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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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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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