New Times,
New Thinking.

1 December 2014

Our boys could do with a stint abroad, but like all Brits they’re just too lazy

The Fan by Hunter Davies. 

By Hunter Davies

We had a year abroad once. We had just two children, aged four and two, not yet at primary school. We could live and work anywhere, so why not go off to the sun, tra la, fulfil that corny fantasy so many people have? After seven weeks I was waking up and saying, oh God, not another perfect day.

You meet a lot of right-wing expats you would run a mile from at home, but in the end you socialise with them for the cultural connections, realising you are never truly going to become a local.

We went to Gozo and then Portugal, where I tried to learn Portuguese, ploughing through hours of Linguaphone records. Fat lot of good it did.

Last week David Moyes, starting his 18 months abroad as manager of Real Sociedad, was having his first Spanish lessons. Keep at it, Davey.

I do admire him, willing to go off and force himself into new situations, many of which will be confusing. I wish more British football players and managers would be so bold. It clearly is an enormous learning experience. How could you not be improved as a player, a coach or a person by being exposed to how other people do things, ie, foreign people?

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So many of them are over here, dominating our Premier League. The present top three clubs – Chelsea, Southampton and Manchester City – all have foreign managers, as do Arsenal and Man United.

Moyes, rather wistfully, on departing our shores, hoped that if he succeeds – Sociedad are lingering near La Liga’s relegation zone – other British managers will ply their trade abroad. At the moment, he is the only one.

Why is this? Pretty obvious, really. Our home-grown managers are useless. OK, not all of them: some seem quite suited to the insular, blinkered, lumpen British game – but who knows football who only English football knows? That’s what they think abroad, especially after England’s appalling World Cup, and that’s why they don’t get invited to play or manage abroad.

Would Fergie have hacked it abroad? His record in English management was phenomenal and is unlikely to be beaten for length or success by anyone else, least of all another home-grown manager. His teams did play constantly in Europe, but he never managed there. Would he have coped, or been seen as a prehistoric animal? Bobby Robson and Terry Venables both managed it, for a short time, but football in Spain has moved on enormously since they were there.

The reasons why none of our English players play in Europe are different. I am sure Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard and Terry would have been welcomed at most top European clubs when they were at their height, and probably had offers, but they stayed because they were and are spoilt. The money has been incredible here the past ten years. Just the other week it was reported that the average Prem player is now on £2m a year. That must include many of those useless, dozy, feckless, lazy bastards I see sitting on the bench each week for Spurs, hoping they won’t come on.

So why go abroad when you are making a fortune here? Why expose yourself to discomfort? When it happened with people like Denis Law and John Charles back in the Sixties, their wages in Italy were at least double what they got at home. More recently, with Gary Lineker and Gazza, in Spain and Italy, the money was a huge attraction. That is no longer the case.

British players, like most British people, are also lazy mentally, unwilling to learn a new language, new methods, to give up their cosseted, familiar environment. All those African and east European players with us today had to move away, at an early age, in order to play professional football and gained enormously, strengthening their bodies and disciplining their minds by doing so.

I am sure Rooney would have developed so much more – the way Ronaldo did and Gareth Bale is doing – if he had moved to Europe. Too late now. He is totally settled in his football and family ways.

“Did you ever play for Real Madrid or Barcelona, Dad?” Kai and Klay will one day ask him.

“No, I never left Lancashire.”

Of course, now that Moyes has gone from Man United, Rooney has a foreign manager and is surrounded by foreign players. Perhaps in the end he hasn’t totally lost. Abroad has come here . . . 

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