I love the World Cup. I love the skill, the passion and the excitement of watching the world’s best players compete to win the greatest prize in the world’s most popular sport, and I love the fans who travel thousands of miles to support their national side, even though most of them will return home disappointed.
I appreciate that football isn’t everyone’s game, and that the next four weeks will see an even greater television saturation of the sport than we have become accustomed to throughout the Premier League era. But for those of us who love this most beautiful of games, the first World Cup in Africa can’t come around quickly enough.
What I can’t buy into is the interminable and predictable hype about the current England squad. It is, of course, now traditional for our tabloid newspapers to ask the question “Is this England’s year?” as a precursor to seemingly endless wall-to-wall speculation about the team’s chances, alongside meaningless examinations of “injury worries”, off-field controversies, and the spending habits of ‘The WAGS’.
I have to be honest, I couldn’t really care less about the England team’s chances in South Africa this year. If you offered me a choice between an England World Cup win or an end to Arsenal’s five-year trophy drought, then I’d start dusting out the silverware cabinet at Ashburton Grove. Club football is what I watch week in week out, and the standard is higher than anything produced by the England national side. Add to that the unlovely Cole/Terry/Lampard element to the side and I find it difficult to see myself rooting for them as my all-conquering heroes.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not anti-English, nor am I a Cornish/Welsh/Scottish/Irish nationalist. As it happens, I think historical nationalism is just about the most pointless exercise anyone can engage in. I don’t care what your bit of land is called, or who did what to it several hundred years ago, and I’m not expecting any apologies from anyone for the brutal acts of long-dead kings that may or may not have affected the corner of the world I happened to be born in. Cultural nationalism – the preservation of identity through language, the arts and so on – is a different beast entirely, and is yet another attraction of the World Cup (and one of the reasons I normally end up rooting for the bright orange flash of Holland as the tournament progresses).
There are all manner of reasons why England probably won’t win the World Cup, foremost of which is the fact that there are around half a dozen other teams who quite simply have better players. Wayne Rooney is certainly the best player England have, but is that really going to be enough to overcome the challenges presented by Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi and so on? England will probably do what they normally do: outperform the fairly average talent within the squad, reach the quarter-finals, be knocked out on penalties by a team which has actually bothered to practice spot-kicks, and slink home to a kicking from the tabloids (all of whom built the team up way too far in the first place).
I will be in the happy position of not being the least bit surprised about such an outcome. I will also (probably) have the pleasure of watching the continuing involvement of Argentina, Brazil, France, Spain and – here’s hoping – Holland. I can’t wait.