At the Westin Hotel on Awaji island, near Kobe, Japan, Sven Goran Eriksson surveyed the players’ recreation room.
There were 23 individual, state-of-the-art games consoles, one for each member of the squad, a pool table, an air-hockey table, three games of table football, plus table tennis. Next door was a cinema and space for the 23 additional laptops that each player had received, along with a Walkman, a CD player and a mobile phone.
This, it was hoped, would keep restless minds active on their way to the inevitable quarter-final exit. Eriksson turned to the Football Association official by his side. ‘Why can’t they just read a book?’ he wondered.
Sven-Goran Eriksson once asked why England stars needed technology to be entertained
Qatar will have similar thoughts about our drinking culture during the winter World Cup
We could of course argue, knowing what we know now, that the FA man might have asked Sven the same question – but that’s another story.
The point is this. There will be officials in Qatar this morning who will be thinking the same about us. Not the England players specifically, but those who follow them. Why are we always so thirsty? Why is it almost unthinkable that anyone might want to watch a football match sober?
All this controversy about alcohol availability, alcohol prices, where to get it, when to get it, how long does the bar stay open? We don’t sound very smart. It seems we are only here for the beer.
We discuss the Gulf regions in terms of liberty and freedom, and understandably so, but with that comes a presumption that they must want what we have. And it isn’t true. The drinking culture that we regard as part of the matchday experience other countries find bemusing, even objectionable.
They have a point. Nobody who was at Wembley for England’s European Championship final would consider what transpired that day desirable. It was horrible, violent, threatening, boorish and in many ways utterly predictable.
The drinking culture that we consider essential on these shores is not the same out in Qatar
And the Middle East country could use last year’s Euro 2020 final disgrace as a reason why
There has been controversy surrounding the accessibility and pricing of beer at the World Cup
The only shock, really, is that UEFA appear prepared to risk more of the same in 2028. Yet if Qatar had used footage of that day to support an argument for tightening the laws on alcohol consumption rather than loosening them during the tournament, who could really blame them?
Instead, they have taken the route of broken promises. Beer was going to be cheap but it’s not, it’s expensive – around £11.60 for a pint of Budweiser (suggested marketing tagline: Not Quite The Worst Beer In The World, Because That’s Fosters.)
And it was going to be plentiful – except it isn’t because licensed hours will be strictly controlled, sales outlets limited and around the stadium sites largely hidden.
The hosts do not like beer drinkers so they are not making it easy for them. And those hosts who were ready to compromise appear to have been crushed further down the line by the Supreme Committee. In the Gulf there is always a Supreme Committee. It is why it is often difficult to get event business done.
Budweiser will have been given encouragement by organisers whose priority is delivering a successful tournament, but those agreements will have to be written off by Supreme Committee members with an entirely different concept of success.
Beer partners Budweiser were welcomed in one breath and then told to hold fire in the next
Budweiser at one stage had a tanker moored outside Doha awaiting permission to deliver almost a third of its supply. They were being welcomed in one breath, told to wait in the next. Budweiser have jumped through hoops just to get to where they are in Qatar now.
Hence the mealy-mouthed statement released earlier this week. ‘Budweiser is proud to be served in compliance with the local rules and regulations by FIFA’s appointed concessionaire.’ And as we all know, ain’t no party like a FIFA-appointed concessionaire party.
The bottom line problem is that FIFA took a World Cup to Qatar and then expected Qatar not to let it be Qatari.
To return to England’s Eriksson years, he was unveiled as manager on November 2, 2000 at Sopwell House, having flown in that morning from Rome. Standing before the media, England’s first foreign manager wore a Remembrance Day poppy. One imagines they are not in great supply in the city Mussolini called home. So the FA wanted to employ a foreign manager while affecting the illusion he was one of us.
And that is what FIFA wanted from Qatar, too. They wanted the nation’s wealth, its growing influence, and certainly its lucrative bribes, they just did not want Qatar to host a Qatari tournament.
FIFA knew what they were getting when they took Qatar’s money for the 2022 tournament
So why should they expect the Middle East nation to alter its core beliefs this winter?
So for years they maintained the pretence of a western welcome, and western compromises and attitudes when, really, why should the hosts have to change their core beliefs? FIFA knew deep down where their World Cup was going and what they would be getting but Qatar went along with this airbrushed version of itself because, as the sign at the media centre in Doha says: ‘Now is all.’
Then, on Wednesday, when a journalist tried to take a photograph of that sign, he was asked to press delete by a security guard because this is now a Qatari World Cup and it is too late to do anything about that.
Recently, Qatar has started to flex its muscles after so much faux-compromise, which is why a beer is approaching £12, if you send out a search party and are prepared to queue.
And there is much that is Qatar’s fault, but not this. Because they don’t really want to sell you a beer, and they never wanted to sell you a beer, but it was FIFA’s price for taking their money. They thought the hosts should hold a p***-up, just without the brewery.
You will notice, however, that whatever the price of a pint, it never seems to be FIFA’s round.
There’s no conspiracy, Southgate simply prefers Wilson to Toney
Would the Football Association have pressured Gareth Southgate to leave out Ivan Toney over gambling allegations? It seems unlikely.
This is no echo of the decision made over Rio Ferdinand’s selection for a European Championship match against Turkey in 2003. Back then, there was a very real fear that choosing Ferdinand after he missed a drugs test could have direct repercussions for England, with the match deciding which country progressed to the 2004 European Championship finals.
If it transpired England fielded a player knowing he was going to be banned, it was thought Turkey could contest the result of the match, and maybe even the campaign.
