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Right, here comes your half-time Pep talk

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

Got a call from Manhattan over the festive period from a Spaniard, rather hesitant, who wanted my advice. Happens all the time, when you get to my age and stage in life.

He’s rented this apartment for a year with his wife and three young children, having decided to take a year out after four very stressful years, enjoy a sabbatical from work, think about life, what it’s all about, will my hair ever grow again, the usual manly stuff.

Listen, Josep, I said, for I usually address him by his first name though the world knows him as Pep Guardiola, what do you really want to do? Are you going back to football management or backpacking in Namibia?

And have you found yourself yet? Surely that was why you suddenly left Barcelona, at the height of your success and powers, and just disappeared?

Decisions, decisions

I know every mega footer club in the world has been knocking at your door, showing their knickers, giving little twirls, flashing their assets, screaming take me, take me, take me.

“I ain’t decided nuttin’ yet,” he replied, with a faint New Yorker twang.

I had a sabbatical at roughly his age (he turns 42 this month), no hold on, a bit younger, as my children had not even started primary school. We spent a year abroad, in Gozo and Portugal. The worst thing was socialising with Brit expats, the sort you would run a mile from in Blighty.

The best thing was – having done it, I got it out of my system early doors, so it didn’t hang over me as a daft fantasy for the rest of my life.

I like that you have chosen to hunker down in New York. Very sensible. I am sure you have not been pestered and papped, as in Europe.

Must be easy to walk around unrecognised, especially in that hoodie and rucksack. Yes, I saw the snaps. Bit old for that, don’t you think? Is this not just a desperate attempt to stay young, avoid responsibilities?

I did worry about you at Barça. That sudden hair loss was alarming. And you began to look so depressed. It had clearly become a burden and yet there you were, winning 14 trophies for Barça in four years.

It was clear to me part of your problem was mental. Not on your head, son, but in your head. Perhaps another reason for Manhattan is the therapists?

Plus, of course, the language. Perfecting your English now, for you and the missus and the kiddos, will give you options, if you ever choose to come to England – but more about that in a mo.

Obviously you have no wish to be as extrovert and arrogant and self-obsessed and, yes, bloody brilliant but mad like your dear colleague José Mourinho, but unless you are settled in your head, there is little point in returning to the front line.

Right, so where should it be?

Barcelona: that is being suggested, as your successor, Vilanova, is ill and you do feel a responsibility and, I am sure, a love for the club, in your home region, where you spent so long. But don’t do it, Pep. Remember why you left? It drove you potty. Done that. Move on.

Real Madrid: don’t dismiss it idly. José is bound to depart in a huff any moment and they do have some excellent players. They are so underachieving this season that it would be fun to make them rise again. Always best to take over a club in that position. Obviously, from your background, they are your natural enemies, the scum – whatever the Spanish is for scum. Hmm, I suppose yeah, forget it.

Italy: you did spend two seasons there – at Brescia and Roma –when you were winding down your career, so you have some knowledge and language, but the Italian league is not what it was. The fans and the owners would drive you mad.

Gunners glide

Manchester United: taking over from a legend is always hard and history shows that when it does happen, the next two or three managers don’t last long.

Manchester City: good time to take over, make them a team, but flaky owners. Anyway, would you and the family want to live in Manchester? Think on, Pep.

Chelsea: no one in their right mind would go there – not someone sensible, sensitive, already rich and decorated, like your good self.

Arsenal: a much better bet. Taking over would be easy, as I’m sure Arsène would gracefully glide out and they wouldn’t mess you around. They are desperate for former glories –which you could provide.

Bayern Munich: probably the best club in the best football country to work in at present – so well run, civilised. Only problem is they are already top dog.

Let me know what you decide, Pep. And good luck.

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 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, 2013: the year the cuts finally bite

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.