I once went on a mission to charm Sepp Blatter, the Swiss lawyer who controls global football. I was ushered into his lair and found the ancient autocrat on a sofa, surrounded by statuesque blondes of possibly Ukrainian extraction. Stumped for something to say, I went for the old chestnut.
“Mr President,” I said, in tones of calculated self-deprecation, “how come England hasn’t won the Fifa World Cup since I was two? France, Germany, Italy, Spain — all our European rivals, but not England. What’s wrong with us?” Blatter figuratively stroked the white cat on his lap, and replied that it was very simple. The trouble with England was the Premiership, he said. You import all these players from around the world. It means that the local talent never gets the same attention, or the same investment. That’s the problem with English football, he said, and then I found that my time was up and that the blonde Ukrainian six-footers were heading me to the door.