Godfather Of Champions 605 Outside The Squad Lis
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What happened next was exactly like he had said to Shania. He stopped paying attention to the Chelsea club's protests and the various voices of the media. He concentrated on his work and did not make any more responses. Are Chelsea and Abramovich unhappy? What's it got to do with me?
His incident became water cooler conversation for many people, increasing the sales of England's major newspapers and tabloids each day.
The hype about Mourinho's dismissal came to an end. After all, no matter how temperamental Mourinho was, he was nothing more than a Portuguese. Twain's swearing incident would also slowly lose public interest because of his refusal to speak.
During this time and for some time to come, the focus of the English media was on the England national team.
The battle between life and death was imminent.
There were two rounds left in the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifier held in Switzerland and Austria. As Group E had seven teams, there was going to be a team that would come up empty at some point during the compet.i.tive schedule and it was England's turn in the penultimate round. The scoreboard indicated that the England national team was temporarily in the second place with eleven games played and twenty-three points.
According to the rules of the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifying round, fourteen teams would advance from the European Champions.h.i.+p qualifiers, the first two teams from each of the seven groups, followed by teams from the two hosts, which would make up sixteen teams.
The first-ranked Croatia, with its twenty-six points, and the third-placed Russia, with its twenty-one points, had one less game than England. If England wanted to advance, they needed to hope that Russia would lose to Israel in the away game in the group stage match held on November 17th. Then England had to defeat Croatia at home on the 21st.
Only then would the team would be able to compete in the next UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p.
The condition seemed harsh but was not impossible.
The English media beautifully surmised that Israel was not a weak team, not to mention they were competing at home. And in the final round, the group's current top ranked Croatia was likely to obtain the right to advance ahead of time. In that case, when they advanced, they did not need to use all their main force and energy to fight with England.
Therefore, anything was possible.
England concentrated on training before the 17th, while the English media cheered for the Israeli team in the hope that they would be able to beat Russia at home and retain the hope for England to advance.
Starting from the end of the league game against Chelsea until November 24th, the English Premier League would not have a game. The other European leagues were mostly the same. Those two weeks were reserved for games of the top-level national teams. In Europe, it was 2008 UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifying matches. In South America, it was the world's longest compet.i.tion schedule, the CONMEBOL qualifier. The official compet.i.tion time was 2010 but due to the special circ.u.mstances of South American football, the qualifier had been in full swing in October, the longest World Cup qualifier of the time.
The Asian Football Confederation qualifiers would not begin until February the next year. The Chinese national football team did not need to play any qualifiers because they were hosting the Olympics. After they lost in the AFC Asian Cup, the Chinese Football a.s.sociation basically dissolved the national team to concentrate on its strategy for the Olympics and dragged the Olympic team to tour all over the world on public expense to play friendlies. The travel, accommodations, venue rentals, opponents' appearances, as well as miscellaneous subsidies took a lot of money. As for how it would turn out... Twain could only wish the Chinese football team good luck with a sneer.
Sun Jihai, the only Chinese player on the Forest team, was not in the "Olympic strategy" program because he was over twenty-three years old. According to the information revealed by Tang Jing, he would not be on the list of the three over-age players. Therefore, Sun Jihai had nothing to do with the national match and did not have to fly all the way to the United States to waste time and play friendlies with a few major league teams, especially since overage players were generally not involved in such an Olympic friendly.
Nottingham Forest was already a Premier League team and a force to be reckoned with in Europe. It was inevitable that there be a lot of national footballers in the squad and that they would be drafted. It was no longer strange for Twain to encounter such a thing. Apart from complaining that his team played for their countries and then had to recover while they played for the club, he had no way to stop it from happening. After all, he was just a football manager, not the FIFA president.
David Beckham, who scored a goal at the end of the game against Chelsea and helped Nottingham Forest equalize, was popular with the English media. Many media outlets had publicly called for the veteran to be re-appointed. They did not demand him wear the captain's armband again, but they did not want him play for a couple of paces during the garbage time and then be brought off. Although it was no longer up to the England team to advance, as long as there was a possibility of advancement, it was necessary to give their all in the fight.
McClaren declined to talk about whether or not Beckham would appear on the squad list against Croatia. He also refused to answer the "boring question" of betting on Beckham. His reasons were sufficient: "for the sake of secrecy."
