We don"t need ringers to make us Great Britons – Martin Samuel

We don't need ringers to make us Great Britons



00:17 GMT, 23 April 2012

Xenophobia. Ooh, it's a big word. Means a fear of foreigners but is frequently misused. These days it is a polite way of calling a person racist. It's also a handy idiot detector, like the phrase 'Little Englander'. When xenophobe or Little Englander are bandied about, it is usually to fill the gap where an intellectually rigorous argument should be.

Those who think England's football team ought to be managed by an Englishman – because international sport is supposed to represent the aptitude of your country, unassisted – are often called Little Englanders.

That makes Arsene Wenger a Little Englander; Michel Platini, too. Xenophobe is an altogether nastier slur, though, with its implications of racial hatred, which is why it is almost exclusively the property of those bereft of thought. This brings us to Peter Keen.

Xenophobic keen has hit out at those who disagree with the term 'Plastic Brits'

Xenophobic keen has hit out at those who disagree with the term 'Plastic Brits'

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You might not know Peter Keen, but you've been picking up his bills for years now. Keen moved from academia (which you pay for), to the lottery-funded High Performance Cycling Programme (funded by you, that means) to be performance director of UK Sport (your round again, folks).

With the hundreds of millions lavished on British sporting success by successive governments, he's Roberto Mancini in a suit, except with your taxes and the gambling contributions of the desperate poor. Team GB have done very well under Keen – pat yourselves on the back for that, people – although he would have to be a complete fool not to oversee some improvement.

There will be 143million of lottery cash alone spent by UK Sport in 2012. That would give Manchester United a run for their money, let alone the triple jumpers of Uzbekistan. Keen is bowing out at the end of this month (but don't worry, he is staying on as part-time consultant with UK Sport and as special advisor for performance, so you'll be able to keep him in the style to which he is accustomed) but not before he had his little moment with the X-word.

'The term “Plastic Brits” is verging on the offensive,' he said. 'At the outer fringes of this stuff, it feels quite unpleasantly xenophobic at times. It seems to me to be an unreasonable debate without getting into individual motivations.'

And there it is. Keen cannot engage with the reality of the discussion – which in this column has always been utterly specific in its focus on the motivations of individuals such as Tiffany Porter, the poster girl of self-serving nationality change – so he throws a few insults around in the void where rationality should be. This is plainly a bankrupt stance.

'Inspire a generation' is the motto for the 2012 Games but what point is there in dedicating a life to an Olympic sport, when Britain's performance director would ditch a competitor without flinching if a better athlete could be found via the clever shuffling of Home Office documents

Keen is protecting his position because he is responsible for it all: Ukrainian weightlifters; the joke handball team; basketball player /04/22/article-2133636-12B1A6A2000005DC-578_634x411.jpg” width=”634″ height=”411″ alt=”'Plastic Brit': /04/22/article-2133636-12B5E051000005DC-931_634x444.jpg” width=”634″ height=”444″ alt=”Holding the fort: Stuart Pearce (front) remains in caretaker charge of England” class=”blkBorder” />

Holding the fort: Stuart Pearce (front) remains in caretaker charge of England

Cris crossed

Cristiano Ronaldo's 72nd-minute winner against Barcelona on Saturday may prove a watershed – not just in this La Liga season but for many more. /04/22/article-2133636-0F1B599600000578-918_634x422.jpg” width=”634″ height=”422″ alt=”Main man Questions have been raised over Charles Van Commenee's leadership ” class=”blkBorder” />

Main man Questions have been raised over Charles Van Commenee's leadership

What's the Mata

Juan Mata scored one and made two in Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur. He then started the game against Barcelona and played 74 minutes, during which time Chelsea took a 1-0 lead. Not bad considering he should be on his last legs by now.

Mata played in last summer's Under 21 European Championship; the one that was going to leave Arsenal's Jack Wilshere so exhausted he would barely function this season, remember They have a different attitude in Spain and across Europe.

They think playing youth tournaments, and winning them as Spain often do, is fine preparation for the senior squad. Recent results suggest they are right. Mata, who will be in Spain's squad to defend their European title this summer, already has winner's medals for the 2006 European Under 19 Championship, the 2011 European Under 21 Championship and the 2010 World Cup.

Maybe these achievements are related. Wilshere, meanwhile, has missed all of Arsenal's season through injury anyway, plus the European Championship, but is already being distanced from Stuart Pearce's Olympic squad.

After all, whoever heard of a decent player benefiting from winning an Olympic gold medal: apart from Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Roberto Ayala, Samuel Eto'o…

Plenty of gas in the tank: Juan Mata (centre) has shone for Chelsea despite an exhausting season

Plenty of gas in the tank: Juan Mata (centre) has shone for Chelsea despite an exhausting season

Is RDM better than AVB

In the light of the win over Barcelona, the question is now being asked: is Roberto Di Matteo a better manager than Andre Villas-Boas And the answer is that for Chelsea, this season, absolutely he is. Whatever Villas-Boas' achievements at Porto, he failed to understand that a manager tailors his style to bring out the best of the talent at his disposal.

