What is it with English football’s obsession with ketchup and baked beans? What magical powers do HJ Heinz’s most popular produce hold that have become a major influence to our team’s success?
Here we are again, another national team manager, this time Gareth Southgate, having to fend off a pre-tournament inquisition on which condiments and side orders his squad will be allowed to consume during their time holed away in some five-star training facility.
As I read the headline “Ketchup on the menu as Gareth Southgate trusts his U21s to behave”, I allowed myself to wallow in the ridiculousness of it all.
Is ketchup the new “Hippy crack”? Will we now see a government crackdown on tomato sauce so we gain control of wayward youths? Where will this menace lead our boys to? Sweet chilli? Piri-Piri? Or God forbid, tabasco?
Seriously though, whilst our German counterparts are honing their technique inside a Footbonaut cage, we’re worrying about how tight our grip is on a squeezy bottle and whether our boys are eating too many baked beans. We hear this daft debate at least every two years and whenever it comes up I ask myself the same two questions every time: a) will eating ketchup and beans help us play better?; and b) will eating ketchup and beans make us play worse?
If you have a dollop of common sense the size of your average tomato sauce portion you will answer “no” to both of them, but there is a bigger picture at play here than demonizing the humble products of Heinz.
If you need ketchup to be put on your pasta, then I’m not quite sure you’re mature enough to handle international football
Not for one minute would I lay the blame on the likes of Fabio Capello or Paolo Di Canio for making this ludicrous debate an issue or for making a stand on it. Whether I think it makes any difference to how we play during a World Cup or not, it’s always the players who cry mutiny whenever it’s taken away from them – and it’s this that I can never understand.
Be it chips at Manchester United or tomato sauce in Di Canio’s and Capello’s time with Sunderland and England, surely if that’s the wish of the manager then the players should adhere to the rules, especially when it comes to big tournaments.
Whether it’s any of the above or a the odd beer, I can never understand the want and need to kick up a fuss if you’re deprived of it.
What’s a couple of weeks without a beer when you have the chance of creating history literally laying your feet?
Not once in the many months in total I’ve spent on training camps in foreign climes have I ever known restrictions on foods such as ketchup to be made an issue of, which makes me wonder why it’s an issue with England’s sides.
Perhaps, what the crux of what we’re all missing here whenever there’s derision aimed towards managers who ban ketchup and baked beans is that the substances being banned are only a fraction of the more wide-ranging problem that’s being tackled.
It isn’t just an Italian or French manager sneering at British culinary tastes – after all, Glenn Hoddle banned beans during his time as England manager too.
The answer to what these managers find so offensive can be found in an anecdote from Tom Huddlestone during his time under Juande Ramos’s tenure at Spurs. Commenting on the reasons behind one of his more svelte phases in his career, Huddlestone offered up Ramos’s ketchup ban as one of the reasons why he’d slimmed down.
But it wasn’t the subtraction of red sauce that caused the inches to drop off him, but what he was actually dipping in it.
Think about what you have with your ketchup. Fish and chips, burgers and fries, a full English breakfast. It’s not just fast food, it’s fat food. Take away the meals you need to smother in ketchup, you then take away the need for the ketchup too.
It’s nutritional maths, not rocket science but if we widen our focus we would see that if players were eating the correct diet, why would they need ketchup anyway?
There’s a chef in Florida who once reserved the right to refuse anyone over the age of 10 the use of ketchup on the food he served in his restaurant and I’m almost of the same mind when it comes to these finely tuned athletes.
If you need ketchup to be put on your pasta after that age, then I’m not quite sure you’re mature enough to handle international football either.
I accept that there’s a mental aspect to all this. If players are kept happy off the pitch they are more likely to perform better on it but if Lionel Messi can decide, like he did this season, what he puts in his mouth can help him more regularly produce the goods with his feet, then surely we can go without ketchup, lager and beans for a few weeks.
The alternative is always ending up being could have, should have and might have beens.