget what has gone before and ask again, "Can we win it?" or the utterly meaningless "Are we going there thinking we can win it?", there is a moment of pure fulfilment.

The England manager's job is not to win it but to fail to win it in many mysteriously beautiful and chaotic ways.

But a strange thing happened last week when Stuart Pearce stepped in to the ring. Some in the crowd began to enjoy the balloon-folding act. They liked the little dogs he made, they appreciated his manners and the sense of order the odd man had. They admired the pride he took in fashioning little rabbits and birds out of balloons.

Stuart Pearce conducted what was generally agreed to be a great press conference last week. Pearce has never given any indication that he would make a capable manager, but at least his press conference, his balloon-folding routine, was excellent.

One journalist sighed that at last they were attending a press conference they could understand. Capello's English had made their lives miserable but if it was causing them such pain, why didn't they learn Italian?

Pearce made them realise just how much was wrong with Capello. Manners is something they can add to the list of requirements for the next manager.

Pearce endured gratuitous brusqueness from Capello over the years, one writer complained, ignoring that Pearce's presence alongside Capello was pretty gratuitous too. A man of Capello's achievements could have been forgiven for viewing Pearce as somebody to take his frustrations out on rather than a man to turn to for any tactical insight, given that he was liable to suggest sending the goalkeeper on as an emergency centre-forward.

Pearce has the job now and he excited everyone with his passion and his English at the press conference last week. Still, nobody wants this to be permanent and if it is not permanent, if there is not the possibility of utter annihilation, then it is meaningless.

If they want a man with manners and good English, I would suggest Sven Goran Eriksson, but having ruined him once, there may not be the fun in trying to destroy him again. Harry waits in his court, conducting negotiations through his weekly press conferences and refusing to answer questions on the England job while majestically answering every question on the England job.

Pearce has his first game as England manager on Wednesday but enough already. It's time to get it on because we don't get along. Let's get ready to rumble.

dfanning@independent.ie

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