Spot-fixing is very much back on English football's agenda. Given the opportunity to make a lot of money very quickly and with little effort, Johnny isn't that surprised...
You don't have to be a Manchester United fan to feel nostalgic when you read about the Class of '92. Ordinary boys in the middle of an extraordinary coincidence...
We stood and watched as 15 public schoolboys got off their coach to play us at rugby. They turned up in lovely, well-pressed, clean kit, wore posh boots and generally looked well-fed and healthy in comparison to us wheezing progeny who had grown up on Teesside's default 1970s diet of smog and urban decay.
We were quite intimidated in our scruffy, torn and ragged rugby shirts. None of our shorts or socks even matched. They looked almost professional compared us and their sports master like an ex-rugby player whereas ours was a splendid big fat bloke who drove us to Eric Clapton gigs in the school minibus while drinking McEwans best bitter out of the can.
But we needn't have worried; from the first tackle it was obvious that despite their professional appearance they were not very good. We were more powerful, faster and had more sheer determination. I was just a winger and so removed from the blood and snot action but even I was quicker and stronger than my opposite number. We ran out easy winners by over 30 points. Their captain, being nicely brought up, led the three cheers and shook our hands as we left the pitch. "You were too bloody good for us," he said to me in an accent that was more Tory minister for education than northern schoolboy. "No, we're not that good," I said. "You were just bloody rubbish." Well, someone needed to tell him.
That day of triumph came back to me as I watched England leave the pitch on Saturday night.
You may have been enjoying your weekend in the sun, you may have enjoyed a rampant Brazil gutting and filleting Spain in the Confederations Cup final but out in the burning heat of Turkey, England's U20 squad were most certainly not having a good time.
If you haven't been following the U20 World Cup, England were drawn in a group with Iraq, Egypt and Chile. Some said it was an easy group, but those of us who have watched England a lot laughed hollowly, stroked our chins and said 'hmm, we'll see'.
And so it was that the easy group turned out to be far too hard for our boys. We were eliminated after a draw against Iraq and Chile and Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Egypt. We finished rock bottom of the group.
If you watched any of those games, you'll know what the problems were. Though, to be honest, even if you didn't watch any of those games, you'll still know what the problems were. I won't bother going over it again as I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities to do so in the future at all levels of England international football.
As the boys trooped off after huffing and puffing against Egypt to almost no effect, it was hard not to feel desperately sorry for them. Yes, sorry.
This might be an unusual emotion to experience in relation to professional footballers but they had repeatedly looked so poorly equipped to deal with the situation into which they'd been plunged. They had drawn with one country that is bereft and war-torn and another with revolution fermenting on the streets. They had been up against sides with fewer resources in every respect, yet all three teams, while not being world-beaters, were simply more cohesive and had better, more consistent skill levels.
This rather suggests that perhaps you don't need a big new training complex quite as much as you need some actual talent and a decent coach. It showed that money and a place in a top Premier League club's reserve side does not make you able to compete at this level.
It'd be easy to say that we were rubbish, but that would be unfair. It was pretty obvious how these kids had reached 19 and 20 years old with a contract at a top club without ever being able to break through.
Larnell Cole from Manchester United has obvious talent and creativity. I imagine Spurs' Harry Kane was the best striker at his school a couple of years ago and I'm sure Ross Barkley amazed all the parents with his skill when he played in Everton's youth teams. They are not useless; they are much, much better at football than most of us. They didn't lack for energy or persistence. They seemed fit and well motivated by stand-in boss Peter Taylor and I'm sure they tried bloody hard. But it is all of this which makes things worse and was the reason why I felt so sorry for them.
They had to beat Egypt to have a chance of progressing but every time they were anywhere near goal, their touch and vision let them down. Instead of looking up and passing it to a team-mate, they'd just cross it in hopefully. When light, instant control of the ball was required to get a shot away, they had a heavy, sloppy touch.
They didn't mean it to be like that; they didn't want it to be that way. But when the pressure was on, they just didn't have access to the tools required to win. It was painful to watch precisely because this inadequacy was clearly self-evident to them as they left the pitch.
I'm sure they'd hoped to make a name for themselves in Turkey and perhaps by doing so break into their club's first team on a regular basis. Almost all of them are at Premier League clubs. But as it was, they only succeeded in showing themselves as not ready for that step up. Indeed, it seems unlikely that any of them will feature much in the first team and are more likely to get their gig lower down the leagues.
Somewhere along the line these lads have been let down by various agencies from school, to county, to local club and now Premier League club level. They're in that top 1% of kids in this country but are quite obviously some way short of the required standard. Whether they're working hard enough to improve is difficult to say, maybe life is too good and too easy in the U21 side at their club. They're almost there, almost good, but not quite good enough. Aged 20 is young but not that young. They're almost a fully formed player now. Few really great players are not obviously really great by 20. I suppose if they were great, they'd be indispensable members of the first team by now and they're not precisely because of performances like we saw in Turkey. Yet it is worth remembering that, by any measure, these boys are part of the English elite.
It was heartbreaking to watch them put in such an effort in heat to so little reward. At times it was as though they were looking at their feet and wondering why they didn't do what they wanted them to do, like an impotent man staring in bewilderment at his malfunctioning member.
Iraq and Chile went through. By all accounts it was an easy group and neither Chile nor Iraq is likely to get to the later stages of the tournament. All of which must add to the England lads' sense of inferiority. U20 tournaments are supposed to instil international experience and confidence into developing players and I'm sure just berating them for being the latest England failures won't help any more than beating a child for failing their exams will make the child more clever, so perhaps more sympathy and understanding is needed.
It's not their fault England's elite is less elite in quality than other countries. Just like that day on the rugby field, money and privilege don't always buy you superiority and victory.
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