When I was a lad, parents would buy their kids pet hamsters in order to introduce them to the crushing reality of bereavement. Nowadays, parents whip up excitement around England’s football tournament campaigns to the same end.
Yes, it’s that time again when for a few weeks we can deceive ourselves that incompetence and cluelessness might win the day and deliver untold glory.
And then we follow that with the altogether less credible proposition of abject bewilderment that our flagrant dimwittery had never outfoxed our skilful opponents after all.
We can blame Gallic flair or German organisation, or any other such confounding national traits.
In recent years, it seems we’ve all forgotten that our national game is now spearheaded by the bloke who once relegated Middlesbrough, and who had earlier sucked up a pile of cash for a Pizza Hut commercial that had made light of his own Euros penalty miss.
Glad he found that funny because about 45 million people didn’t.
Of course, he probably does know more about the technicalities of football than I ever will. However, he knows only a fraction of what his counterparts in the footballing world do, and that’s the problem. It’s no use cultivating a stellar reputation for ‘intelligence’ when on the big stage you’re relatively clueless at man-management and tactics.
And that’s where it’s at.
The English public may well have been intoxicated by the feats of the last World Cup, but was it really a team that had pushed the boundaries in reaching the semi-final?
In the cold light of day, it somewhat smacked of a loose group of elite pros who had blown their golden chance in a half of the draw that had collapsed like a clown’s car.
The current Southgate bandwagon is just an extension of the malaise that coveted Sam Allardyce, the king of the (middle-of-the-)road. Unfortunately, he would have delivered the same results at Real, Barcelona, or Bayern.
Tyre-kicking, big-contract guzzlers. English football has been plagued by them for last 30 years.
Southers is of course in a comfortably snug position, and by definition a smug one. England will inevitability crash and burn, but the football media is run by his old pals, who will not mete out the same stick to ‘Gareth’ as they always did to ‘Capello’ and ‘Hodgson’.
There can also be no convenient moniker for the inevitable postmortem unless they opt for Southgategate, and there’s always the old standby of the ‘young team in transition’ discourse that gently assists the disgruntled fan away from debilitating disappointment onto hopeful optimism.
There’s always next time.
Titillatingly, Southgate’s approach to his squads appears to be mirroring the way policy change is bumbled by our shambolic Tory Government.
Leak your plan to a trusted lickspittle in the press to gauge the reaction of the footballing public. In the event of any criticism, ditch the plan altogether. Then via peak gaslighting, feign a huffy ignorance of the whole thing and daintily suggest that we had rustled it all up from our fertile imaginations.
Just ask Trent Alexander-Arnold, who incidentally after being coached by Jurgen Klopp is probably at risk of a hernia popping while stifling his laughter at England meet-ups.
Well at least, this is a cock-up where nobody is going to die.
That fate is reserved for our hopes and dreams of footballing glory.