Inter Sandman; or, The Trouble With Trebles

First he's dicking around watching the Lakers, next he's off in some desert resort catching a few rays. David Beckham - what a piece of work, I tell you. Globetrotting jet-setter glamor boy, hitting all the world's vacation spots.

And today, he actually deigned to watch some football. As an American fan, it was an extremely disappointing result - no injuries.

(Okay, yes, it was very nice of David Beckham to visit the troops. And more than a little brave, too. I'm cool with any celebrity who takes time to go out there and support the troops, but Osama bin Laden has been specifically targeting David Beckham since 1998. Not that my opinion matters to him, but nice job, David.)

It looks like the cult of the coach is now the official religion of soccer. If not now, then the next time Jose Mourinho takes a club to the European Cup. (sigh) Okay, the UEFA Champions League Final.

It's very hard to argue with his success, and it's even tougher considering that, had John Terry not lost a crucial battle with gravity in Moscow, Mourinho would today be gloating about his third European title with his third different club. It has been such an impressive run, you could almost understand Martin Tyler's absolute refusal to shut up about The Special One for one god-damned second, for Christ's sake. (Well, at least we won't have to put up with Tyler doing any World Cup games we care about oh GOD ESPN, you SUCK)

You could make a reasonable case that the coach does less, not more, in association football than in just about any other sport - certainly during the actual competition.

("Swimming." Okay, team sports.)

("Swimming's a team sport." It's not always - look, will you let shut up for one second?)

Once the clock starts, the coach has three chances to alter the outcome on the outcome, using seven possible replacements. Compare that with, say, gridiron, or hockey, or basketball, or baseball.

Ah, but perhaps because the coach can do so little during the match, the strategic and tactical preparation matters that much more? ....nah. Gridiron football has degenerated into a relentlessly robotic, scripted affair. Kim Jong-il would like to be that much of a control freak.

Now, name the coaches from the last Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Diego Milito scores two goals, as if that never would have occurred to him to do without Jose Mourinho coaching him.

It's nice that we're not hearing quite as much about Inter winning through defensive cynicism, because that wouldn't be fair. Much worse, much more boring teams - much worse and more boring Italian teams - much worse and more boring Inter teams - have won in the past. Maybe Barcelona should have defended a little in San Siro, who knows.

But we're not hearing about a great team, we're hearing about a great coach. The problem with that is the easiest way for a coach to put a stamp on the game is through the sort of defensive-minded conservatism that Mourinho was accused of all year. When an offense breaks down a defense, credit goes to the players who scored. When a defense holds back the onslaught, the coach takes the credit.

Coach-worship is only going to get worse, and Milito will be at ground zero for the negative example. I think we all realize that Diego Maradona is going to destroy Argentina. That's not even a prediction, it's a script. Maradona is a danger to himself and others. Argentina will be by far the most talented team not to make it to the second round in World Cup history.

And because people will confuse Maradona the genius player with Maradona the idiot coach, the individual player will be pushed aside, for the greater glory of the coach as demigod.

I suppose the cult of the player has been useless and destructive, in its own way. Unwise transfer purchases of one-season wonders have ruined more seasons than locusts. The national team most identified with the cult of the player - well, okay, that's Brazil, and their shirts have more stars than an observatory. But then there's Holland, whose cult of the player has made them plain-bellied Sneetches, so to speak.

But at the risk of going all Paul Gardner on you, the excesses of players are much more fun for fans than the excesses of coaches. Problem is, while great players are more likely to win, conservative coaches are more likely to get "results." Tie the good teams, beat the bad ones, survive and advance. And if you're completely overmatched, well, that's why God created penalty kicks.

And it's a hell of lot easier to hire a conservative coach than it is to find a great player.

That's what we're in for with the World Cup. There will always be too few great players, and too many ways for a coach to look great by stopping them. That's what will keep the cult of the coach thriving for the foreseeable future. As a great writer said in a slightly different Italian context, I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.