Fabio Capello, Johan Cruyff & Robert Redford

England’s refreshingly decisive qualification for 2010 has prompted an inordinate, one might almost say prurient, interest in the national team’s luggage.

“There is no chance Capello will allow England to fly to South Africa with complacency in their luggage,” Jonathan Norcroft claimed in the Sunday Times.

Presumably Don Fabio has his very own X-ray machine which can isolate hidden pockets of “I’m taking this for granted”-ness when waved at a left-back’s Louis Vuitton. 

On Thursday, dear old Henry Winter suggested the squad should “slip some humility into their luggage along with the iPods, cards and Aston Martin catalogues.”

The Capello cult in the British media is almost as intriguing as the granite-jawed one’s rejuvenation of England.

He only has to look slightly vexed on the touchline for ITV’s Peter Drury to rhapsodise over his no-nonsense management style, a “Let’s hear them eyeballs rolling in their sockets!” approach that commentators and journalists love to applaud when it is applied to someone else – especially England footballers.

Of course, the vicissitudes of the England manager’s job are such that admirable determination can quickly be recast as deplorable pigheadedness.

Before the Croatia game, a few hacks had the temerity to question Capello’s perverse insistence on picking the England team himself and not yielding to popular demand – that is, a back-page epidemic of synthetic outrage – and starting with Jermain Defoe up front.

Times reader Eduardo Pierce isn’t convinced by England.

He noted, in fractured prose, that Gerrard “cannot make two triangulations in a row and you can never find him when you need him because he is running around like a chicken without a head.”

That’s Stevie G nailed then.

“Chicken without a head” sounds so much less clichéd than “headless chicken,” don’t you think?

By the way, the longest surviving headless chicken, Mike – he wasn’t completely headless but had one ear and a brain stem left after a botched chop by a Colorado farmer – lived for 18 months after losing 83.9 percent of his bonce, finally dying in 1947.

Celestial spectacles

The World Cup just won’t be the same without the two-time winners from South America.

Yup, no mundial is complete without Uruguay, a nation that has football where other countries have history.

So I tuned in on Sky Sports to watch 60 minutes of Uruguay vs Colombia in Montevideo, the other 30 minutes being occupied (thanks to a technical fault) by Ossie Ardiles’ yellow tie.

Ossie’s tie was louder than his mumbling analysis of Argentina’s entertainingly dismal World Cup qualifying campaign.

It got so bad that one Argentine football writer I know has decided to support Chile.

The Uruguay game was utterly enthralling. Four goals (three to Uruguay), two red cards, periods of play when the home side looked simply incapable of passing to someone in a light blue shirt, and a Colombian forward line that was fast, enterprising and comically inaccurate.

The diagonal cut-back from Diego Forlan for Sebastian Eguren to score Uruguay’s third was sublime.

Eduardo Pierce would not have been impressed as most of the players ran around like chickens without heads.

Both the Uruguayan and Colombian coach fulminated on the touchline to no avail: their players had gone collectively mad on adrenaline.

But the qualifier was utterly gripping. For sheer manic urgency, I have seen nothing quite like it since extra time in the 1970 semi-final between Italy and West Germany.

Inglorious Ajax, glorious Bastia

Johan Cruyff may not have kicked a ball in 25 years but the John Lennon of European football can never stay completely out of the limelight.

After revealing last year that he missed the 1978 World Cup because of kidnap threats, he has now told Esquire in Spain that he turned down Real Madrid when he left Ajax.

The Dutch club had, Cruyff says, sold him to Real but he was so fed up with his treatment in Amsterdam that he joined Barcelona.

This historical revisionism raises a whole series of intriguing What Ifs, but Wim Jansen’s take on the Cruyff legend is even funnier.

Jansen says he invented Cruyff’s wandering style: “Every time we played Ajax, I’d tell him: ‘You can pass me, or the ball can pass me, but you will never get past me with the ball’.

"And he wouldn’t come near me. I was responsible for him wandering over the pitch.”

For fans of that Ajax side – and who isn’t? – the next Champions contains a frank interview with Johnny Rep.

From the tone of the conversation, Rep probably enjoyed St Etienne – alongside Michel Platini – more than Ajax, where he had to force his way into the first team over the determined opposition of Sjaak Swart and a clique of older players.

Ernst Bouwes’ piece is accompanied by a photo of Rep looking a bit like Robert Redford in the 1970s, while playing for Bastia.

The Corsican club’s 1978 UEFA Cup final first leg was captured by the great French movie director Jacques Tati, the creator of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, and released posthumously as Forza Bastia! in 2002.

There’s an obvious Quentin Tarantino remake gag in there somewhere but as it eludes me, feel free to supply your own.

Rep’s big problem at Ajax was that he was too good-looking for the established players to take him seriously.

I had the same trouble when I tried to oust the left-back in the Higham Lane junior school team in Nuneaton. (Yes, I am joking).


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