England's departure from the World Cup at the quarter final stage is an expected agony. Our nemesis (again) is Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has outwitted us in the last two major tournaments, first as coach of Brazil four years ago, then as Portugal's head honcho in the European Finals of 2004.

wordle image for Deja Vu All Over Again'We don't do penalties' has become part of the national caricature as surely as our obsessions with the weather and drinking tea when the world is collapsing around us.

Why not? Because that would make us professional winners in a country that still choosing heroic losing as a key ingredient in its national dish, Humble Pie.

A zillion column metres will anguish over this in the next few weeks, and frankly even as a battle-hardened England fan, I don't think I can bear to read it. Because in the end, once very twist and turn of our ill-fated 'campaign' (we still resort to military language in times of great hardship) has been analyzed to death, what will emerge is our pressing need to attribute blame. Not to our players, despite their uniformly under-par performances, nor to our fans who were mostly well-behaved this time round, but to the time-honoured target - Johnny Foreigner. Who, in this case, is a mild mannered Swede.

'Now let's enjoy having an English manager,' the cry will go up. 'Our players can't cope with this fancy continental style of play with all its complicated passing, keeping possession, and above all, the ability to put a ball past a keeper at point blank range.'

No, we need a real Englishman, a genuine rosbif, to be shouting and gesturing at his players from the touchline. In other words, we need to lose - but to lose like Englishmen.

What is conveniently forgotten is that Scolari was offered the England job, but was scared off in 24 hours by the vitriol of our jingoistic red-top press. They were quick to scorn him for being that most un-English of men, a winner.

The irony is that he knows more about harnessing the true power of the amateur than our own Mike Bassetts (if you haven't already, do get out the DVD of Mike Bassett - England Manager and you'll see the scale of the problem.)

One of his past Brazilian protegés, Goiano, remarked that 'Big Phil' (he even has an English-type nickname for God's sake) was fond of joking during training that as footballers we had to be professionals, but our souls had to be amateurs. This is in the true sense of amateur that I describe in Re-think - coming from the Latin root Amo, to love. To truly love what you are doing!

The real soul searching that should take place over the remaining summer months is why we can't be both professional and amateur in the highest sense of the word. And not just in football, but in business, politics, and indeed every area of our national life.

Perhaps we prefer the excuse of having a national 'wooden leg' - "If only I didn't have this wooden leg, I'd..." - the leg being in football a broken fourth metatarsal, dodgy refereeing decisions, cunning foreign tactics, the inability of linesmen to fully comprehend the offside rule, the heat, and so on. It's comforting and fills us with the melancholy joy of feeling wronged by the world we gave the beautiful game to. 'Please can we have our ball back?' is the child's request we continually make to the world.

Now at least we can enjoy the summer.

Originally published: Fri 14 Jul 2006


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