Begging the question? There is much debate at the moment over whether or not the 2022 World Cup should be held in Qatar in the winter. On the radio, one heard a superannuated blowhard declare that Qatar had gained the World Cup “fair and square,” which made you wonder what planet he inhabited.
Those of us who deplore the possibility that the tournament, which could not possibly be played in the 50 degree heat of the Qatari summer, have even been derided as absurd. Yet the question surely remains, and demands surely to be investigated, how did Qatar ever acquire the tournament at all?
Yes, on the basis of his honourable record in the game we certainly have to absolve Michel Platini, however hopelessly misguided, however disastrous a head of UEFA, of any suspicion. But the others? Those various members of the FIFA committee who sanctioned the choice of Qatar, most of whom seem to have melted discreetly away?
Until a thorough and proper investigation into just how the World Cup was given to Qatar is mounted and carried out, the deepest doubts must remain. In the circumstances, whether the tournament should be played in summer or in winter becomes almost secondary. More power to Richard Scudamore’s elbow.
What has happened to England’s centre-backs? The problem was somewhat embarrassingly re-emphasised when Manchester United met Chelsea in that dull anticlimax of an early fixture. By general consent, John Terry had an outstanding match, arguably the best player on the field, while Rio Ferdinand for United was not far behind him. Yet both these players have renounced their England careers, which surely could have stretched well into the future.
The John Terry case has been a complicated one. Once he had been acquitted, however controversially, by the Westminster magistrates’ court of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand that should logically if not quite legally have been the end of it. I am not trying to exonerate him; merely going by the legal book. He had already been controversially treated by David Bernstein of the FA, who had deprived him of the England captaincy before his case had even come to court. And the FA were able to put him on trial, as we know, only because they had recently changed their rule whereby a court’s decision had to be accepted. Terry off the field is hardly a role model, but it is easy to see why he should withdraw, so prematurely from international football.
As for Rio Ferdinand, there was some surprise when, having said no, yes and no to a recall to an England team which surely needed him, he ultimately refused to go to Brazil, or to play for his country again, but went off on a long journey to the Middle East to act as a commentator. Neither player was remotely as controversial as Neil Franklin, long ago. An elegant footballing (as the notion had it) centre-half for Stoke City and England, Franklin on the even of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil told the FA he wouldn’t be available as his wife was having baby. In the event, it was a mere cover up to enable him and the Stoke outstanding outside right George Mountford to fly off to Bogota, Colombia, to join the local Santa Fe club (unencumbered by FIFA membership) at what was then a handsome £50 a week. It didn’t pan out, it weakened England and it ruined Franklin’s career.
Yet what has happened to England’s centre-backs, as we must now call them? When in the 1970s there seemed to be a dearth of them, I remember Brian Labone, a commanding Everton and England centre-back, telling me he thought the trouble was that teams played with two rather than one centre back with resulting confusion.
Perhaps yet all too recent was the embarrassment of Gary Cahill’s ineptitude in letting Kenny Miller spin him and score for Scotland against England at Wembley. And Joleon Lescott is in the Manchester City first team thanks to injuries and absences rather than by right.
The young Spurs and now Cardiff City centre back Caulker looked a great deal better than Lescott in his team’s recent defeat of City. He has said he wanted to move because it would improve his international chances; he had already looked competent playing against foreign opposition for the Great Britain team in the Olympics. Though there are those who opine that were he a true potential England player he would hardly have been discarded by Tottenham. We shall see.
England after all invented the third back stopper centre-half after the change in the offside law in 1925; Herbert Chapman, manager and Charlie Buchan, captain deploying a reluctant Jack Butler as such after a 7-0 defeat at Newcastle at the start of that season in which the late Charlie Spencer, once a Newcastle and England centre-half, assured me that he himself had been playing as a third back in that very game. Arsenal’s first famous skipper, Herbie Roberts, had one disastrous game for England in Glasgow where the defenders around him stuck to the old routine and left him isolated. “Scotland’s forwards picknicked happily in the open spaces,” wrote L V Manning in the Daily Sketch.