He's prickly, makes enemies and missed his own medal target, but UK Athletics must keep Charles van Commenee
22:30 GMT, 12 August 2012
It was Charles van Commenee who brought the issue up. Credibility, he said, was the crux of it.
'If I hold athletes and coaches accountable every day, how could I work over the next four years if I am not accountable myself' he asked.
The head coach of UK Athletics set his target at eight medals in this Olympics, including one gold. Fail and he would quit.
Winner: Van Commenee is a man who
gets results despite the GB athletics team falling short of their overall target
'If I don't hit my target and I stay in a job, that sends the wrong message to everybody,' he added. And he's short. Not by a vast amount, but enough.
Take Mo Farah and Great Britain's golden hour away and a lot of the track and field events have been a bust.
Batons dropped, inferior times, gambles that failed to pay off. Van Commenee picked Lynsey Sharp for the 800 metres ahead of four rivals with superior performances, and she tearfully failed to qualify.
The rift with Phillips Idowu was a public embarrassment. There really is nothing else for him to do but – stay. Of course, stay.
Flop: Idowu crashed out of the triple jump after a nightmare display in the first round
Don't be silly. Are you mad Four gold medals Four gold medals and we lose the coach What are we, the Football Association We need a little perspective here. In one hour alone at the Olympic Stadium, Van Commenee did four years' work. That was before Farah became this country's greatest Olympic runner.
Charlie is a controversial character, true. He ticks people off. He makes enemies, no doubt of it. But he also gets results. Not as many as he would have liked, but in the part of the medal table that matters. Only the United States and Russia have won more gold medals than Great Britain in track and field at these Games.
The last time Britain had three different gold medallists was in 1984 when Sebastian Coe, Daley Thompson and Tessa Sanderson triumphed at a Games that did not include Russia or the Iron Curtain countries.
More from Martin Samuel…
Martin Samuel: The real Team GB is all of us – let the Olympics be a game-changer
Martin Samuel: Indeed, women do know their place… on the podium
Stop complaining and pitch in! People, not playing fields, have made the winners of Team GB
Payne misses the medals by 0.4seconds… and now GB swimmers face big dip in cash pool
Big cat Bolt is purring… and in 200m final you'll see that man CAN fly!
Martin Samuel: Hail Britain's superman! Hoy leads the way on Terrific Tuesday
Martin Samuel: Spare us… Pietersen and Idowu should take a running jump
Martin Samuel: Thank you, sport… for lifting our spirits even in the toughest of times
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
Given that the United States boycotted Moscow in 1980 – when Britain won four golds – this is surely Britain's best performance in athletics since Lynn Davies, Ken Matthews, Ann Packer and Mary Rand were on top of the podium in Tokyo in 1964.
In Olympic terms, David Coleman coined it when calling the 400m hurdles in Mexico City in 1968. 'Hemery wins for Britain,' he said, 'it's Hennige in second place and who cares who's third, it doesn't matter.'
Turns out quite a few people did as the bronze medallist was British, too. Coleman was forced to eat humble pie on the subject for years. Yet his instincts were right; because while you will probably have heard of Olympic gold medallist and former world record-holder David Hemery, the name John Sherwood won't ring too many bells.
Hemery was Sports Personality of the Year, the first president of UK Athletics and a Commander of the British Empire. Sherwood taught PE for 37 years at Firth Park Community Arts College in Sheffield.
Once your team have got gold, the other podium finishes are all but irrelevant. Kelly Holmes took an Olympic bronze medal in Sydney in 2000 but don't anticipate seeing it on screen any time soon.
There is more chance of a lost Pete and Dud sketch turning up in the BBC archives than an outing for Dame Kelly's third place, erased from memory after her double gold in Athens.
So Van Commenee may not have delivered precisely on his original promise, but he exceeded all expectations in the area that truly matters. If he had won nine medals, eight bronze and one gold, he would have beaten his target but it would not have felt like success. If he had won 10 but no golds at all, there would be no clamour for him to remain.
Yet four and the greatest night in British Olympic history Van Commenee must stay for the same reason that Roberto Di Matteo deserves to be manager of Chelsea this season. Di Matteo won the Champions League; so, in his own way, did Van Commenee.
