The World Cup is just going to have to do without me from this point.
I'm sat at the Lemmy in my room tapping out my final thoughts before the sun sets and my cab arrives to whisk - well, trundle - me to the international airport. My predecessor in this job, the excellent John Anderson remarked to me upon knowing I was making an early exit; "That's the great thing about following England, Dants - you're never in for the long haul"
Gallows humour is an essential part of following England at major tournaments for fans and media alike. That will be one of my abiding memories of this Brazilian trip. As the rot set in and the hope evaporated quicker than a puddle in central Manaus, you always turn to a much darker humour to almost comfort yourself, and the media bus from stadium to training ground to hotel to airport was the perfect breeding ground for acute examples of that mindset.
We all seemed to have a mindset before setting out that we were going to encounter a country nowhere near ready to stage the world's biggest sporting event. How wrong were we all? Yes there have been protests at times, but the scale of them has not been at the levels pessimists expected up until now. Of course, Brazil's continued progression in the competition may stave off any gatherings based on the morale of the Brazilian people. We shall see.
So let me reflect on my trip and various parts of it:
Without wishing to sound simplistic - being here. It's a privilege few in sports broadcasting get the chance to do once, let alone twice, so you have to be grateful for that alone. But the flight into Manaus looking down upon the extraordinary Amazonian jungle that surrounded it on all sides is burnt on my retina - but then, so is that picture of the Moose and Rio Ferdinand. My eyes....!!
I loved Miami and South Beach and the company I kept was always fun and entertaining, whether I was with writers, broadcasters or photographers. I've made some great friendships on this trip and enhanced just as many with some who I knew to a point but not that well. Hope I was a good tourist in their eyes.
ENGLAND MARK OUT OF 10?
4/10 - and most of those marks are based on the early promise shown in Manaus against the Italians. It would be 2/10 looking at Uruguay/Costa Rica in isolation. Very few players emerge with reputations enhanced - maybe Barkley and Sterling at a push, merely because they seemed to take to international football without freezing totally.
MANAGER MARK OUT IF 10?
4/10 for the manager too. Roy didn't make a substitution that helped change a game in our favour and I didn't much care for the team he selected in Belo Horizonte. But I have to trust his word that the system he's used for 2 years will bring more young players in over the next season or so and that Barkley & Sterling are merely the start if a sea change in squad selection. He's not as bad as Capello was for picking players on reputation rather than form, but he's shown signs of it. That of course has to change
LOW POINT (aside from England)?
Well, 'noise gate' was an early problem, but that was solved, thankfully. And Mike Graham and I have spoken about our argument on his overnight show that I didn't enjoy. I don't often bite, but I did then, which wasn't my sort of thing. I put it down to lack of sleep with all these calls from the Breakfast show in the middle of the night!! So there's another low point - plus trying to get back to sleep at 4am local time and failing miserably almost every time!!
BEST PLAYER SO FAR?
I'll go with James Rodriguez of Columbia - it's his first World Cup and he's played so so well up front that you forget Falcao isn't there - Robben is the other one up there, but Rodriguez will no doubt have surprised and delighted a few
Watching USA/Portugal at the airport with loads of fans just added to the experience of one hell of an end to end game with great goals and a dramatic late equaliser for Varela. But there've been so many terrific moments already, and the group stage isn't even done yet!
Brazil has been incredibly welcoming wherever we've gone, even to a lazy Brit who only knows one Portuguese word (obrigado for thank you...oh and misto quente for a ham and cheese toastie, so ok - 2) and practically wore it out over the past month. The food has been fantastic and the hotels haven't been mosquito-ridden as I had been led to believe by some naysayers prior to flying out. The Copa is a stunning setting for fans to gather and just today, the mix of Ecuadorians, French, Argentinians, English and the locals was refreshingly vibrant and friendly.
Oh and the drumming!! You have to come to Brazil just to hear the drumming. Everyone has the most amazing rhythm. Even the national squad were on TV one day bashing out a sensational samba beat on bongos, timbales and the like. Jaw droppingly good.
I travelled back with the quietly spoken Matt Law from the Daily Telegraph, who was coming back with little work to occupy him now England are toast. Everyone thinks of written journalists as cynical older generation types needing, as the Macc Lads once said, half a pint of gravy for the chip on their shoulder. Matt is one of many who dispel that myth, and he made me feel suitably old by telling me his 1st season watching football as a small boy was the same year I got my first job.
I managed 4 hours sleep, which is approximately 4 hours more than usual on a long haul flight and, wouldn't you know it, on my arrival back at my front door, it started raining. First rain I've seen since Miami! Well done Ian - been glorious back here apparently until I showed up.
Thanks for reading these here missives on the World Cup - now to watch games with English commentary and a cuppa - I'm such a little Englander at times :)