Appearing on Radio 5 during the last World Cup, in one of those effortless man-of-the-people turns that he did so well, Tony Blair was asked who Labour’s Wayne Rooney might be. His response was unequivocal: David Miliband.
As the Labour leadership campaign enters its long, relentless stretch of hustings and meetings, Miliband senior may be reflecting on how Rooney has been performing thus far in the parallel, slightly more high profile campaign underway in South Africa.
Hyped up, and with a very favourable wind behind him, Wazza is as yet failing – admittedly after one game – to live up to the high expectations that an eager public have placed on his shoulders. Arsenal fan Miliband may be wondering if his own frontrunner status, and the formidable campaigning machine he has been building for some months, has similarly raised expectations to a point where they become a curse, rather than an asset.
But what of David Miliband’s rivals for the Labour leadership? Ed Balls is clearly the John Terry of the candidates. Combative and tough, with a no-holds barred approach, he’s known for playing the man, not the ball, and is definitely someone you want on your side and not lined up against you. Like Terry, his style also makes Ed Balls disliked by many of his opponents and – though it should be noted for very different reasons – by quite a lot of his own side.
Andy Burnham, though famously an Everton fan, is probably the Glen Johnson of the contenders – good on the attack and capable of moments of real class, he has been criticised for perhaps not quite yet showing the polished qualities of the more established players. He will want to use this campaign to demonstrate that he is capable of performing at the highest level.
Ed Miliband is loved by those see his best work at close quarters, and is regarded as a real team player, but many beyond the confines of his narrow support base can be nonplussed by his unique style and occasionally left-field contributions. As such, he may well be the Emile Heskey of the leadership candidates.
Finally, Diane Abbott: a human vuvuzela if ever there was one, distracting the main players’ attention away from the very serious task at hand.
(By the way, for a genuinely insightful piece about what England’s football team says about English society and politics, you could do worse than read the ever-engaging Bagehot column in this week’s Economist).