Reluctant as I am to kick in where angels fear to tread, I’d like to congratulate the new England football manager. Until his new job was announced, I’d never heard of Roy Hodgson, but he seems a nice fellow and, I have to admit, it was a relief to hear a native English-speaker accepting the job.
It may come as a surprise that I’m such an expert on the search for the English manager. It’s not expertise that I’ve consciously acquired, but it’s impossible to follow the news of war, floods, economic crises and election chaos without also encountering the sports news. It requires a trigger finger quicker than mine to press the mute button.
I call it ‘information anxiety’, the accumulation through lethargic osmosis of random and unwanted knowledge. For instance, I know that Harry Redknapp would have meant £15 million compensation plus a £4 million salary whereas Mr Hodgson comes with zero compensation and a £1.5 million salary. I know that England now has a manager but no captain. I know that John Terry and Wayne Rooney are gifted players who sometimes behave like pitbulls on the pitch. Not that it sets them apart. A remarkable percentage of the players fit the personality profile that predicts someone will either become a professional footballer or rob convenience stores. Lucky is he who is born with fast and agile feet.
But Mr Hodgson is a very different breed. Fluent in Italian, Norwegian and Swedish, competent in German, French and Finnish, in a profession where even speakers confined to their mother tongue are verbally challenged, his linguistic achievements are incroyable. But that is only part of it. Mr Hodgson also loves opera, has Turandot and Otis Redding on his iPod. When asked what he likes to read, the polymath confessed to having fairly narrow taste. He mostly sticks to Nobel Prize winners. Incroyable, encore.
I don’t have to tell you that Nobel Prize literature isn’t for sissies. I’ve tackled a few in this pantheon-Doris Lessing (2007), Seamus Heaney (1995), V. S. Naipaul (2001)-and I remember reading more with pride than pleasure the work of Mississippi’s Nobel laureate William Faulkner (1949). I once lost a bet because I forgot that Hemingway had won it (1954) and I was amazed to learn that Churchill received it for Literature (1953).
I only manage foreign laureates in translation: the wonderful Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (1996), who died in February; Pasternak (1958), who was denied the pleasure of accepting his prize; Pablo Neruda (1971). I don’t know if Mr Hodgson reads his beloved Hermann Hesse (1946) in German, but I suspect the old Teutonic mystic’s quests for enlightenment won’t be of much use. England’s new manager may be a man of intellectual depth, but the players he has to choose from are largely mediocre. And why is this so? Because they are the second rung. There are too many foreign players in the Premier League teams. Despite the vast amount spent on the new National Football Centre in Burton upon Trent, it may as well be a wedding venue if they don’t search for and nurture the under-21 homegrown talent.
On Mr Hodgson’s list of favourites, I didn’t see an English writer. His favourite home was the one he once had on Lake Como. His ideal break is a weekend in Paris with his wife. His favourite film is Gerard Depar-dieu’s Quand j’étais chanteur, about an aging singer in the twilight of his career. All this worldliness makes him the ideal candidate to push the FA to adopt Germany’s strategy and restrict the number of foreign players in the Premier League teams to an agreed figure. Although I’ve yet to grasp the subtlety of the offside rule, there have been moments when I’ve watched with pleasure the game that was born in England. Now is the time to bring it home.