No sooner had Lionel Messi hoisted the World Cup aloft, Gareth Southgate had indirectly confirmed that it would be another four years before England had the faintest hope of collecting a major gong.
It all rather summed up where not just football is but where we all are in general.
Messi, arguably the greatest player of his era, had a good tournament in flashes but in terms of consistent performances hardly a great one. In the final itself, he had his pocket picked on more than one occasion, with one of those leading directly to a goal.
Of course, he received the Golden Ball, but that’s how FIFA rolls.
However, in the new world, achieving greatness at any point equates to the achievement of iconic status, which the hangers-on will milk for eternity in the hope that some transferable grains of stardust will stick. It’s not the performances that now make Messi great but the hype of those who gag for the survival of the Messi legend, so they can still be part of the story.
Similarly, ‘great’ or indeed anything on the spectrum of ‘good’ is defined in comparison with what was previously awful. Gareth – it’s never ‘Southgate’ to the client journalist panels comprising sycophantic former England journeymen – is lauded for his tournament achievements as the most successful since 1966.
And that’s not a position entirely without merit. Results are results, and you can only ever beat what’s in front of you. No problem with congratulations being offered for improvement, but let’s not dress that up as excellence.
Our steaming, brown problem is that our conclusions about In-ger-lund rarely flow from any qualitative assessment of intrinsic merit. If it’s good, it’s because it’s better than some of the shite we’ve previously endured.
More objective scrutiny would see that the most talented crop of players in several generations came up well short off the back of three largely collapsed draws. Some magnificent games, yes. Stellar accomplishment and a paradigm shift, well no.
Eighteen months ago, I ate some humble pie as we appeared to be on the cusp of the next level. Alas, we’ve now put the pedal to the metal on the reverse gas. The progress went so far, but it must be recognised that Euro 2020 was the peak for the current set-up.
That backwards step has to get you wondering whether any old manager might have achieved the same result I’m Qatar and the previous tournaments? It does rather seem that we are always going to get dicked when facing even a half-decent team, and you might argue that 2018 Croatia, 2021 Italy, and the 2022 quarter-final version of France didn’t even rise to those lofty heights.
It’s not unique to football. Motorists will flock to the pumps to fill up with £1.49-per-litre unleaded, forgetting the days when they would wince at £1.14. It’s because we’ve become accustomed to £1.95 per litre and have long forgotten that 70p per litre was just about acceptable. In the same vein, we’ve lost our handle on what a proper football team looks like, and we’re willing to accept any old crap delivered by a manager who couldn’t stop Middlesbrough getting relegated.
We’re even willing to think that Keir Starmer might have what it takes after a period of May, Johnson, Truss, and Sunak. Who would have thought we would ever have lamented the ousting of John Major and Gordon Brown?
Would the last person to leave please turn out the lights? Unless, of course, a power cut does it for us.