Already feeling bored and alienated by another World Cup, even before it has started? Are too many colleagues, classes, supposed friends and lovers ignoring your yawning as they engage with each other in endless discourse on mysterious figures such as “Loftus-Cheek”, “Hendo” and “Dele Alli”?
Whenever you finally and despairingly try tossing in a few names yourself, does it all backfire horribly? Does your smattering of football knowledge always seem to be a tournament or two out of date? Did they perhaps smirk and patronise when you casually asked – last time round – whether Beckham was still captain? This time, have you already made a similar mistake with Rooney? Or maybe you have drawn Italy in Honest Rob’s staff sweepstake and are not quite sure why this has provoked so much amusement?
Surely Italy are quite good?
Well, this time round, help is at hand – a chance to hit back at them all. Inspired by Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent proposal that every school have, on site, a ready-to-use “Idiot’s Guide to Teaching”, I have, below, put together a similar on-site school-in-a-box package. This "World Cup Wilshaw" is here so anyone can pick it up and start talking World Cup football without knowing a thing about it. (Same idea as his – just not using the word “idiot”, that’s all.)
Scoring World Cup points
As might be expected, my box is much smaller than Sir Michael’s proposition. You just have to open it and memorise 10 statements. When you feel you have learned them, you can confidently join any World Cup conversation and randomly distribute your 10 lines into the discussion repeatedly and in no particular order (just like everyone else).
This way you, too, can become a recognised staffroom pundit within a matter of minutes. The first three are easy as they are all about the apparent supreme importance of“unlocking” a defence:
1. “Belgium’s potential is enormous. If Hazard and De Bruyne are on fire, they can unlock any defence.” (See other "footballers on fire" below.)
2. “The trouble is England have left Jack Wilshere out, so they don’t have anyone to unlock a defence.”
(That’s “Wilshere” by the way. If you accidentally say “Wilshaw” your cover is blown completely. Although he's a handful up front, Sir Michael has never even been on the fringes of the England squad.)
3. “There are no easy games in international football nowadays. It’s just so hard to unlock defences.”
Footballers on fire:
4. “When he’s on fire, Kane is England’s only world-class player. He could unlock a defence but I worry about that ankle injury.”
5. “Rashford's on fire. He's just got to start against Tunisia.”
Footballers on Var:
6. “VAR technology may cause long stoppages. But if only this video assistant ref had been around when Lamps struck the crossbar against Germany back in 2010.”
Showing your deeper and wider tournament 'knowledge':
7. “Brazil were really struggling even to qualify before Tite took over as their coach from former holding midfielder Dunga.”
8. “You just can’t rule out Egypt if Salah’s fit again. That man scores goals for fun.”
9. “To go down in history as one of the greatest players ever, Messi/Ronaldo/Hendo really needs to make a mark on this World Cup. That’s what Pele and Maradona did.” (Actually, don’t mention Hendo there.)
10. “Did you realise that it’s possible to qualify from the group stage with just two points out of the nine possible – and NOT to qualify even with six points?”
And that's about it. There really isn’t much more to World Cup talk than that. “Back of the net!” as they say. You can then look back on the 2018 tournament as a complete triumph, even if nobody else does.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire