Strange a thought it may be, the rise of Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson) to international stardom and managerial status reflects rather close to that of Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minister. His predecessor, like that of Bassett’s, had a heart attack before the appointed, anointed one was placed into pole position for a takeover. But this is football. Football is football, and there is, apparently, no room for politics in the game. Just ask your local pub resident. Mike Bassett: England Manager will certainly serve as a piece for the pub-grub audience, the type of folk who find comfort in The Royle Family or Big Brother. It is that generation we must fear, for fear is the reaction of a working brain.
Back in the glory days, where funding flowed through British arts, just about everything and anything was procured for the television adaptation. No wonder Mike Bassett: England Manager was not the last time Tomlinson would lace up the boots and take aim at the players on the pitch. There is an adaptability within this feature, something so simple that it can be brought to mould television and filmmaking far beyond the usual remit of quality. Ted Lasso feels like a close equivalent. A bumbling manager who hit success elsewhere struggles to reclaim their past glory. All of it is balanced on needing to care for the titular character. It is hard to do so for both, but the issue with Bassett is that he is not ultimately that interesting. He is a bumbling fool who is a few strokes of writing away from bigoted behaviour. Such is the life of a mid-2000s television series.
Some of its jokes were amicable. Attempting to notice and know these players as individuals is possible, and where Mike Bassett: England Manager’s strengths lie is in the jokes that mock the group, rather than the person. A training disaster where Bassett realises his whole team is born in the second half of the first few months of the year sounds good, is projected well, and does not linger on the mind too long. We are too busy being whisked away through a team of delinquents and demons, as that is all football players can be according to director Steve Barron. Uncaring morons who need the fires of passion lit under their feet. Is Bassett the man to do that? This film doesn’t care, nor do its audience, but it is what brings us all together.
Its jokes are weak and used as filler, its actual elements of story light and fluffy, Mike Bassett: England Manager is not quite cobbled together well enough to warrant the feature-length treatment. While it handles the situation of managers seeking the glory wherever they can rather well, the film throws too many different styles at the screen. Fly on the wall, talking heads interviews, but also reality-breaking scenes that would never make it into the frame of documentary filmmaking laid out here. Sloppy, broken, and not at all that interesting. Tomlinson is unrecognisably poor, brushing shoulders with vaguely recognisable comedians and characters from the dated days of the early 2000s.