Blinking like a pit pony: it can be hard to reacclimatise to the British gloom after a spell in the sun
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The Fan: the pointlessness of “warm-weather training”

Does sending the boys out to Dubai to kick balls around really achieve anything?

Last week the Chelsea manager, José Mourinho, explained that Oscar, one of his stars, has suffered a loss of form because of our dreadful weather. Everyone nodded. Poor petal, coming from Brazil, must be an awful shock to him. Forgetting that this is his second winter here.

Both West Ham and Man United have just come back from a warm-weather break in Dubai. At the end of the season, we’ll see how much good it did them. Norralot, I guess, but Big Sam returned with a rather fine tan. Looking for close-ups of David Moyes, I couldn’t see much evidence of his sunny sojourn – even his hair is going grey. I remember him in his youth as a redhead, or have I imagined it, confusing him with 10,000 other journeyman Scottish players?

They call it warm-weather training but what is the point? Before a world cup being held in sunny climes, I can understand the need, but not when they immediately have to come back here and play in the rain and cold. Then there’s ten hours each way on a plane, which is a total waste of their highly paid time. The average Prem player spends more of his life travelling than he ever does playing. I reckon that for every 90-minute game, they do up to nine hours’ travelling. And that’s just in England.

When it’s abroad, playing in Europe, or their pointless long-hauls to Asia in the close season to make the clubs even more money and sell tat, or their warm-weather jollies – sorry, intense training – I don’t know how they cope with the problem of jet lag. After my January break in the West Indies – which I need in order to escape our depressing winter weather, oh yes, how else can I remain on top form, just ask José, Dave and Sam – I can’t see for three days. It seems so dark, after the tropical sun and blue skies. I am blinking like a pit pony. Takes me a week to recover.

The players, I assume, have become inured to these long trips, their bodies hardened. It’s what they have been doing all their lives. Wayne Rooney, when he was just 13 and in the Everton Academy, went to Dallas to take part in a football tournament. He also played in Switzerland against 13-year-old kids who had come all the way from Brazil. They start them travelling young, in the modern football battery farms.

No wonder footballers have always been gamblers – at cards or the horses. Gives them something to do on those long, tedious journeys. Personally, I would pay money not to have to go to Dubai for a week. But managers believe it breaks the routine, the grind of a long, hard season, freshens up their fragile minds and tired legs.

The thing about blaming bad weather for making players depressed, or praising good weather for revitalising them, is that the weather can always be used as excuse. And dear God, managers need all the excuses they can find at this stage in the season,whether it’s at the top or bottom of the league. I think I will scream if another manager slags off the referee for his stupid/biased/half-witted decision that lost us the game.

Another excuse players and their managers use, which follows on from our shit weather, is acclimatisation. Foreign players, bless them, need time to settle down, get used to our funny ways, funny food, so you have to forgive them. Today, of course, it is the same for both sides, unlike the old days. In every Prem game, the vast majority of the players have come from abroad, and have been acclimatising since the age of 13, moving round the globe.

Wenger is now saying that Mesut Özil, his star signing, is not just having problems settling, but is awfully tired. I was at the Emirates for the Arsenal-Bayern Munich game and the Gooners round me were so abusive I had to cover my ears.

Mostly, when they cite the weather, problems settling, dodgy lasagne, pizza being thrown in the tunnel, wrong studs, itchy shirts, unlucky underpants, all of which I have heard being blamed for defeats, the true explanation is very simple: uselessness. 

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 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while he would hold a free vote, party policy would be changed to oppose military action, an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote. Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, members made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbot and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet. There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.