In Friday’s business news on Radio 4’s Today programme, the head of a brewery chain was trying to explain away his poor sales figures. The wet summer hadn’t helped, he said, and as for England’s performance at the Euros that had been a crippler. “Abject,” he called it.
For a change, I wanted to defend the Three Lions. Maybe this fellow’s beer was at least partly to blame from the drop in profits. Perhaps it wasn’t keeping pace with the latest trends in craft brewing. Maybe it was the fault of the pubs – themed wind-tunnels, good places for a fight, bars which deserved to die. But for sure in football you shouldn’t worship false gods.
Or false 9 gods. Isn’t false 9 what Wayne Rooney is supposed to be these days? Or a playmaker or a deep-lying midfielder or a presenter on The One Show or the next leader of Ukip or a good bet for Christmas No 1? It’s so hard keeping up with him.
Except it’s not – not on a football field.
Same with Steven Gerrard, same with Joey Barton. Guys with big reputations who induce a collective awed hush and yet the reality rarely justifies the hype.
One of these men has played in Scotland. (What was it now, seven and a half minutes?). Another was last week being heavily courted by Scotland, eyelashes fluttering like mad. The third as yet has no plans to come but don’t rule it out.
A season here at the Old Firm remains a late-career option favoured by some, despite loads more loot being available in China, the Middle East and the United States. I suppose we should take that as a compliment.
Why do they come? Presumably they buy the story about Celtic vs Rangers being the greatest contest since T Rex squared up to triceratops. Next to Old Firm games, matches in the money-drenched eventide leagues must seem quite plastic.
But it’s not Celtic vs Rangers every week. Sometimes there will be a requirement to play Motherwell, to venture into the last great wilderness.
Don’t these guys know this? Don’t they have advisers on 15 per cent? It’s as if they’re still making Terry Butcher’s mistake of breathing in the fumes of this rivalry – in his case at a supporters’ club function – feeling the fierce love, wallowing in it, and in his case, singing songs he shouldn’t have. Why did Barton come? He was on a good thing at Burnley, just promoted back to England’s top flight, but maybe he was worried he couldn’t cut it in that division – he hadn’t previously – and perhaps the super-rich leagues didn’t ask him.
So ego took over. He was going to come up to Scotland and be a big shot. Show us who was boss; show us how to play the game. What a misguided fool. And what a disaster his brief flirtation with Rangers was.
He thought he was bigger than the Old Firm fixture, that he could handle whatever the tussle threw at him, and I suppose we should take it as a compliment that he couldn’t. Now Govan looks like it was a stop on his book tour, nothing more.
“Come and win your first title, Stevie G!” was the offer extended to Gerrard last week by Celtic. One of the five members of England’s so-called golden generation who signed a deal to write a book about England at the 2006 World Cup before they’d bombed out in the usual way, he reached great heights with Liverpool but classic games at national level were more elusive.
Why can’t Gerrard play with his fellow midfielder and author Frank Lampard? This became a quest for the English on a par with finding the cure for a horrible disease. But when Lamps retired, leaving Stevie G to soldier on alone that was forgotten. He was heading for 100 caps and England loves a coronation. Look at the one accorded the David Beckham – virtually static by the end, as if admiring himself in the mirror, but no matter – when he became a centurion.
On the same day the 36-year-old Gerrard was getting the big Celtic come-on there was a detailed story about his stay at LA Galaxy. “More a tourist than a player,” went the headline. The north American jaunt “only underlined his decline”. He “never fully committed” to the MLS, jetting back for a regular TV gig, and confirmed the league as “no more than a retirement home for ageing European stars”. He became a “figure of derision” and “will surely one day regret the move”.
Gerrard looks like he’s headed elsewhere now but what could Celtic have hoped to gain from giving him one final payday? The sale of a few shirts? And would that have been worth the Scots Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and Liam Henderson being pushed back down the pecking order to accommodate his midfield strollabouts?
Have Celtic learned nothing from getting involved with Roy Keane and Ian Wright, who only wanted a brief, trouble-free stint at a famous club as a stamp on the football passport? Aren’t they better than that and aren’t Rangers better than Joey Barton who prides himself on being a rounded fellow but was clearly ignorant of the way the ball rolls here? Andy Halliday and Jason Holt may not be superstars but they made sizeable contributions to Rangers’ return to the Premiership and they’re more the kind of players Scottish crowds like – honest.
Rooney as I say has no plans to come to Scotland but he’s getting to that dangerous age and dangerous stage of a fast-unravelling career. Another poor tournament for England in the summer has been followed by a difficult time under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and now has come a night of letting his hair (or his weave) down, which some say should spell the end of his England captaincy.
It seems from here that the English are looking for an excuse to dump Rooney and that this affair might just provide it. His effectiveness has been an issue for a while but there’s a reluctance to pull the trigger on guys like him because, without any success in tournaments, hirpling, hundred-cap heroes at least represent something.
England hold on to them too long; we don’t have to.