The media began to build up Beckham's number of national team appearances. Although there was not much to flaunt, the last eight minutes of the away game against Moscow was the 98th time he had played on behalf of England. It was two games short of one hundred games. If England could beat Croatia on November 21st, then they still had a glimmer of hope of breaking into the finals. In that case, Beckham's hope of one hundred games remained. Otherwise, it was hard to say what was going to happen.
Watching Britain's media excitedly discuss Beckham's record of appearances and how much they looked forward to the prospect of one hundred games, it was as if they had advanced out of the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifier.
The country was so strange. When someone succeeded, they were used to calling them "G.o.d," but once they failed, they scrambled to hang them in the gallows with their own hands. It was rare to be utilitarian to such a point. If Beckham had not scored a crucial goal in the final minutes of the game against Greece in 2001, instantly making him a G.o.d, he might not have been able to change his fortune in the United Kingdom.
Twain suddenly thought of Li Ning, the Chinese gymnast. He used to be the darling of the entire country, and then he was the outcast, spurned by hundreds of millions of people. Beckham was more fortunate than Li Ning in that he was still able to save and prove himself. When Li Ning failed, he was old enough to retire and lost the chance to prove those who admonished him wrong with his own efforts.
Sports were cruel. The Olympics and the World Cup were not difference. No matter how beautiful it was, the one who lost was the loser. Only the winner could enjoy the applause and glory. It was not determined by the sport. It was decided by the people, the spectators, the partic.i.p.ants involved in the game, the game operators... all human beings.
Beckham, at least, had the entire British media to build momentum for him and plead on his behalf, in hopes that he would appear in the starting list against Croatia and become the hero that saved the country.
However, amidst the conflicting views of the excitement and concern of the English media and fans, one man became a sacrificial victim behind the aura of Beckham's star power. He was forgotten.
George Wood's name did not appear on the squad list in the final showdown announced by McClaren.
Dunn had not returned yet, but Twain was not particularly busy. The team's training was only one day of practice. It was not much time, but it was high intensity. The relentless Christmas schedule was looming, and the team needed to be fit to cope with the multiple upcoming tournaments and twice or thrice weekly games.
Training was scheduled for the afternoon. Twain had an afternoon nap after his lunch. When he woke up, he would go to Wilford and start his day of training.
Every time he came to the training base, George Wood had already started to warm up.
McClaren had unveiled the full squad list of the last game against Croatia the day before. Out of twenty-five players, Nottingham Forest accounted for two spots — David Beckham and Aaron Lennon.
George Wood's name was not there.
Although George Wood was not a regular national team member, any fool would know what it implied to take his name off the list before such an important game. Under both Eriksson and McClaren, George Wood had not been placed in an important position except for being in the starting lineup in some unimportant friendlies and appearing as a subst.i.tute during garbage time.
He sat on the bench in the World Cup in Germany for all five games and did not get a minute of playing time.
England played twelve games in the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifiers and George Wood received a total of 180 minutes of playing time, averaging fifteen minutes per game. He had never been put in an important position like in Nottingham Forest. The manager did not trust him and there was no spot for him in the tactical system.
However, George Wood did not make any public complaints. Maybe he had not learned how to fight for greater benefits for himself in the national team?
In the end, it was Nottingham local media that looked into it and publicly questioned whether the manager, McClaren, was biased against the players coming out of Nottingham Forest. McClaren's response was "the England team is concentrated with the best players from England, each of whom may be a core player at their respective clubs. But you can't ask that these core players continue to be the core once they come to the England team."
Initially, it made sense, but after a more careful consideration, McClaren had given a perfunctory answer to the reporters. No one asked for George Wood to have a core role in the England team, but he did not even have the minimum playing time. Every time he was brought on to play, it was to waste the time if they were certain to win or lose. It was just using up the time. If the game was very intense and brutal, and the outcome was in doubt until the last second, George Wood was bound to sit on the bench. The diligent Nottingham media collected information on those games and came to a conclusion — McClaren had to have a grudge against George Wood!
Truthfully, it was uncertain if there was a vendetta against Wood, but distrust and the lack of an important position were certain.
McClaren did trust the players that Twain had trained and would not place them in important positions if he could avoid it.
"George." Twain saw Wood, who was warming up alone on the training ground, and he did not approve of it because of the senseless depletion of stamina. It would affect the effectiveness of training after that. But for a living robot such as George Wood, it was not too much of a problem.
