Why England are Aston Villa

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Some World Cup observations...

1. Barcelona’s a great place to watch the World Cup. There are people from all around the world – especially the leading football nations like Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, England, Italy, Holland, Germany  France and obviously Spain.

Add to that mix substantial expat communities from West Africa, Algeria, Chile, and it becomes a kaleidoscope of fans. And because the city centre is smaller than Paris, London or Sao Paulo, you get to see most of them. Bars all over town and on the beach are full of all nationalities and the atmosphere is brilliant. Fireworks light the night sky when any team wins.

Compared to England and the rash of George Crosses, there’s hardly any Spanish flags on show. That’s part because many locals put Catalonia before Spain, but I’ve yet to meet a Catalan who doesn’t want Spain to do well.

2. Emmanuel Adebayor brought a smile or two. It amused to hear the City striker describing Wayne Rooney’s team as "Manchester". As did hearing his mobile phone going off live on air. He didn’t answer it – but it was actually his wife ringing to say that she’d given birth to his daughter.

3. I love the national anthems. Always have done. It’s easy to be cynical about what you might see at sickly and forced patriotism, but the highlight for many footballers is representing their country at the World Cup. There’s some proper tunes too – Italy, France, England and Brazil stand out. Argentina’s wordless anthem seems to inspire their players like no other.

It’s great when the players sing and it was superb to see the Mexicans with their arms proudly across their chest. Patrice Evra even cried – though that was probably at the state of the team he was leading.

4. Andrew Cole's bigger than Socrates. I do a column with Andrew every week and he’s been out in South Africa. He bumped into Socrates as they were both working for the same charity. Cole completely buzzed off meeting the Brazilian legend – yet more people recognised Coley because he played for Manchester United until relatively recently and the Premiership is so big in South Africa.

5. Enough with the township clichés. I suspect that there are plenty of kids in South African townships who are bored with patronising visits from people they’ve never heard of. Good games of football are being spoiled for the sake of clichéd television which we’ve seen a millions times. It would be more interesting if the forgotten stories were unearthed – like South Africa’s little-known white underclass, the Zimbabwean refugees who are pushed to the fringes of Soweto.

6. England can't win the World Cup. I’m baffled by people thinking that they can. England have been ranked an average of eighth on the planet over the past two years because seven other national teams have consistently performed better. England won one World Cup 44 years ago on home territory. Since then, the English have failed to qualify three times and played in seven tournaments. Italia ’90 was their best showing – a semi final appearance.

England are the Aston Villa of world football – decent with talented players but with nowhere enough quality to compete with the best consistently. Brazil are struggling to fit Daniel Alves, the world’s best right back, in their team. Spain can’t find space for Cesc Fabregas, while Argentina can call on Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Diego Milito and Gonzalo Higuain up front.

Nobody expects Villa to win the Premiership, so why do some expect England to triumph in South Africa? Hope triumphs over reason and when England fail to deliver the pendulum swings too far the other way and players are slaughtered.

7. Celebrities aren't proper supporters. I’ve not watched any of that James Corden programme. Celebrity and football mix like the chairman of BP and a Louisiana shrimper. I’ve interviewed many celebrities about their footballing affinities and can count on one hand the number of genuine football fans – the type who’ve stood on an away end. Paul Heaton and Chris Ecclestone are two who spring to mind.

INTERVIEWS Judge for yourself: Heaton & the other celebrities

8. Mick McCarthy has become an unlikely star. He’s so no-nonsense and old fashioned-that he appears appalled the pitches aren’t caked in mud and that the teams wear coloured kits. I reckon he only went to Wolves because they were good in the 50s, a decade that serves as the reference point for his life despite him only living in it for 10 months.

He was born frustrated. When his local Barnsley paper celebrated the opening of the nearby M1, eight-year-old Mick would have been disappointed that things were changing too fast in the world and remarked trenchantly, "There’s nowt wrong with A-roads."

I remember him playing for Manchester City. Bet he wasn’t happy living in Manchester, a city with more than one rail station, clubs with foreign-sounding names like the Haçienda and cafes which had tables outside where people drank coffee. In the street.

I bet he settles any disputes off-air with a solid Yorkshire fist-fight on the condition that the loser must not go to hospital but sink nine pints. He obviously can’t wait to get home and to have a week in Filey.

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