Drug testing, through the umbrella of the World Anti-Doping Agency and United Kingdom Anti-Doping, is a global affair. The charge against Toney is an FA matter and to stand him down would pre-judge the process. More likely, Southgate simply prefers Callum Wilson.
Ivan Toney’s omission from the England squad has nothing to do with his gambling charge
Gareth Southgate simply prefers Newcastle striker Callum Wilson for his Three Lions squad
Don’t bite the hand that feeds, lads
Samuel Eto’o has Cameroon to win Brazil’s group, Tunisia beating Argentina in the round of 16 and Morocco defeating Spain, Portugal and France on the way to the final. Three of his four World Cup semi-finalists are African.
Cafu predicts a Brazilian win, but thinks Iran will make it out of England’s group before falling to Holland. Tim Cahill believes Australia will eliminate Argentina on their way to the quarter-finals.
The one thing all FIFA’s World Cup ambassadors agree on is that Qatar will progress from Group A – Eto’o and Cahill say at the expense of Holland – and will beat England, before losing to France in the quarter-finals. They may not know much about football, these guys, but they certainly know on which side their bread is buttered.
Locals just like football
Did Qatar recruit paid fans to welcome England to their World Cup HQ? Probably not. The supporters present were small in number and mainly from India where Premier League football is popular and its stars idolised. It is quite possible that genuine fans of the game in England will be attracted to Gareth Southgate’s team and similar shows of affection have been displayed towards Argentina and Brazil by supporters who are plainly not from South America.
It happened in Japan 20 years ago when England – and David Beckham in particular – were very popular with the locals. Back then, Japanese fans who bought tickets for the matches were also told what part of the stadium they would be in, and were encouraged to become fans of that team for the day. It was not uncommon to see Japanese fans travelling to the match in the colours of, say, Sweden or Argentina, because it was thought the polite thing to do. It was the same for the Rugby World Cup there – and the Japanese absolutely love the All Blacks almost as much as their own Brave Blossoms.
In countries without a history of partisanship around what are basically western sports and competitions, there really is no harm in adoption.
The complication is that so much around this World Cup is viewed with suspicion that a few lads from Kerala who like Harry Kane become the subject of conspiracy theories, rather than the happy embodiment of football’s global appeal.
The local fans supporting England in Qatar are unlikely to have been recruited by the hosts
Play better if you want no criticism
John Stones says he feels wounded that England’s defenders have been blamed for the team’s recent poor form. Yet there is a way to rectify that. Defend better.
As it is, England will in all likelihood play five at the back in Qatar, plus Declan Rice holding, because Gareth Southgate feels his back line cannot be trusted. So it’s not just those outside the camp who are unsure of England’s defensive capabilities. If Southgate had faith he would play a back four and an extra forward, which is the true strength of his team.
Stones said it is not appreciated that some of England’s defenders don’t play regularly but, again, whose fault is that?
Harry Maguire was in Erik ten Hag’s first team at Manchester United initially, but lost his place. Stones has started less than half of Manchester City’s games this season.
‘Sometimes we forget what players have done in the past,’ Stones added, but that is the nature of football. Southgate cannot rely on Maguire as he did in 2018, so surrounds him with support at others’ expense. Bukayo Saka may not make the team as a result. Now that’s wounding.
John Stones and England should play better if they want to avoid criticism from the outside
Experts can’t even decide XIs on paper
One of the greatest sources of amusement in the build-up to this World Cup has been experts picking their England team. Specifically, those experts who include Or. He seems very popular.
Take Wayne Rooney. He picked Or as one of three players occupying the right side for England: Saka Or Sterling.
Gareth Southgate must be equally amused. Imagine being so indecisive about a team that is only tested on paper? How many managers must wish they could start 12 and give it 10 minutes to see if a winner emerges in the head-to-head struggle out wide.
The match against Iran is on Monday, so it’s make your mind up time. This won’t be Southgate’s team, or even his formation, but my XI, with no ‘ors’ allowed, would be: Pickford; Trippier, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Mount, Rice, Bellingham; Saka, Kane, Foden.
Iran questions are borne of respect
Why always us, as Mario Balotelli didn’t say. Alireza Jahanbakhsh, captain of Iran, thinks the English media are asking about demonstrations in his country to destabilise the team before their meeting with England on Monday.
It is a common theme. In 2014, Uruguay believed interest in Luis Suarez biting Giorgio Chiellini stemmed from anger that his goal had knocked out England. Successive England managers would wish for such patriotism. Iran’s footballers, in fact their sports people generally, have nobly placed themselves at the forefront of protests concerning justice and rights reform for women and are admired here for their stance.
That is why Jahanbakhsh and his team-mates are asked questions, rather than some crude attempt to harm morale.
With all respect, England fans must hope Southgate’s players have it in them to overcome Iran without needing to recruit the fourth estate – most of whom also admired Suarez’s performances for Uruguay, right until the moment he started licking his lips.
Becks doing knighthood chances no favours
If David Beckham does covet a knighthood, as is widely believed, his status as the public face of the Qatar World Cup seems a strange way to go about it.
This is a tournament that taints by association, as Gary Neville will no doubt find out when he attempts to reassert his position as football’s conscience after taking the shilling of BeIn Sport.
David Beckham is doing his knighthood chances no favours as the face of the Qatar World Cup
Wales always the priority for Bale
Nobody who has followed Gareth Bale’s recent career should be in the least bit surprised that he is fit and ready to play 90 minutes for Wales in all three World Cup group games. That was always his aim and always the purpose of his club career this season.
He did not last 90 minutes for Los Angeles FC once in his time there and his 23-minute contribution to their victory in the MLS Cup – including an equaliser in the last minute of extra time – was, if not incidental, certainly not the primary objective. This is.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group