The grass is always greener . . .

British talent is once again being tempted overseas

The tide is turning. After the long invasion of foreigners taking over our football, providing players, managers and owners, at last one of our own, home-grown native stars has moved the other way and has just joined one of Europe’s top clubs, Real Madrid.

The reason why so few of our best players play in Europe today – compared with the Seventies and Eighties, when every half-decent English or Scottish player had a spell in Europe – is that we have very few top players and the ones we do have know they’ll be better paid over here. As for the rest, most of our native players are rubbish. No one wants them.

So hats off to Paul Burgess, who has joined Real Madrid from Arsenal – as head groundsman. Aged 30, Paul is at the top of his game, winner of the Premier League Groundsman of the Year three times, a legend in turf, an iconic figure in grassy circles. While Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for oh, ages, their pitch is admired globally, a work of art, so smooth and lush, so clean and crisp, yummy enough to eat. The world’s rabbits and sheep have wet dreams, imagining themselves let loose on that silky, sexy space at the Emirates.

As with modern football, modern pitches owe a great deal to technology. Groundsmen don’t just buy a few seeds, sprinkle them around and hope for the best. Paul uses computer models, artificial lighting and a whole load of other scientific wizardry. No wonder Juande Ramos, manager of Madrid, was so impressed – or is it a clever wheeze to bugger up Arsenal’s chances in the Champions League? We know he got the push from Spurs, but perhaps he’s hoping to return, just as Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe have done.

Do groundsmen have agents, whispering in chairmen’s ears, shoving brown envelopes in the right places? Containing not oncers, but little squares of perfect turf, or DVDs of White Hart Lane in a thunderstorm, evidence of what their boy can do. It’s bound to happen.

A good pitch makes such a difference and millions get spent on them these days, so that you never hear of Prem games called off because the pitch is waterlogged or frozen hard, nor do you see mud in the goalmouth or bare patches down the middle. Old Trafford, though, is still pretty ropy. I’m surprised

Man United didn’t step in with a better offer, sending Fergie to meet Paul at a motorway service station and whisper inducements in his ear, such as repro turf branded with Paul’s name so he keeps his image rights.

I have heard of video analysts being tempted away by other clubs, the ones who compile videos of rival players, pinpointing their strengths and weaknesses, and iPod masters, such as that one at Man United, who before the Carling Cup final penalty shoot-out passed Ben Foster an iPod which showed where the Spurs players might shoot.

And what about mascots? You know, the blokes in funny outfits who greet the players on to the pitch. All clubs have them, and some are more successful than others. I expect Man United to make a bid for Swansea City’s Cyril the Swan. He claims to be the UK’s number-one mascot, has done a book and a CD, and been up before the Welsh FA for bringing the game into disrepute by running on to the pitch.

Man United players and fans need something to distract them in the next few weeks, Fergie having taken his eye off the ball by giving an interview to Alastair Campbell. Every little helps.

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 30 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The end of American power