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England fans are a masochistic bunch, always building up their hopes for major tournaments and always suffering from crushing disappointment. With the World Cup in Brazil just about to start, we can look at the 2001 mockumentary Mike Bassett: England Manager.
After the manager of the English national soccer (football) team suffers a heart attack due to the stress of the job and the media pressure, the Football Association (FA) have to find a replacement. With foreign or Premiership managers not wanting the job, the FA is forced to turned to a lower league manager, Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson) who won the League Cup with Norwich City. Despite lacking experience and being tactically inept, Mike has to lead the England team to the World Cup in Brazil with the whole nation on his back for any failure.
Mike Bassett: England Manager is a very English movie and designed very much for fans of the beautiful game in England. Many top players are parodied, the violent hard-casts of Stuart “Psycho” Pearce and Terry Butcher, the image conscious David Beckham and the talented but self-destructive Gazza. This is a movie that allows for wish fulfilment for English fans. We get to see a passionate man finally take the job while facing the nasty English press, talking about English achievement, determining better from his overpaid stars and getting revenge over an old cheating enemy.
Tomlinson is the best feature in this movie, giving an excellent performance in the title role. He is well known for his role in the British comedy show The Royale Family, but it was in the serious moments when the job takes its toll on him and his family, suffering abuse from the press and fans. Tomlinson gives impassioned speeches, from his angry half-time team talk and his rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”.
As a comedy Mike Bassett: England Manager is hit and miss. The best jokes being referential to the sport, shouting abuse at Pele, fans giving sound tactical advise or jokes that are designed for audiences in the British Isles. They are jabs against the growing use of sports sciences and psychology compared to Mike’s more old-fashioned style of management and the running of the FA. Some jokes do fall flat or are just plain random, such as when the graphics of different formations are shown and at the end all the figures are fighting each other.
Mike Bassett: England Manager also brings a strange continuity error as it shows that the whole England team in a World Cup in 2002 are all fictional yet they show real footage of the England team in the 1998 World Cup featuring real players like David Beckham and David Platt. A little bit random.
Mike Bassett: England Manager is hardly a comedy great, but it’s fun for fans of the sport and it’s surprisingly prophetic of the England team going to a World Cup in Brazil with English fans having the lowest expectations of their team for a really long time. But we here in England must keep dreaming.