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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Absolutely Brooking It

A man stands in a field, alone save for the deserted country road behind him and the rolling hills ahead. A dignified man, he looks around to see he is alone. He unzips his flies. He starts to piss. The gentle breeze, which before had rustled the leaves on the trees and had the corn swaying lightly on its stalks, picks up. Much to his chagrin, the wind flares still further and he gets a bit of piss on his trouser legs.

The harder he pisses though, the more the wind whips around him and the wetter his trousers become. Exhausted, he zips himself up. He's covered in piss. Trevor Brooking sighs and makes his way back to his car.

For the last couple of years, it’s not been easy being the FA’s Director of Football Development. Especially, one imagines, when you think someone’s actually listened to you and you’re FINALLY getting some support in the shape of a ‘Head of Elite Development’, and it turns out to be Gareth Southgate. These are windy times around the Football Association and Brooking must be wondering if he will ever be able to relieve himself in peace ever again.

The latest thing making the windows rattle at Soho Square is the inclusion of Jack Wilshere in the England Under-21 squad for the European Championships this summer. And predictably enough it’s Arsene Wenger’s toys hurtling around the place as he worries that Wilshere will be ‘overplayed’ at a relatively early stage in his career. You’d think he’d be glad of yet another ready-made excuse for next season, but apparently not.

Concern for Wilshere may be well founded, but it’s not so much about his fitness and stamina – surely playing a tournament for a fortnight is better than getting arrested in a club on your summer holidays – but about burdening him with expectation. Having a ‘next big thing’ is not an exclusively English preoccupation, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone whinging that James Milner was going to the tournament two years ago, despite being on the fringes of the senior squad. Expectations of Wilshere are already sky-high and everyone seems to be worrying that he won’t be fit enough to ‘lead England to glory’ (here we go again) in Euro 2012.

Brooking, as you might expect, has spotted this particularly early. “You are looking for some fresh blood to come through (after the World Cup)”, he says, in the biggest understatement since someone mentioned to Magic Spongers that we didn’t appear very fond of onions. "Over the season one or two have come in. Ashley Young has forced his way into the senior side, Jack is another. It is a case of trying to balance things through the system so you don't fast track them too quickly.

"Then everyone expects them to be the be all and end all and change the way our team is performing”. YES. SPOT ON TREVOR. KEEP PISSING SON.

The fact is, surely, that any experience of playing at a major tournament is unrivalled. It will stand Wilshere in good stead for big game pressure in general and means the FA and England set up, if it EVER gets round to stabilising some sort of functional link between all its age groups, will find out more about all their young players in a tournament environment. And surely this is particularly pertinent as the seniors look to build a side that doesn’t just cruise through qualifying against mediocre opposition and then go to pieces in the knockouts against teams more adept, and crucially more experienced, in tournament football (*cough* Germany).

Wilshere travelling to Denmark will also go some way to reducing this ridiculous thrall in which the FA holds the Premier League and the wishes of its clubs. The Arsenal man is importantly someone who still actually enjoys his football and has said he will ‘never say no’ to England. Well good on him. The fewer friendly-dodging, injury-feigning, can’t-be-arsed, armband-grabbing, look-at-my-face arseholes in the side the better.

He has been selected to represent his country. So he should represent his country. Tough tits, Wenger. Maybe you should think about the whys and wherefore of having your players report back early in July for a planned tour to China and Malaysia before you start moaning about fitness and burn-out.

As usual, the Premier League is warping all sense of reality and placing chaos among the order, or at least what’s left of it. The German team that thrashed England in 2009’s U21 Euro final contained Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, who went from there into stellar domestic seasons before starring at the World Cup in 2010, and then again for Real Madrid for an entire season. For them, the tournament wasn’t so much burn-out as lift-off.

Let’s leave the final words to Sir Trevor: “Abroad, they just enforce it and the players go and no-one bleats about it. We are trying to understand the sensitivities. I just think the international experience will be crucial”, he concluded; though he would no doubt love to have added, “I mean, come on. When Horst Hrubesch pisses, his slacks remain stain free. Likewise Luis Milla. No wind. Clean slacks. YOU IDIOTS.”

We should really listen to Brooking. Just listen to what he says. If he isn’t beatified by 2020, we’re kicking fuck.


  1. Howdy, spongers.

    I'm a Gooner so I'm probably heading for some stick, but I just wanted to check a couple of things. You're saying that you get called up, you should go, end of story. Jack Wilshere seems to agree. What I'm not clear about is whether any player can reach a certain level in his senior team, either international or club, whereby Stuart Pearce is no longer justified in wasting his time. You may recall that down here a few years back we were making exactly the same type of whining noises over our frappucinos when Theo was called up for the U21s when already established in the senior team. He was still eligible for most of the qualifying matches last year, but no-one considered calling him up, in the same way that no-one dared irk Lord Ferg (as he was not then-known) by calling up WazzaRoon08 (as he was not then-known) for the various U21 matches and even a tournament that he was eligible for long after stamping the senior team out of Euro 2004. Do you agree that players should be excused U21 duty after reaching a certain level? And should anyone except Brooking be allowed to know what it is?

    Mesut Ozil has certainly done very well for himself since winning the U21 final in 2009. I'm not sure Khedira is such a good example, as he has only ever tended to play 25 or so games a season throughout his career, making a valuable contribution, no doubt, but at a level of intensity that is perhaps more suited to playing through consecutive summer breaks. You don't have to look far for examples of players whose seasons have demonstrably suffered from playing in summer tournaments, and although I'd generally rather have Trevor Brooking piss in my eye than cheer on the England team, surely it's worth considering that some players, particularly those like Jack who have played through most of a season with 35 games, might not perform at their best for the international team next year if they don't get a summer break. It certainly didn't work for Theo.

    Brooking may well be spot-on about burdening young players with expectation, but that doesn't mean that Stuart Pearce can think ahead of his next grunted expletive.

    PS have you seen the new Beastie Boys video by any chance? It's pisstastic.

  2. Howdy, haircut,

    I certainly agree that once players are established in a senior side we shouldn't be expecting them to turn out for the under 21s purely because they're eligible and they fancy a game. I think Wilshere, were there to be senior competitive international fixtures overlapping with the U21 Euros, would be in this category.

    But I think it'd be beneficial for Wilshere and other young players to experience international tournament environments as much as possible. Particularly as from what I can gather, the England U21 side have a decent chance of being successful. A game every four days in Denmark, under considerably less scrutiny than a full senior tournament, shouldn't impede Wilshere's form or burn him out. It may do, admittedly, but it's a risk worth taking to have a central midfielder with as much experience of competitions like this as possible.

    Wilshere should get time to rest after the tournament (I think he's missing the England-Netherlands friendly and reporting back slightly later than his Arsenal team mates). I agree his development / recuperation should be protected and exceptions made, but rather than denying him the chance to gain competitive tournament experience, the FA could maybe look at a sensible winter break (or something) for the greater good.

  3. When I thnik of the Spain team playing in the Euro's then the confederations cup then the world cup in consecutive summers I think the summer break argument is overplayed.

    Of the England U21's who played in that tournament final most have played significantly since. It's hard to prove that a tournament, especially a two week one, causes massive burnouts.

    I agree that it just seems pandering to the premier league teams to not consider players who have played 4 times for their country. Also agree that it's great experience. There will always be exceptions like Rooney and Owen, who are established in the senior team for a while before an U21 tournament comes around but that's what they should be, exceptions.