England are that desperate – maybe comedy is the answer to their woes
New manager Sam Allardyce wants to put the fun back into football – some would say it’s worth a try after the horror show at Euro 2016
When laying the foundations of Western philosophy, Plato and Aristotle contemplated the meaning of comedy, as did Charles Darwin, who studied the joyful cries of tickled chimpanzees. The underlying motivations behind jokes in the recesses of our unconscious were the focus of Sigmund Freud.
Add to this illustrious list of heavyweight thinkers who set much store in humour the new England manager, Sam Allardyce.
Big Sam is laying down his footballing philosophy – the grinding long ball and penalty box bus parking, the anti-possession and substance very much over style – with laughter very much in mind.
He has appointed a couple of popular comedians – Paddy McGuinness and Bradley Walsh – into his first training camp in a bid to put the “fun” back into English football ahead of the Three Lions’ World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in Trnava on Sunday.
Allardyce insisted he wanted his players to enjoy the experience of international duty following the disaster of Euro 2016. It is hoped the human tickling sticks will help ease the tension ahead of the team’s first public showing since the delivery of the worst joke in football history three months ago.
Among a host of fun activities for his players to enjoy in between training sessions is a quiz night hosted by the comedians. “We want to have a bit of fun, I haven’t come here to be miserable,” he said. Indeed. The misery that goes with the England job usually comes later, during the knockout stages of major tournaments.
You can’t blame Allardyce for seeking a couple of years of chortling before the laughing stock flies out to Russia in 2018. And maybe comedy is the answer. Why not.
We’re that desperate it’s worth a try.
We had to laugh to stop ourselves from crying because the horror show under Roy Hodgson was so excruciatingly pathetic. Never mind one-liners. Iceland has become only the second funniest one-word gag in comic history after England, the mention of which has the world guffawing.
If Allardyce’s entertainment tactic is made of mild mirth, his maiden squad selection has many tittering nervously. Wayne Rooney is to be switched back to an attacking role against Slovakia after his less than impressive stint in central midfield under Hodgson.
Rooney has been a loyal servant to England but not since the retirement of David Beckham has there been an England player who divides opinion so spectacularly.
Many believe the Manchester United legend is past his best, yet in the eyes of the FA he remains untouchable. Rather than allow the veteran to cause selection headaches, Allardyce should show he is an alternative to the managers of old and will bleed in youngsters now.
In-form Ross Barkley, for example, did not even make the squad, while Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy are in a straight fight for the manger’s preferred solo striker.
Allardyce is almost certain to start Raheem Sterling, who was for many the main joker in Hodgson’s lousy pack in June. Let’s hope Sterling for once gives an England performance worthy of his name.
The England boss is also considering playing West Ham new boy Michail Antonio down the right flank. An uncapped hitherto unknown is a bold move, but also a risk should Antonio suffer stage fright and have his confidence knocked for six with negative headlines on Monday.
No other English player has looked as sharp and dangerous as Manchester United’s young sensation, Marcus Rashford – one of the better players in France. Yet he has been sent back to play for the U-21s.
Far from revolutionary, such odd selections fuel Allardyce’s detractors’ claim that rather than kick on to a new era, he will preserve much of the status quo and offer the same stale material.
Of course, Allardyce is not wholly to blame for the lack of creativity. The dearth of English talent has long been a problem and clearly is not going to end any time soon with the transfer window seeing a record £1.1 billion (HK$11.32 billion) spend on mostly foreign players, and only £50 million earmarked for grass-roots development.
As chortle merchants know, irony is the bedrock of British comedy, hailing from the Greek comic character Eiron. But it was lost on Allardyce. He revealed there was now an FA department whose job is scouring foreign markets, much as English clubs do, for talent whom by parental heritage can be passed off as Englishmen.
Indeed, one of his first moves as the England boss was to make an attempt to recruit Steven N’zonzi, born just outside Paris, but without a cap for France beyond the Under-21 team. Fifa, thankfully, put a stop to the ringer move.
How can the FA, or the England manager, whine about the absence of opportunity for English footballers if they too are considering imports?
Sunday’s World Cup curtain-raiser is a massive test for Allardyce. He must prove he is no fool, can prevent tumbleweeds rolling across the turf and instead give the audience cause to bring the roof down.