Minus seven

MANY years ago, when I still had hopes, ambitions and delusions of talent, I went for a job interview.

After travelling to the company’s offices, filling in a form to confirm that I was neither a nutter nor a kleptomaniac and telling the head of whatever where I saw myself in five years’ time, I was told to expect a phone call later in the day telling me whether I had been successful.

“I’m afraid you haven’t got the job,” said the head of whatever when he called. “We’ve decided to give it to the person who was already working here on a part-time basis, because they’ve got more experience than you.”

Then why did you go through the rigmarole of interviewing me in the first place, you great steaming pillock? I didn’t say. Surely it’s not because you enjoy my company. “Thank you for your feedback,” I instead replied in a polite, mildly sycophantic manner, and went off to do some window shopping.

I suspect most people have, at some point, attended an interview for a job they knew they had next to hope of getting. I wonder if some of England’s 30-man provisional World Cup squad have had that feeling over the last couple of weeks.

Did Fabio Capello need to pick 30, given that he admitted yesterday to knowing the identity of 20 of his final 23 for South Africa? Or did Monday’s unconvincing victory over Mexico and this afternoon’s really unconvincing win against Japan really tell him which seven players aren’t good enough to go to the World Cup?

While Holland coach Bert van Marwijk – among others – declined any attempt at stretching the tension by naming his final 23 days ahead of FIFA’s June 1 deadline, Capello is leaving us all, players including, to wait until Tuesday.

No wonder it’s a story which has captured the imagination over the last few days. Whatever Capello’s intentions, it’s a delay which has an air of the TV talent show about it. Except that even Davina McCall never paused for two days before revealing the evictees.

All 30 have got to be mentally ready to go, even the four who watched all 180 minutes of football against Mexico and Japan from the bench – Tottenham’s Michael Dawson, Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock and West Ham pair Matthew Upson and Scott Parker. They must fear missing out, but they won’t be the only ones. Dawson’s club team-mate Peter Crouch has described England’s training camp in Austria as like “being on trial”.

Capello will break the news to the ins and the outs via telephone on Tuesday morning, the same method Sven-Goran Eriksson used in 2002 and 2006. Steve McManaman, who failed to make the cut in 2002, was subsequently critical of Eriksson in his autobiography for phoning at a time when he was training, and leaving a message of rejection on his mobile.

But there’s no easy way of telling a player they are not going to the World Cup, and it’s probably safer to do it over the phone than in person, as Glenn Hoddle will testify.

Hoddle took 28 players to La Manga ahead of the 1998 World Cup with a view to weeding out six. He invited each player up from the poolside to his hotel room to give them good or bad news. Graeme Le Saux, interviewed on Sky Sports News a few days ago, described it as “a walk of shame” – and he was one of the lucky 22 who made it into the final squad.

Le Saux suggested that Hoddle would have been better off taking a more discreet approach, and going to each player’s hotel room individually. That approach might not have stopped Paul Gascoigne flipping out in the way that he did after learning of his rejection. But it would have at least ensured that Gazza trashed his own room rather than Hoddle’s.

I’ve been trying to think of the cruellest possible way of whittling 30 players down to 23, and have decided that it would be a game of Musical Chairs. Leave out 23 chairs, and stick on a bit of Kenny G or The Eagles (both favourites of Hoddle, according to his Daily Mail column on Saturday). If, when the music stops, a player sits down who you don’t want to pick, point at them and say: “No, not you.”

Perhaps, in the spirit of The X Factor-style elimination process that England’s World Cup audition has become, the 23 players who make it can record ‘The Climb’ as their official tournament song, while the seven rejects do a version of ‘Killing In The Name’. It would at least provide a bit of competition for the latest version of Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions’, which is the only World Cup song in town now that John Barnes has redone ‘World In Motion’ for a chocolate bar advert.

Then again, why not find a way to give the unlucky seven a second chance? I can’t help but feel FIFA are missing a trick here.

Surely they could make room for a 33rd team at the finals, made up of players cast off by their respective national squads, selected via a couple of televised trial games. This team of second chancers could be given a name that sounds a bit like a country, yet reflects their status as outsiders. I would suggest Disturbia, if Rihanna hadn’t already come up with it.

Maybe Sepp Blatter and friends will consider my brilliant idea for 2014. In the meantime, seven England players are soon to get a phone call telling them the bad news that, deep down, they probably already knew.


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