Something For The Weekend (369)
Having convinced a jury that he would never dream of evading his taxes, using the, 'too dumb to diddle' defence, as perfected so famously by Ken Dodd, Harry Redknapp walked free from court this week, only to be re-arrested and charged with being the only English football manager doing a decent job, and he looks likely to be sentenced to a number of years of chokey as England manager, where he'll no doubt endure far more serious punishment and damage to his reputation, than being found guilty of dodging his taxes, would have achieved.
I feel sorry for him because as a man of sixty-four, he is unlikely to have the time needed to recover from the personal abuse, character assassination and cruel ridicule, which have become an inevitable part of the job. The people who are now lauding his qualities, are the same people who will be inevitably wielding the knife at some time in the future, when the nation needs yet another scapegoat for the technical shortcomings and ill-discipline of England footballers.
Really, an England manager needs to be a maximum of fifty-five years old when he takes the job, because it takes at least five to six years for the press to make the slow transition from trying to destroy the chap, to finally admitting that he is a football sage. This journey is a slow process and involves the same level of hypocrisy, daily demonstrated at the Leveson enquiry. Many ex-managers never fully recover their reputation (Taylor, Keegan and Hoddle et al).
The trouble is that in a week when he successfully convinced a jury how dumb he is, can't write, or nuffin, demonstrating the good sense to tell the FA to stuff the job, might undermine his case and invite a demand for a retrial. Although, he might have done that already, when he claimed to all and sundry that he had never thought about the England job. Of course not, Harry, it never crossed your mind.
But Harry was not the only one being economical with the truth this week, and witnessing the FA's press-conference was as nauseating as the dodgy catering at their stadium. The FA, as ever, looked like the usual suspects, dragged in by the cops, to ascertain who exactly it was, who ate all the pies. When David Bernstein (accountant) claimed that they went into the meeting with Fabio Capello, with an 'open mind', this jury at least, was not convinced. And all that jingoistic crap about Stuart Pearce serving his country, was a transparent a piece of manipulation as you are ever likely to hear.
What kind of dumb schmucks do they think we are?
It just seemed that the same bunch of FA clones, who had delayed the building of the National Football Centre by ten years because they had massively over-spent on their New Wembley project (and remember these are accountants), had made another destructive intervention into the running of the England team, which has not changed since Mike Bassett was manager.
Even so, despite the double-talk, evasion and manipulation, it was hard to believe that Capello wasn't eager to leave, because, as ever, the gentlemen in blazers do tend to make themselves clear. And, let's face it, the fact that the base chosen for England in this summer's European Championship is so far away, every game will require the sort of lengthy journey not seen since Operation Barbarossa; and in planes which are not known for their safety; it hardly promises any kind of happy outcome.
The FA do have a problem though. By their own rules, they, like league clubs, cannot approach any manager who is currently employed by a club, while the season is in progress; and any attempted tapping-up through the media would be equally against their own rules of conduct.
Surely it would be a serious breach of the ethical standards, they insist others comply with, if they approached Tottenham, even through a third-party, on the matter of releasing their manager?
Even so, I expect Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel, to put themselves above such ethical considerations.
Those Villa fans planning to protest, might actually bear this in mind on Sunday. They cannot be denied their right to do so but at this stage of the season, when no manager currently employed can be approached, and no reinforcements to the squad can arrive, it is hard to see what it can possibly achieve, except as a token gesture to demonstrate how they care.
But at least their timing is not bad.
Villa cannot really expect to beat Man City and so therefore any negative influences that such dissent will have on the result would seem to be minimal. Whether Villa's hopeless home form this season can be put down to the negative atmosphere of playing in front of thirty-thousand miserable Brummies, is another matter. But I suspect it is more likely to be purely down to Villa's preference for counter-attacking, than the funereal atmosphere which pervades Villa Park these days.
There's a lot to be said for the joys and satisfactions of protest but making a cogent and convincing case is another matter entirely. For instance, it is difficult to make the case that Alex McLeish is doing a bad job, if we don't actually know what that job is supposed to be.
Bringing joy and sporting delight into the lives of Villa fans seems not to be the top priority. But if facilitating a root and branch reform of the club's finances was his remit, then it is hard to dispute that he's been doing a very decent job.
And I am sure Villa's owner is cognisant of that fact.
There are many fans who keep saying that Villa are under-achieving with the present squad but a quick look at the personnel and it quickly becomes clear that resources are meagre to say the least. This lack of cover by seasoned professionals (three of the squad do not even warrant Wiki entries) offers a tremendous challenge to McLeish's man-management skills, as he's entirely dependent upon their co-operation. He cannot realistically pressurise his first-team players by threatening to promote a reserve, if the player in question knows that the youngster is not a real threat to his position. Spending money on reserves who never play may seem like a waste but they certainly keep minds focused. A small squad is onerous for players too, as they are pressured to play when they are not quite fit. All this has to be managed.
When presented with the same job but under better conditions than McLeish, Gerard Houllier upset a lot of the players and did a lot worse with a great deal more. So on this basis, I think it can be said that McLeish is doing a good job.
In his letter to season-ticket holders, he revealed, even if rather cryptically, that he believed that the present Villa squad is not capable of playing the sort of football the fans would like. He told the fans that he was actually an attack-minded manager who was forced to cut his coat according to the cloth.
For me personally, it was quite a shock when I last examined the state of Villa's squad and it was a real Mother Hubbard moment, to find that the cupboard was bare. I really don't believe that there is any manager capable of achieving real success with such resources and in the atmosphere of retrenchment which now surrounds the club.
Faced with that reality, it would seem to take a wilful act of denial and churlishness to blame McLeish entirely for the present circumstances Villa find themselves in. I can't believe that with the players now available, that any manager is likely to do much better, just as I don't believe that swapping Redknapp for Capello will mean England are potential World Cup winners, any time soon.
I may not like that conclusion but it doesn't make it any the less true.
Keep the faith!