Monday, 28 June 2010

The photophobic Englishman

One of the many reasons that gets put forward to explain England's failure to win a second World Cup is that of its timing.

Faced with explaining the disparity between players who shine in the league over the winter, but play like shadows of themselves in the summer, experts point out that having been raised to play on such blasted tundra as the London suburbs, and in some cases - Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle - well within the Arctic Circle and exclusively with those hi-vis orange balls that show up in the snow, England players struggle when the sun is out and they are asked to run in temperatures as high as 28 degrees.

There are times when this seems almost plausible. In 2002 England went 1-0 up against Brazil, in a quarterfinal played in the stifling humidity of a Japanese summer. The memory of Oldham-born asthmatic redhead Paul Scholes labouring in the blazing sun to keep the ball while all around him were losing it, can still stir pity in my stony heart (the one I keep in a box and install only when called upon to imagine that Man United players are human beings too). Brazil dominated possession, forcing England to expend energy in chasing the ball, but they did indeed seem less bothered by the heat, and who knows, maybe their formative years in the Brazilian climate had left them better prepared.

The problem essentially with this theory is that it's complete bollocks. For a start, in 2002, the same year England came down with heat exhaustion, Germany – not exactly a set of players raised in tropical climates – reached the final. And this year, England, playing in in the cooler temperatures of the South African winter, completely failed to play their natural high-tempo, high-pressing game.

Of course the next World Cup is also to be played in the Southern hemisphere so England has one more chance to prove the photophobia thesis. It's just unfortunate that the same World Cup gives Brazil home advantage.


  1. The heat excuse was also trotted out for England's lax performances in the sun-bleached, carcass-strewn Death Valley that was Germany in 2006.

    Thinking of England's labours in Shizuoka, and Beckham throwing up at the touchline four years later, you do wonder whether England have somehow missed several dozen tricks regarding preparation and acclimatisation.

    All a bit academic now, anyway, as you say. The climate this year couldn't have been much better suited to England's players.

  2. The climate in South Africa is actually suited to playing football. This could be a problem for the teams that have gone into the cup with a plan to win every game 1-0.