At times like this it’s an easy leap to make. Our politicians are imploding, right, left and centre, under the weight of their vainglorious egos, while a man of modesty and a smart waistcoat is charming, galvanising and plotting where others apparently more qualified have, well, imploded in the past. Why shouldn’t we yearn for Gareth Southgate as Prime Minister?
They say the England football manager’s is the Second Most Important Job in the Country, which makes him already more qualified for the First than Boris Johnson. They also say politicians are just puppets whose every gesture or utterance is calculated according to what will please the electorate and it’s the civil servants who do all the real work, so would it really matter anyway? Especially when the electorate appraise only the universe this side of the end of the nose.
Another old saw is that sporting success on a national level represents invaluable political capital. When Theresa May, clinging on already to whatever she can grab at, looks imploringly towards the person with the next most important job, it’s hardly surprising when the hum of the electorate on social media muses whether Second might just as well usurp Prime. How much worse could things get?
There is a growing ticket of politicians around the world who had previous lives in sport. Earlier this year, George Weah became president of Liberia, after 20-odd years as the nation’s pre-eminent footballer. Later this month, Imran Khan runs for Prime Minister of Pakistan. Romario is a senator in Brazil, Sebastian Coe a columnist for Sport500, Vitali Klitschko Mayor of Kiev. And so the list goes on, without considering those who rove the world in unofficial – or even sometimes official – ambassadorial roles for their country.
Yet another aphorism is that sport is war minus the shooting. For much of the world, it is the primary rallying point through which nations identify and assert themselves, now that institutions such as NATO and the EU have brought an end, for now, to the sort of warmongering that devastated the first half of last century. Given it is surely inconceivable any nation or individual should become so vainglorious and egotistical as to try to undermine either institution, we can look forward to a future where fantasies surrounding national supremacy are played out only in sport through heroes who transmit any national yearning for self-worth via bat, racket or ball, not gun, missile or nerve-agent.
Sport is also huge business now, an industry to stand alongside any, which continues its rise through the priorities of state. Its leading protagonists are more powerful than they have ever been, not only financially but culturally and emotionally. It is but a short step to seeing them as in positions of power every bit as significant as politicians – and who’s to say not as capable or charismatic.
So, Gareth Southgate, Prime Manager. Why not? He wouldn’t want the job of course, but that just makes him all the more appropriate for it.
Michael Aylwin’s novel about the future of sport, Ivon, is out now