As I write, it seems not so much a question of who will play in France for England as to whether anyone will play in France at all.
France has for days been in chaos; the worst strikes reportedly for many years, which makes it very bad indeed. Confrontational unions have seen to it that there is no petrol in the pumps, so woe betide any British fans who propose to be motoring there, air traffic controllers are planning to add to the chaos.
A limp President has already given way to a mitigating extent so that even were he, as he is planning, to bulldoze his new legislation through, it would hardly be sufficient to halt the steady decline in the economy of the 35 hour week.
A situation which well suits thousands of employed workers who virtually cannot be dismissed but seriously afflicts the young who thus cannot get jobs. At the moment the rate of employment is reportedly at 10%. Plus of course the persisting fears of terrorist attacks, of which in Paris there have in recent times been all too many and appalling. Armies of riot police have been deployed, but as one French minister has said, not every contingency can be covered.
Intransigent unions, weak governments have been the norm in France for all too many years and with this in mind, perhaps it was a mistake to allot the Finals to them in the first place.
Yet looking back to 1998 and the World Cup finals which France staged, and which I exhaustingly covered – endless, endless journeys across that beautiful country – one can only lament the decline which has led to the recent crisis. Governments plainly gave the unions too much; the unions are hell bent on fomenting chaos. No, I’m glad I’m not going to this one; assuming it even takes place.
Assuming the tournament does get played, what price England’s chances? Not very bright, I feel, and their third friendly encounter in recent weeks against Portugal at Wembley will be marginalised by the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo who, criticised for such a modest display in the European Cup Final against Atletico Madrid – followed by a long, self-promoting diatribe – was surely caused by the fact that he was not fully fit.
There had indeed been doubts about his condition before the game, and perhaps a sensible compromise, if he were to be used at all, would have been to give him half a game. That he scored the decisive penalty – that aberration of modern football – was in essence as irrelevant as that abysmal practice itself.
Of England, I confess I’m not greatly optimistic. The meagre victories against Turkey and Australia were unimpressive. Though John Stones at last improved in the second game, he still doesn’t fill me with confidence after such an erratic season. Hard to decide why there is such a dearth of stoppers in English football, but there it is, and you can hardly expect Roy Hodgson to become a Frankenstein, inventing them in his laboratory.
Meanwhile Sturridge, however gifted, constitutes a serious risk with his physical fragility. Why Raheem Sterling was suddenly plucked out of the Manchester City substitute bench baffled me completely, not least when on the right flank you have a player of such ebullient present form as Andras Townsend. England surely needs at least one truly fast, effective winger.
Jack Wilshere remains, alas, just about the only English player capable of passing the ball, but as he showed at the end of last season with those two fine goals in Slovenia, he needs to be deployed in central midfield, rather than as a kind of subsidiary sweeper.
But the future holds hope, as we have just seen in the triumph after so many years of the young England team in the Toulon tournament. Which reminds me of that time years ago when England also competed, but the tournament was won by a splendid second string French team, inspired by the brilliant inside forward David Ginola. Then a local Toulon player, since his native Nice had foolishly shown him the door and let him slip along the coast to Toulon. May he recover soon and totally from his recent heart operation.