At the double: Farah lit up the Olympic Stadium on two occasions winning gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m
The Dutchman continues insisting that he is done now. He spoke to his employers at UK Athletics on Saturday and, despite Farah-related euphoria, reiterated his belief that six medals was not enough. Challenged, he says he will go on holiday and think about it; except nobody will be waving him goodbye and good riddance at Heathrow Airport as he once predicted.
If he goes, Van Commenee will leave the crowd wanting more. He gets results, even if his standards are higher. Is he always as smart as he thinks he is No. But we knew that anyway.
There is more than a bit of Fabio Capello in Van Commenee. Yet just as the World Cup in 2010 was a sobering experience for Capello, who discovered his regimented approach did not translate successfully to a foreign tournament, so Van Commenee's greatest worth now is as a man with the clearest idea of how to prepare for Rio in 2016.
Capello learned from the disappointment of South Africa and changed. The same could be said of Van Commenee in 2016.
Double vision: Capello and Van Commenee share a number of similar traits
He WILL know where he went wrong. This was his first Olympics as a team-specific athletics coach – he had previously worked with individuals and his position at Beijing in 2008 was technical director to the Dutch Olympic Committee, not just the track-and-field operation – and there must be lessons in his handling of Idowu, or his unnecessarily confrontational stance over Tiffany Porter.
No nation that fumbles the relay baton as much as Britain can be said to function effectively in team disciplines, either. These are the areas in which it is to be hoped Van Commenee revises his thinking: if he can be persuaded to stay.
His main character trait is stubbornness. Capello had that, too. And some are convinced that, like Capello, Van Commenee is searching for a way out, and sticking to his eight-medal target is a way of engineering that departure.
In which case, it is time for Niels de Vos, chief executive of UK Athletics, to do his job. There will be plenty of other countries looking at Super Saturday with envy, plenty who will be viewing the medal table and thinking their own team needs the sort of shake-up Van Commenee could provide. Not least the next Olympic hosts, Brazil.
There is no point in focusing on legacy if we do not give the best coaches the chance to build on what has been achieved at London 2012.
The biggest challenge for Van Commenee, meanwhile, is still here: to maintain the impact of the last nine days, swallow his pride and carry on. It would be quite the achievement; on both fronts.
My final word on the Plastic Brits (for now)
They are expecting a roadblock around Basildon Athletics Club on Monday night. The buzz from the Olympics is such that chairman Eamonn Martin will be manning the gate for club night to ensure that new members enrol in an orderly fashion.
A generation has been inspired, as promised, and what will we tell them Commit to your sport, work hard and with luck we won't replace you with your Ukrainian training partners.
Your countries need you: Aldama has represented three nations; Cuba, Sudan and Team GB
Stay fit, stay dedicated and you could be in the Olympics, always providing there is not an American who can't get into her own team but is faster than you and personally ambitious.
The debate around national qualification in sport will fade from sight now, without a home Games putting it on the agenda, but do not imagine it no longer matters.
Half the people who pontificated on the issues around Plastic Brits – I should invoice – did not understand the parameters anyway. It was always about sport, never about society.
I read Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent dim-wittedly linking it to attacks on multiculturalism and immigration. I read one piece that spoke of the temerity of those who dared to question Yamile Aldama's multiple changes of nationality, Cuba to Sudan and now Great Britain.
I still don't find it excessively bold – the dictionary definition of temerity – to believe that only one switch of allegiance, in special circumstances, should be the maximum permitted, and anything more devalues international competition.
No final: Porter crashed out in the semi-finals of the 100m hurdles
I think the fact that Tiffany Porter did not even make the 100 metres hurdles final and three American women finished in the top four of it, suggests suspicions of her motives for abandoning the United States for Great Britain were justified, and not an attack on multiculturalism or immigration.
Mo Farah represents the best of modern Britain and his story could not be further removed from the opportunism that is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern international sport. Not to mention colonialism.
