Greg Dyke: a mistaken appointment? Top banana now at the Football Association, issuer of grandiose plans to summon others of the great and good to deliberate – however pessimistically – on the future of football.
The man who as early in his reign as this hadn’t got time not only to watch England play Scotland at Wembley but even to make the trip to Kiev for the vital World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.
He had, we were told, too many other commitments and indeed we have even been furnished with an imposing list of them. Which alas prompts the question, why did he take the job in the first place and why did the Football Association appoint him?
Would it be unfair to call him a part time chairman? But not an absentee one, oh, please.
“Apart from that Mr Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” is the old sick joke about the assassination of the famed American President. It swam into my mind when Gary Lineker, having declared England’s performance in Kiev “awful,” seemingly backtracked by saying that all he meant was that the passing was poor.
All? When a team doesn’t pass the ball, or fails to pass it efficiently and productively, what is left?
England indeed left their surprisingly successful new centre forward Southampton’s, Ricky Lambert, who has triumphed after so many earlier disappointments and rejections, pretty well unsupported.
Even the presumed pass master of the England midfield Jack Wilshere had an unproductive game and was ultimately pulled off the pitch. I still firmly believe in Wilshere and his talents but surely some allowance should be made for the frequent rough treatment to which the Ukrainians subjected him.
What did surprise me – as some critics were surprised at the instant use made of the long ball by a defence clearly under orders from the very start – was that when Wilshere came off, the man who substituted him was not another central midfielder but an out of form winger in Ashley Young. Recently to disgrace himself by feigning a foul playing for Manchester United at Old Trafford. An offence which Graham Poll, that omniscient former referee, opines should have had him banned for five matches.
The mystery was why Hodgson should use him, a flanker, as a substitute for Wilshere rather than bring on an experienced midfielder in Michael Carrick. It made no tactical sense at all but was oddly uncriticised in the subsequent reports.
A new biography of George Best commemorates rather celebrates the 50th anniversary of his 17-year-old debut for Manchester United, by Duncan Hamilton, the accomplished author of Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, with its fascinating insights into Brian Clough in his Nottingham Forest prime, cannot quite have the supreme authenticity of that book, since its author never met Best.
Well, I, for some years, knew him fairly well. From his teenaged years, in fact, when he was charming, humorous, approachable. Yes, it all ended in tears, alcoholism and a miserably early death. But an attempt by at least one reviewer to diminish Best’s achievements was wholly uncalled for. Too easy by far to confuse quantity with quality. Trotting out the superior number of goals scored by the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is irrelevant.
Some of Best’s goals were of astonishing quality even originality. I was at Old Trafford to see him go up the right wing past half the Sheffield United team before cutting in to score. I was at Wembley to see him spin inexorably away from his United teammate Nobby Stiles to score for Northern Ireland against England.
In Lisbon, the season before in 1968 United attained the highest European peak by beating that same opponent at the Wembley Final, Best devastated their defence. In six minutes, though only 5 foot 8, he jumped to head his first goal. A glorious slalom past three opponents brought him another.
“If I’d been born ugly,” he once said, “you’d never have heard of Pele.” Perhaps if he had been born ugly rather than so endlessly attractive to sometimes predatory women – though he was no angel himself – things would have been less ultimately sad and bleak.
At United in his time there were two virtually opposing camps. The Celtics who revered him, the English, who rallied round Bobby Charlton whom one Celtic player in my hearing called “An impostor.” Best had no love for him; he once went into a pub and threw eggs at a portrait of Bobby which hung on the wall.
He had a nice dry sense of humour. Once when I found myself sitting behind him on the United bus travelling through London he turned to me and said, “They’re making Malcolm Allison the new England coach. They’re putting the seats in his mouth!”
I remember strolling along a Los Angeles beach with him when he was briefly playing out there. “They’re saying who is George Best,” he said. “Before they were saying, what is soccer?” The later years were abysmally desperate. Yet memories of his feats vividly remain with those of us lucky enough to see them.