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Who would bother to send an English footballer for "warm-weather training"?

Five days bunking up with the farting reserve goalie doesn't motivate anyone – even in sunny Dubai.

There are some changes a-coming in the exciting, wonderful, romantic, marvellous, oh-do-get-on-with-it world of football. Vars will come in next season, possibly, maybe, in a trial run in the FA Cup. If all goes well, they could be in place for the next World Cup in Russia. No, I’m not talking about a nasty disease that players will pick up in dodgy clubs. “Vars” stands for “video assistant referees”.

They will be twiddling the knobs in the background to review contentious incidents – such as red cards, serious injuries, penalty kicks and mistaken identity – and will instruct the referee to alter his decision, if it is deemed that he got it wrong. God knows how long this could take. Full-blooded, hot-blooded games could last all weekend.

And who will judge the judges? If a Var can correct a referee, who will correct a Var when he cocks it up? Jobs for the boys: yet another tier of experts on the bench.

One change that I’d like to see in football is the end of warm-weather training. Why on Earth does the whole squad have to swan off every New Year to Dubai? I’d pay money not to visit Dubai ever again, but every Prem club considers it a vital training exercise. And it’s perhaps a chance for some of the owners to have a close-up view of the rubbish players and the crap manager they’re spending a fortune on.

The theory is that they’ll bond better, as if they weren’t already living in each other’s pockets. The other theory is that they need to get used to playing in hot weather. Why? They’ll still come back to shit weather in England. It could be another two decades of global warming before the English spring becomes tropical. And we don’t play here in summer anyway.

I’d much prefer them to stay here and practise their skills in training. I scream every time yet another free-kick goes straight into the wall or another corner goes straight into the hands of the goalies. What do they do all day on the training pitch?

Why don’t they try having no wall at all? It would give the goalie a decent sight of the ball, and there would be no risk of deflections. They repeat the same old dead-ball situations, regardless of whether they work. The corner-taker puts his hand up, as a signal, as if he knows what he’s doing.

These trips are, of course, jollies for the coaching staff, a chance to go off to the sun and lie around a pool, and I’m sure there’s a commercial element: meeting sponsors and supporters. But does it work, football-wise, to improve or refresh the team?

To find out, I commissioned a survey of all the Prem clubs that have done warm-weather training over the past ten years, comparing the results of their five games before they went with their five matches after. The results are still being processed and the Dafts on my staff – the “data analyst football technicians” – are still to produce the final report, but the evidence so far suggests the following:

1) Players staying at home, in their own beds, with their own wives, even having to get up in the night to change nappies, results in them being fresher and more keen to get out of the house quickly in the morning to get to training.

2) Five days in Dubai cooped up with the squad, especially if rooming with the smelly, farting reserve goalkeeper or the big-headed flash bastard striker who has the hairdryer on night and day, does appear to have a deleterious effect on energy and enthusiasm levels.

3) Overall, the results after warm-weather training were 27 per cent worse than before.

The Daft committee is therefore proposing to all clubs that they save the money spent on warm-weather training for players and instead have warm-weather training for fans. Fans are the ones who need to be perked up at this time of the year, after a winter sitting in freezing stadiums. Tests have demonstrated that five days in Dubai will improve fans’ chanting and cheering by 17 per cent, making them wittier, louder and more enthusiastic. In the next five games, the team will gain an extra three points. Bring it on.

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 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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