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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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era