Leap of faith: Shara Proctor
I still do not think it is fair that Shara Proctor has to compete for Great Britain, because Anguilla, her country of origin, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. South Sudan is not a member either, but its marathon man Guor Marial ran beneath an IOC banner yesterday. Why is Proctor different And why aren't the Princess Royal, Lord Coe and all our other heavyweights on the Olympic stage not lobbying ferociously for Anguilla and other British overseas territories to be given their due Grenada declared a national holiday on the occasion of their first gold medallist, 400m runner Kirani James, last week. If Proctor had been the best long jumper at these Games, Anguilla would have been denied that nationally uplifting moment. Aren't the days of empire over
'I want to be the person who gets British people interested in wrestling,' said Olga Butkevych, from Zaporizhia in Ukraine, before losing in the first round, and ending Great Britain's only participation in her sport.
Yet some British people were already interested in wrestling. They were the ones relegated to the margins by the arrival of eastern European imports, in one of the most misguided policy decisions ever foisted on a sport.
Flooding the team with ringers was a clumsy way to short-cut to success and added funding. Yet going down that route has as good as destroyed wrestling in Britain.
If there is a legacy here, we must hope it is in a lesson learned. What we term Olympic sports are almost without exception defined by international competition.
We presume our rowers, cyclists or athletes have clubs, but we wouldn't know their names. We only really see them in national colours. So to pretend that nationality does not matter is the real nonsense. If anything has been proven in the last 17 days it is that a sense of it is crucial to Olympic sport.
The numbers arriving in Basildon tonight are not there because anybody can run for Britain, but because so few can, and to represent your country, therefore, is a noble ambition. Surrender that principle and forget legacy, or Olympic sport is dead.
Don't trash our footballers, they are already singled out for enough punishment
Hunter Davies wrote a very good book about football, 40 years ago. Davies was given unparalleled access to Tottenham Hotspur throughout the 1971-72 season. The details and observations in The Glory Game are the written equivalent of a fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Recently, not so much. And last week, when Olympic fervour was at its height, Davies penned the standard trashing of football and footballers compared with the heroes of London 2012.
Life story: Rooney's career on, and off the field, has been well documented
Deluded, embarrassed, humiliated, shown up, arrogant, rubbish… the invective flowed.
'I wonder if our top footballers will now feel so guilty that they will decide to donate nine-tenths of their income to charity' he asked. 'No chance, of course.'
Still, maybe Davies could get that pious ball rolling. He could donate nine-tenths of the fee he received for ghost-writing the literary achievement that is Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far.
For Davies, like a lot of folk, wants it all ways. He wants to cash in on Rooney's fame by accepting money to tell his life story aged 20 and then viciously deride the concept of the celebrity footballer – presumably for another fee – to the national press. And he thinks it's the footballers who are embarrassing.
Many of Britain's gold medal winners
have not sung the National Anthem. The only time it became an issue was
when the Welsh footballers stayed tight-lipped.
A great many of our Olympic athletes seem genuinely nice people but a great many footballers are, too. You don't hear so much about them. Philip Hindes, a Team GB cyclist, took a dive on his bike, admitted it, then changed his story and half of the newspapers ignored it because play-acting did not fit the narrative of the night, which was a fifth gold medal for Sir Chris Hoy. Imagine if that were football. Imagine if England had beaten Italy in the quarter-finals of the European Championship and then Andy Carroll said he dived to win the penalty. Ignore it We'd still be debating it two weeks later.
Footballers are different because football is different. Rooney cursed into a camera in an aggressive fashion and was, rightly, suspended. Seb Coe did it winning an Olympic gold medal and nobody remembers.
Brit comes sixth on an athletics track: brave. England look the sixth best team in a football tournament: failures.
Many of Britain's gold medal winners have not sung the National Anthem. The only time it became an issue was when the Welsh footballers stayed tight-lipped. There is a lot wrong with our national sport, there are standards that need to be improved, yet there is a difference between 50,000 cheering your name, even though you haven't made the podium, and 50,000 people calling your mum a slag because your shirt is the wrong colour.
Tom Daley received one tweet that echoed the type of abuse that footballers endure every time they play and the police arrested the person responsible. Repeat that at a football match and the stadium would be as good as empty by half-time.
Footballers are well paid, we know. But if there is no comparison between the rewards, there is also no comparison between the demands.
If an entire television network could be built on the back of competitive rowing, the best rowers would be household names earning 100,000 a week and we might see a different side of their natures, too.