Wednesday 25 June ~
Considering how travel-phobic English footballers and coaches are, you'd think we'd make more of those that do work overseas. The meagre number has been increased by one this week as Steve McClaren took a job at FC Twente. The advice offered by Sir Bobby Robson implies that McClaren ought to be back in the UK soon: “Go there for two years, there's no harm. If you can't get a good job here, you can't just sit around. Work. Learn about another part of football. If you do well, you'll get back, won't you?” Another British passport holder working abroad is a player we'll hear lots about tonight. He's had a good season with one Turkey's biggest clubs but it's still also assumed will want to return to England very soon.
Now that referee Howard Webb has been packed off home after the group stage England has just one representative in the latter stages of Euro 2008. Colin Kazim-Richards from Walthamstow (the Sun tells us that he “has an East End accent to rival the Mitchell brothers”) looks certain to start for Turkey who are reduced to 15 fit players by injury and suspension. Kazim-Richards's background has been mentioned almost every time he's touched the ball so far, with commentators often seeming to be amazed that someone who has played in the English lower divisions should end up being picked for an international tournament. But his inclusion in the squad is down to his having had a very good season with Fenerbahce, so what he did or didn't do while playing at Underhill or Gigg Lane ought to be of little relevance. Even so, the UK press can't help assuming that he misses the English football and would return at a the first given opportunity – Fenerbahce is merely a shop window for the greater glory of the English league.
Tonight's game is being billed as a “massive football party” in Germany on account of the 2.6 million Turkish population. Indeed, the Turkish team itself represents the diaspora – five players were born outside Turkey. Not only the famous Kazim-Richards but Hamit Altintop and Hakan Balta (both born in Germany) and Mevlut Erdinc (France). There is also the Brazil-born and recently naturalised Mehmet Aurelio.
As for Germany, much of the build-up has been focused on Michael Ballack. The Chelsea midfielder is also being treated as English by default given that he is the only player from either side currently with a Premier League club (Turkey's Tuncay being unavailable through injury). Ballack is also the only player with any of the four semi-finalists to have played in this season's Champions League final and indeed he has quite a history of missing out on major trophies. This record includes the Champions League, Premier League and Carling Cup just this season, something similar to when he lost the Champions League Final, German cup final and Bundesliga title in the space of a fortnight with Leverkusen in 2002. Unsurprisingly it was the Sun who adopted Ballack to the English cause most fervently, choosing not his “hero status” at Chelsea but his lack of popularity in Germany as some sort of badge of honour.