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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Tuesday June 22 2010

No, nothing to do with this man.

I had a phone chat with my friend Antoine Clarke this afternoon, mostly about the football.  He seemed relaxed about France’s then likely exit from the World Cup, now confirmed by them losing to South Africa.  He was more upbeat about England.  Apparently the teams in the England group are better than many have assumed, with less of a gap between the rankings of the best and worst teams in the group than the same gap in any other group.  So England drawing twice is not as big a scandal as our media are saying it is.  See this by Antoine.

Plus, Antoine told me something else I didn’t know, which is that other teams have for a few months now been practicing with the World Cup balls that have been causing such angst to the England team, and that the reason England haven’t been is because of some idiot scenario involving the balls having been sent to the British Football Association months ago, but the FA having - get this - lost them.  Antoine speaks and reads French, and thus is able to read L’Equipe where this story has apparently been told, unlike here.  If this has been said here, I entirely missed it.  The way the few TV commentators I have heard talking about this have talked about this, you’d think that these peculiar balls had been sprung on everyone completely out of the blue, only when the tournament began.  Not so.  Everyone was warned, and sent spherical samples of the problem months in advance.  It was just that England did nothing about it.

I would hate to have been in the same room when Sir Clive Woodward, mastermind of England’s not-now-so-very-recent Rugby World Cup victory in Australia, heard about this balls balls-up.  Hell, I wouldn’t want to have been in the same post code.  Woodward, master of every detail, wanted, after his rugby triumph, to get into soccer management, soccer having been his first love as a boy.  But, they froze him out.  What could he teach them?  Preparation for a start.

I am amazed by this failure to practice with these different balls.  Other teams did.  Having watched Algeria play against England, I’d bet that Algeria did.  The England people must have heard on the grapevine that these balls were a bit different.  Yet, they allowed them to come as a surprise to their players.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s only a game.  It really doesn’t matter at all, big picture wise, who wins these things, and I believe that better preparation would only have changed England’s disappointment from single and sudden to a bit more up-and-down.  After all, England may now very well still progress into the later stages.  All they have to do is beat Slovenia tomorrow.  But I don’t think England are remotely likely to win the tournament, now that Beckham (the best England player of the last generation in my opinion) is gone, despite all the hype following England’s untroubled qualification against a great mob of lesser sides.  I’m just, as the Americans say, saying.  I’m saying I’m amazed at this elementary balls blunder, and I am.

Great point. Surely the mark of a great footballer is ability to play with different types of ball, playing surface, etc. For instance, tennis players have to play on grass, clay, concrete, artificial stuff, and so on. In cricket, there are slight variations in the type and manufacture of the balls (correct me if I am wrong about this).

Of course, the nature of footballs has changed. They used to be made from heavy leather and soaked up water and weighed like a rock. To kick an old football was painful; heading the ball even more so. It gives me new respect for the players of the first half of the 20th Century and the immediate period after.

It makes me wonder how much carnage George Best would have caused with modern footballs, protective referees and smooth pitches. He’d put Messi in the shade.

Posted by Tom B on 24 June 2010

Tom

Yes, but you sound at first like you’re saying that great players don’t need to practise, which is not so.  I’m sure you don’t mean this.

When great tennis players switch from grass to clay, they make sure they get some relevant practise in beforehand.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 24 June 2010

By the way I seem to have completely lost all knowledge of when it’s practice and when it’s practise.  Can anyone help me out?  Is there a Brit way and an American way for this?

This is one of the bad things about getting old.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 24 June 2010

The practice. To practise. Noun. Verb. British English. American uses practice for both, I believe.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 24 June 2010

Altitude may also be a factor: playing with a plastic beachball in Johannesburg is not likely to be something a sea level European soccer player has done before. But the South Americans have… Bolivia would be storming in this world cup.

One explanation for the failings of some African teams: not enough money to get all the players acclimatised, let alone try out the new ball. I believe it was Ghana that played their first match with no practice at altitude (having arrived a couple of days before the game) and the players complained they were knackered.

I bet Japan and South Korea (the former used the new ball in their league) got a decent amount of altitude training. Perhaps New Zealand too?

Roy Hodgson was saying that one type of pass that didn’t seem to work in the early games was the pass into space near the corners: always overhit. Altitude and a silly switch to light plastic would do this.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 25 June 2010
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