The tear-flecked coverage and forests of newsprint devoted to the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson have made the resignation of Pope Benedict and the appointment of his successor look as big a deal as trying to find an ink monitor. And rightly so: Suralex is not just one of the most significant figures in world football, but in also in all of British public life. Besides his jaw-dropping success, he was just about the only top-flight manager to really bring on young English players. We’ll see what David Moyes does: so far he’s brought on several Scottish players, which doesn’t seem to have gone that well for Scotland’s woeful national team.
Fergie’s departure, the sacking of Roberto Mancini (which was inevitable from about last December, once Manchester City’s wretched Champions League campaign had fizzled out), and Benitez’s de-interimising of himself does mean that Arsène Wenger is now the most senior prefect in the playground. And anyone who cares remotely about soccer soap will be in a frenzy of excitement over a possible repeat of the -Mourinho-Wenger wars of the mid-2000s. To say that they don’t seem to get on is like saying that Nigel Farage has a bit of a thing about Europe. Never one to miss a chance to patch things up, José kicked it off by essentially accusing Wenger of being a peeping Tom. Having worked himself up into a lather over the Arsenal manager yakking about Chelsea, Mourinho said: ‘I think he is one of those people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some people who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea.’ Wenger replied, ‘When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent.’ Mourinho then revealed that he had a 120-page dossier of the beastly things Wenger had said about him. Roll on the rematch.
But enough about the winter game. With gale-force winds sweeping the country, it can only mean that a Lord’s Test match is about to start. For those of us forced to eke out our last years in journalism, the current England Test team is jam-packed with richly punnable surnames. Cook, Bell, Trott, Swann, Prior and Root all make the headline writer’s job easier.
There’s much more to Joe Root than a nice short name. The young Yorkshireman has started the season in astounding form, with scores of 49, 182, 236 and 179 in his first four innings, and has four more innings in the Tests against New Zealand to make the 350-odd runs he needs to become the first man since Graeme Hick to make 1,000 runs by the end of May. What a story that would be! Either way, he will surely play in all the Ashes Tests. He’s only 22, looks like a young Mike Atherton and bats like one too. He has just captained the England Lions, so clearly the powers-that-be are preparing him to take over from Cook in a few years. What a treat to see such a shining talent at the start of a journey.
We shouldn’t get carried away. Remember Phillip Hughes who came into the Ashes for Australia in 2009 billed as the new Don Bradman, having made two Test centuries in his first four innings at the age of 19? He played a month for Middlesex before the Ashes, in which he hit four hundreds, and we thought he’d be tonking our bowlers round the park for the next 20 years. But he was dropped after only two Tests of that Ashes because his technique was brutally exposed by Jimmy Anderson and co. He’s still only 24, and comes to England for a second Ashes tour. But this time he has a Test average of 33, and looks like another player who’s not quite the real thing, rather than the new messiah.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.