Gareth Southgate is a very clever person. We know this because he’s called Gareth, and Gareth not only has the very clever eth suffix, but is a name more commonly found in rugby union, which is a sport for very clever persons. Also, Gareth dresses smartly, pronounces his glottal stops, and is kind to journalists and small animals, all sure signs of a bristling intelligence. But, more than anything, Gareth gives an outstanding interview; we can be sure of this because there must be some reason for his appointment as England manager and it was certainly not the overwhelming persuasiveness of his qualifications. The Fiver can only conclude that he can relate anecdotes about when he has shown initiative, is equally comfortable working alone or in a team, sometimes tries to do everything himself, and in general is just too much of a perfectionist.
Because Gareth is so clever, he has been able to take a frankly horrible football team and arrange a variety of players in a variety of formations, such that it remains a frankly horrible football team. Someone less clever might have decided that the first thing to do would be devise a way of playing which accommodated the few good players into a coherent, cohesive first XI, extracted the maximum from the even fewer outstanding players, and which could then be perfected. But no: the suffix eth hath spaken.
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As such, England spent Tuesday evening preparing for Brexit, absolutely powerless to avoid a punishment beating from France – despite spending almost half the match with a player more, in numerical terms at least. And, as the populace chuckled into their flavoursome food and winsome wine while lauding the robustness of their democracy and charisma of their leader, they surely praised the epochal intelligence of their own very clever person, the incomparable camel Didier Deschamps. Such a very clever person is Deschamps that last summer, even in reaching the final, he contrived a more miserable European Championship than anyone thought possible; in particular, his inspired use of André-Pierre Gignac was far beyond the conception of mere simple folk.
And just the other day, he presided over a shock defeat to Sweden. Us slavering thickos have long since decided that Moussa Sissoko is an absolute donkey of a footballer, lacking almost every attribute necessary to play in what should be the finest team in the world. But old DD sees things we’ll never see, selecting him ahead of the electrifying Ousmane Dembélé at the same time as preferring Dimitri Payet to Thomas Lemar and Olivier Giroud to Kylian Mbappé, reaping a rich reward. The truth, though, is that such intellectual weight and rigour renders Tuesday night’s altercation both trifling and piffling. In future, the teams might do better to compete at less vulgar contests, such as Finders Keepers, Fort Boyard, Blockbusters and Le Chevalier Du Labyrinthe; only then will people truly appreciate the majesty of Gareth and DD.