OPINION: National teams face major trust issues

England's football team can't buy a result against a half decent team while the horrible suspicion grows that some of our cricket team's World Cup rivals may murderously have been doing just that.

Cricket, meanwhile, provides a burlesque sub-plot of drunken escapades in pedaloes to fuel the image problems besetting our national games.

Andrew Flintoff and his advisers must have prayed for a story to push his cavortings and apologies off the front pages. But that the antics of this talented cricketer became a mere footnote in the unfolding Bob Woolmer story could only have caused him further anguish.

With cricket's integrity again called into question, the World Cup for which Flintoff competes with renewed vigour has been rendered all but worthless. Suspicions of match-fixing linked to murderous gambling syndicates may well help deal a fatal blow to the image of the game and to its sponsorship and TV deals.

Grounds for many of the matches have been three quarters empty, suggesting that the bond of trust between players and fans is already tenuous. If the game and its image makers cannot convince national and global audiences that every player in every match is trying to win, then commercial endorse­ments will dry up. Lucrative playing contracts will become a thing of the past and the game will return to poor relation status.

For the England football team, and particularly its head coach and his PROs, the image problems are different. The perception is one of overpaid players and a coach producing cringingly mediocre per­formances. Coach Steve McClaren has evidently followed the image makers' advice to the letter when it comes to the makeover. His hair is immaculately cut and groomed, his teeth are fixed and his attire could be from Savile Row. Pre-match utterances are media-friendly and his appearances in the tabloids, unlike those of his derided predecessor, are confined to the sports pages.

For McClaren and his team, results are the issue which will drive perceptions. Simply, while his front-of-camera image is now shiny and polished, the perception is still of a passionless loser. This is fundamentally unfair since no-one doubts that, unlike the cricket fixers, he lives to win matches. Yet he appears to be entirely unable to motivate a squad of multi-millionaire players to win matches.

While cricket's image could be destroyed by its suspected ability to deliver results to order, that of the England football team may collapse in the face of its inability to deliver the results fans and sponsors crave. For both games, the cost will be high.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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