Spectator Sport

By Alton, Roger | The Spectator, July 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

Spectator Sport


Alton, Roger, The Spectator


Quite the best piece about any sport you're likely to read in a long time is a vibrant profile of Roger Federer in the New Yorker the other day by the octogenarian art critic Calvin Tomkins. In the course of it the Fed observes: 'The problem with experience is that you become content with playing it safe.

I have to push myself to stay dangerous, like a junior player - to play free tennis, but with the mental stability of an older player.'

Before the World Cup Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller had won just two caps for Germany, Werder Bremen's Mesut Ozil had made five appearances for his country, as had his fellow midfielder Sami Khedira. All three of these young men (Khedira is the oldest at 23) have enjoyed sparkling tournaments in a team that was not expected to get to the business end of Fifa's grand shebang. Germany coach Joachim Low might have been told that you don't win anything with kinder, but he had the faith to let these boys go out and play and they didn't let anyone down. Their football was sprinkled with the carefree joy that comes when youth, talent and belief are allowed to blend naturally. It might not seem terribly German, but then look what happened to England.

Fabio Capello's collection of minted veterans didn't do much for a tournament that had already been given a pretty nasty odour by France and Italy, also teams that were afraid to embrace youth and the possibilities that it brings. There is nothing wrong with experience in the sporting arena, but often with experience comes the fear of innovation. If you do what you are told and things go wrong, it can't be your fault, can it?

English sporting culture, especially football, is rather like the country itself: stuck in the past, obsessed with the war, and deeply suspicious of youth. …

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