In time, he can recruit the personnel he needs for his preferred system but until that point, he is the one who must be flexible. A lone example: Villas-Boas had the defenders to play a high line back four at Porto, but he didn't at Chelsea. Still he persisted. Matches were lost because of this intransigence. Di Matteo came in and played to Chelsea's strengths.

He might have entirely different plans long-term, but he married his ideals to the players available. That is good management. Whatever happens at the Nou Camp tomorrow – and we all know what we think will unfold, so irresistible is Barcelona's forward play on most occasions – he deserves longer to put his instincts to work. There has not been enough simple common sense at Stamford Bridge of late.


Daniel Levy, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, did well to stand firm against Chelsea over Luka Modric last summer, but Barcelona's impending move for Gareth Bale will be harder to resist. It is a magnificent opportunity for the player to join the best team in the world and not just as a makeweight.

Clearly, he is Barcelona's type of full back and with three years left on Bale's contract, the money will be premium rate and tempting. Yet with Harry Redknapp also likely to leave, this is a watershed summer for Tottenham.

They may also need a new manager, Modric may agitate for a move again and there is no guarantee Emmanuel Adebayor will stay unless personal terms can be agreed. If the break-up of Tottenham's team of Champions League challengers is not handled carefully, the fall could be quite brutal. Last summer Levy merely needed resolve; these hazards will require real skill to negotiate.

On his way Tottenham could face a fight to keep hold of Gareth Bale this summer

On his way Tottenham could face a fight to keep hold of Gareth Bale this summer

You've got to hand it to them

There are so many artificial pre-match ceremonies these days, meaning is increasingly lost. The Premier League now have six days to stop another handshake issue exploding at Chelsea's match with Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.

Will the Rangers players offer a hand to Chelsea captain John Terry A midweek meeting will decide. The Premier League should pre-empt this. Either abandon the ritual entirely or enforce it rigidly, with penalties for non-compliance, no discretion allowed. At the moment, it is a charade and often a nuisance, nothing more.

Wrong role Southgate

Wrong role Southgate

Gareth's wrong role

Gareth Southgate is favourite to be the Football Association's new technical director, while Roy Hodgson is likely to be the fallback candidate as England manager, mainly to prevent Harry Redknapp naming his price for the job. What is wrong with this picture Hodgson might not be the best man to take England to the European Championship, but he is too talented to be used as a bargaining tool.

The technical director is the coach of coaches, but what young manager or longstanding Premier League contemporary is going to listen to Southgate, whose experience in management amounts to just over three years, concluding shortly after Middlesbrough's relegation He is a bright guy with good ideas, but what do Alan Pardew or David Moyes have to learn from one of his sessions

This is a job for an experienced coach, who commands respect and has a substantial coaching record: Hodgson or Terry Venables, perhaps. Southgate can then be left to focus on elite player improvement and youth development, where he has greater cache.

Homeward bound

Not exactly
negating the unfortunate stereotype created by the Luis Suarez affair,
the British National Party candidate for London Mayor, Carlos Cortiglia,
is Uruguayan. If elected he pledges to send himself home.

A view with a room

The 2012 European Championship was built, in part, on a lie. UEFA insist every host city must have a sufficient number of hotel rooms, but in order to make Donetsk in Ukraine fit this criterion, the official radius was extended by close to 150 miles.

Even without the usual numbers of travelling supporters, hotel rooms in Donetsk are at a premium. And so are the rates. Ridiculous, most of them. Extortionate prices, compulsory two or three-night stays.

'Bandits and crooks,' UEFA president Michel Platini called the hoteliers of Ukraine; but his organisation has caused this crisis. They have taken a major football tournament to an unsuited, underdeveloped country and now wish to overturn the entry level economic principle of supply and demand.

The hotel chains are not thieves just business folk with a sought-after commodity; and Platini isn't deliberately lousy at his job, either. He's just not very bright.

Up to the task Michel Platini does not seem to understand the climate in Poland and Ukraine

Up to the task Michel Platini does not seem to understand the climate in Poland and Ukraine

Chelsea could leave Newcastle feeling Blue

If Chelsea do somehow find a way past Barcelona on Tuesday, it must surely be the hope of every neutral that Newcastle United march on from their present position to secure third place and automatic Champions League qualification.

For Alan Pardew's team to finish fourth, one of the great achievements of the Premier League era considering many had them marked for relegation when the season began, and then miss out were Chelsea to claim the final Champions League place as holders would be unconscionable cruelty.

Lancaster lessons for Redknapp

It would appear that having appointed Stuart Lancaster as England coach, the Rugby Football Union immediately destabilised his regime by undervaluing the services of a key member of staff, Andy Farrell.

He then elected to remain with Saracens. This would not have happened if an imported coach had got the job. Foreign coaches are given all they wish for, it is only the domestic variety that are treated as if somebody high up is doing them a favour. As Harry Redknapp will soon discover.