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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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.