The Fan: Why I'd rather interview Silvia Neid than Arsène Wenger

Wenger is so miserable, he's beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. The manager of the German women’s team seems like she has a lot more to say.

Look out for Roy Hodgson pulling up his trousers during the England game against the mighty men of Montenegro this coming Friday (11 October). I think I know the reason.
 
He’s not fat but at his age, 66, he has acquired a little beer belly. Not seen it –we use separate bathrooms – but I assume he has. You have to take some things on trust, such as the oft-repeated line that he speaks five languages.
 
Not heard any of them but I presume this is because in his long-legged career he has managed clubs in Sweden, Italy, Denmark and Switzerland, as well as England. Obviously, he must have picked up the local languages, as footballers do, being so awfully adaptable.
 
I base the theory about his belly on my own dear tum, which just seems to gave arrived with age and lodged itself there. While standing on the touchline, Roy’s belt slowly slips below his belly line, which of course is more comfy, but then he suddenly realises, worries that his shirt will pop out – perhaps even his belly – so he has to howk it up. This is an action that usually coincides with something frustrating happening on the pitch. Do look out for it.
 
All managers look worried, if not terrified but then we all look pretty miserable in repose, when caught unguarded, not having put on our face to the world. Without doubt, Wenger is the most miserable-looking manager of them all. Those lines, those frowns. He is beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. Remember him?
 
Auden was the first famous person I ever used a tape recorder to interview. In the Sixties, I was sent to see him at a house in St John’s Wood where he was staying with Stephen Spender. I had a sealed envelope to hand over to Auden, given to me by Leonard Russell, the literary editor of the Sunday Times (who was married to Dilys Powell, the paper’s film critic). I looked in it, of course, and inside there were 30 crisp £1 notes. Once Auden opened the envelope and stuffed it in his pocket, he lost all interest in me or the interview.
 
Meanwhile I was fussing about with the tape recorder, which I had never used before – an early Grundig, about the size of a Mini- Minor. The interview was rubbish and never appeared. I blamed it on the tape recorder and never used one again, which was silly. Oh, if only I had used one during those 18 months I spent with the Beatles, it would have been gold dust.
 
I bet interviewing miserable old Arsène would be just as unproductive as Auden, no fun at all.
 
The manager I would really like to interview is Silvia Neid, manager of the German women’s team. She is gorgeous, sorry, I mean a stunning football manager, and has won everything possible, including the World Cup. When the German women are playing, I can’t take my eyes off her, she is so cool, clipped, controlled, cempt . . . sorry, I mean kempt – getting lost with all these Cs. She has this sideways look, the slightest hint of a smile, though it might be a sneer or a snarl kept under leash. She could be Kate Moss’s more interesting big sister.
 
There is another woman on the football benches these days who I am fascinated by, very different from the immaculate, highly groomed Silvia. It’s the smallish, darkhaired, slender young woman who comes on in a tracksuit when a Chelsea player is injured. She does so quietly, without any fuss, so you don’t realise at first she is there at all, or that she’s a woman.
 
There are now one or two women chief executives of football clubs but I don’t I think I had ever seen a woman physio, which is what I took her to be, coming on to the pitch to administer to male footballers, tending to their flesh. I imagined all the dressing-room banter she must have to put up with.
 
Now I look her up on the Chelsea website, I see she is the first-team doctor – Eva Carneiro. She was born in Gibraltar of British-Spanish parents, trained as a doctor at Nottingham University, and has worked with Olympic athletes and women footballers.
 
Like Silvia, Eva strikes you as an utter professional. Who would never have a beer belly or fuss about piddling things like her belt slipping . . . 
Silvia Neid, manager of the German women's team. Image: Getty

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change