He stepped forward and stood next to Wood to watch him finish a set of warm-ups.
"It's the game day for the national team, but I see you warming up here. It's actually quite a rare sight..." Twain said with a laugh.
It was a rare sight. Even though he had very little playing time on the England team, he would still make the squad list. After all, he was the captain of a European Champions.h.i.+p team and favored by many as the defensive midfielder. If he were to be placed in other countries, he might have been the main force. It was just somewhat helpless in England because the "double virtue issue" was enough of a headache for every manager. If Wood was in the picture, the "double virtue" became "triple virtue."
"This is rather good. Anyway, I won't get to play if I go," Wood mumbled. He put on his jumper and stood in front of Twain.
He was not in a good mood and appeared to have been affected by the squad list. It was a crucial game that countless professional players loved to encounter because it was possible to prove one's ability, try their best to save the desperate situation and to become a hero to the entire country. This was especially true for Wood, who liked to keep challenging the limits. The stronger the opponent, the harder it was to play the game, the more vigorous he would be. It was McClaren who deprived him of the right to look forward to the game ten days before the match.
Twain was happy to hear him say that instead. "I thought you didn't care about this kind of thing at all."
Wood glanced at him.
Twain was still smiling. "Because you've never expressed your displeasure anywhere. Everyone thinks you're compliant and easy to bully, that you are used to sitting on the bench. George, if I were you, I would accuse McClaren of not knowing how to use his players, and then announce that I won't be there if he's still there, it's either him or me, if he's not dismissed, I will not go to the England team..."
"I'm not you." Wood glanced at him. "But I'm really not happy. I'm not having a good time... on the England team, and I thought about simply not going."
Twain was a little taken aback, not expecting that Wood would actually say such a thing. He was really having a hard time at the national team.
"I hate being a subst.i.tute. If McClaren had said that I was going to be a subst.i.tute, I would have turned him down. But he didn't say... When the Jamaica Football Federation people first approached me and wanted me to play for Jamaica, I refused... Now come to think of it, maybe it would have been better for me to go to Jamaica."
Twain was silent.
He had heard countless similar stories: a star player had no choice but to change nationality and play for a weaker countries due to the strong domestic compet.i.tion, just to be able to partic.i.p.ate in the World Cup or any other intercontinental cup compet.i.tion. The situation most commonly occurred in Brazil.
George Wood had his Brazilian nationality, but when he became famous, the Brazilian Football Confederation did not even glance at him because Brazil had too many geniuses. They did not care about George Wood, who was far away in England.
Twain was silent for a moment. "Your choice is right. It's better not to go to a place like Jamaica, where it would have been impossible to win. Don't worry... If England can't advance this time, McClaren won't stay in that position for long. Maybe a change of manager will do the trick."
"What if it doesn't?" Wood looked up.
Twain did not know how to answer. It was not as if there was no such possibility. Some players had to announce their exit from the national team early because they were not used in important positions and had lost the chance to show themselves off on the larger international arena.
He could not say "it's also good to focus on playing for the club and keep your form going longer" because he also wanted to see Wood play on that wider arena and amaze the entire world.
"Things are always going to get better." Twain did not know what the future held, but he could only console in that way.
It gradually livened up outside. Players and coaches hurried to the base for training.
Twain had planned to head to his office to deal with trivial matters. As he was about to turn around, he heard Wood say, "if... McClaren's gone, would you go?"
Twain understood Wood's meaning. He looked at Wood in puzzlement. "Then I would have to give up my present job. Would you like that?"
Wood thought about it and shook his head. "Forget it. If you don't go to the England team, at most I won't go. If you're not here... I don't have a job."
Twain laughed. "When did you learn to joke, George?"
Wood did not say anything. He turned around and walked toward the locker room.
He stood there watching Wood's back, and then turned to walk toward his office.
His ability to predict had expired, so he could not know whether England would be able to break through Croatia this time. He did not know if McClaren would be out of a job, who his successor would be if he were dismissed, or if that person would like Wood's style of football... There were too many questions.
However, now he was particularly keen for England to lose that key game and lose its ticket to the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p final.
Someone had to be responsible for the "tragedy." That person would not be an English Football a.s.sociation official, nor would he be a star player. It would be the manager, McClaren.
Godfather Of Champions 605 Outside The Squad Lis
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Godfather Of Champions 605 Outside The Squad Lis summary
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