LONDON, ENGLAND – I blame the media. This time I really do, for here in England , as we prepare to welcome back the Premier League after an international break to remember, the atmosphere has been soured by an out-of-school tale that should not have seen the light of day.
Sadly it will have to be retold for the benefit of those unaware that England head coach Roy Hodgson, who should have spent the past couple of days celebrating his team's World Cup qualification with twin home victories over Montenegro and Poland, is instead required to show penitence by those who claim he used the punchline of a joke that could have had a racist connotation.
Here's the joke. If, like Hodgson, you are in your mid-sixties, you may vaguely remember it first time round, from when space travel was in its infancy. So I'll keep it brief.
The early missions involved only monkeys, but eventually, when NASA accompanied one of these highly trained creatures with a human (a man, incidentally), the launch is completed and the radio crackles into life.
"Monkey, fire the retros." The monkey fires the retros. And then, 15 minutes later: "Monkey, check the fuel supply."
As the monkey checks the fuel supply, the frustrated astronaut yells to mission control: "Hey, don't I get to do anything?
"In 15 minutes," comes the reply, "feed the monkey."
Hodgson said the phrase during the halftime interval of the Poland game as a way of making a point to the team in general and, in particular, Chris Smalling, who was playing at right back, directly behind England's new sensation, the Tottenham winger Andros Townsend. The coach wanted Townsend to be fed with the ball at every opportunity. Townsend, like the monkey, was the key to the mission.
But it appears you cannot use monkey analogies about a young man who happens to be of mixed race without offending someone, in this case reportedly a fellow member of the squad who mentioned it afterwards to a relative who in turn passed it on to a newspaper.
Suddenly the sweet smell of success was replaced by an almighty stink. Nothing could dispel it. Hodgson apologized to Townsend, who told him there was nothing to apologise for, while fellow forward Wayne Rooney went public with a denial that the coach had "done anything wrong", as did Greg Dyke, on behalf of the Football Association.
I don't know what all this fuss is about. No offence was meant and none was taken! It's not even news worthy!
-- andros townsend (@andros_townsend) October 17, 2013 Stan Collymore, the former England player of mixed race who is now a prominent pundit, went so far as to warn that anti-racism campaigning might be damaged by such a silly fuss over a word used innocently.
The squad member whose presumed misunderstanding helped to cause it has not, at the time of writing, been identified and in truth it would probably be best if he owned up quietly to Hodgson so everyone can try to move on and savor what is turning into a most encouraging season for English soccer and its representatives.
You may recall that only a few weeks ago Dyke, concerned by the declining numbers of English players in the Premier League, announced a commission of inquiry that has duly been formed. But the emergence of Townsend is only one reason to wonder if the problem is as big as Dyke states.
The national team that beat Poland 2-0, after a 4-1 win over Montenegro, featured arguably the brightest of all stars in the Premier League firmament this season, Daniel Sturridge, whose goals and general liveliness have helped Liverpool into early contention for not only a Champions League place but the title itself.
Sturridge and national captain Steven Gerrard will kick off the weekend with Liverpool . Joe Hart is in goal for Manchester City at West Ham , having returned to form following a troublesome spell in goal for club and country. Townsend and his club colleague Kyle Walker get a little longer to recover from the celebrations, for Spurs are not at Aston Villa until Sunday.
Walker is establishing himself in the national team at right back. Danny Welbeck has become an integral force around Manchester United teammate Rooney in the attack and Jack Wilshere, though on the fringes of the national side after injury problems, is a midfielder whose Arsenal performances have already marked him out as top-class.
All of these players are in their early to mid twenties and, with the England Under-21 team also looking better than last season, it hardly suggests that the national cupboard is going to be bare in the next few years.
Not only that. Now that England's place in the World Cup has been confirmed, we can expect English players of all ages to bust a gut in the hope of persuading Hodgson that they deserve a seat on the plane which will take the squad to the United States in May -- there's a game against Jurgen Klinsmann's team on the east coast, then a Miami fixture against opponents to be announced - and on to Brazil.
Video: Recap: England v Poland
So all Premier League coaches with English players in their teams should have to do a little less motivation over the next few months. The prospect of a World Cup in Brazil should perform that task nicely.
Brazil is special in soccer. Even kids know that. Even Ravel Morrison knows that. I'm referring to a delicious piece of gossip that came off the West Ham training field recently. After a brilliant performance, someone told Ravel he'd played like Paul Gascoigne. "Who's Paul Gascoigne?" he replied. He's supposedly never heard of the most gifted (if flawed) English star of the recent past. But even Ravel must be aware of the tradition embodied by Pele.
And Ravel could be on that plane if he keeps up the startling improvement shown since he moved from Manchester United and began to shed his off-field problems. Everton 's Ross Barkley is another tipped to challenge the older guard and even the 18-year-old Luke Shaw, Southampton 's left back, had advocates. It's fashionable to be English and not until next July, at the earliest, is that going to change. Let's just hope the media and political opportunists do not spoil it.
(Note: Patrick Barclay's views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of FOX Sports or FOX Soccer.)