Really going to miss this World Cup, and not only for the fabulous football drama.

The world might feel like it is falling apart a lot of the time, including in Britain right now, which is falling apart while trying to fall apart from the European community.

Football (and other professional sport) is often the antidote, a unifier.

Take out the uglier sides of football, the awful pock marks of racism and nationalistic behaviour, and you are left with the planet's finest example of a melting pot, how we can actually get along with each other so well. Nothing is perfect, yet the tournament in Russia has been inspiring even if it is a festival of preposterous financial proportions.


Even the on-field action feels like a break with a cynical past, of dour tactics, one particular head butt and even a spot of cannibalism.

FIFA, maybe despite its worst practices and maybe at times because of them, is spreading the game like a bright patchwork cloth over an old table. But it is actually the professional leagues which are the vital ingredient, spreading football knowledge and quality, fascination and entertainment around the world.

The highest profile league, England's Premier League, is the prime example of football's wonderful influence. It is a real-deal United Nations, welcoming anyone from anywhere if they are good enough, and plenty are. Where, for instance, would Belgium have been without so many of their players lining up for EPL clubs? (Chelsea has had three members of the Hazard family alone on the books.)

While African teams have not made the impression many would like, players of African heritage are a growing influence in world football. And nearly half of Brexit-era England's World Cup squad is made up of players whose parents were immigrants. There is something very heartwarming and inspiring in all of this.

Belgium's Vincent Kompany and France's Paul Pogba in the St Petersburg semifinal - many players from both sides of African descent. Photo / AP
Belgium's Vincent Kompany and France's Paul Pogba in the St Petersburg semifinal - many players from both sides of African descent. Photo / AP

Football has one serious team sport challenger. Basketball is the big mover, its potential vast and under-explored.

Highly visible basketballers are within touching distance of the fans and the TV cameras.

A clutch of superstars are on court almost the whole time. Personality rules. America's NBA may become far more international in the player ranks. Like football, it is an easy game to play in the backyard.

A sport like rugby — with some closed borders (New Zealand) and a lot of closed minds (everywhere) — could learn a few lessons, quite frankly. Rugby has its melting pot elements for sure, but its professional game keeps smaller nations down as much as lifting them up.

Football is far from perfect of course. You could pick at the surface and quickly find unpleasant matters. There have been specks of nationalistic nastiness, including some Croatian supporters standing accused of waving fascist banners.

Lifting African football must be the game's big new aim.

But this World Cup is also a tribute to what real professional sport can give the world.

Taylor made for Phoenix?

Wellington Phoenix recruit Steven Taylor - celebration time? Photo / Getty Images
Wellington Phoenix recruit Steven Taylor - celebration time? Photo / Getty Images

Austrian Andreas Heraf should have a chuckle while on "special leave", even if humour is not regarded as his strong suit.

Heraf, the Football Ferns coach and national technical director, was faced with an angry Kiwi nation and player revolt after a match against Japan.

A country of sports fans whose interest in the national women's football team is minimal to put it mildly turned the coach into a household name, quite some feat.

It was like the man had just lost the Rugby World Cup, rather than a friendly football game. Amongst his many crimes against humanity — allegedly negative tactics.

Don't worry people — the Wellington Phoenix, determined to lead any post-Heraf era by putting fun back into Kiwi football, have begun their climb off the A-league's bottom rungs by signing an English defender.

English defenders are not to be sniffed at. The late Bobby Moore is among the finest footballers ever, although that was a long time ago. Rio Ferdinand could play a bit.

But unless you can get John Terry or Gary Neville involved, and let's not forget Wayne Bridge here, English defenders don't exactly get the headline writers humming.

Which gives 32-year-old Steven Taylor — formerly of the England under-21 and England B teams not to mention EPL club Newcastle — plenty of scope to prove us wrong as the newest Phoenix recruit.

Taylor is a brave troop, an EPL-class footballer prepared to join our A-league battlers.

New Phoenix coach Mark Rudan must have remarkable powers of persuasion, tempting a player The Sun describes as a 'Newcastle legend' to mix it with our lot.

Then again, playing for underachieving Newcastle and its fanatical fans prepares a man for anything.

As a special treat for Phoenix supporters, I can provide this exclusive scouting report on Taylor from a devoted (is there any other sort) Newcastle fan, a fourth generation one no less.

Our spy said Taylor was a Newcastle local who often saved his best for games against bitter rivals Sunderland.

"He was injury prone and inconsistent — he would have great games and at other times make ludicrous decisions," he reports.

"He is a bit of a character. I remember him running the length of the pitch in celebration, with his team mates chasing, after scoring his first goal in a European game.

"But I've also got to squeeze in the game against Aston Villa where he hand-balled but went down clutching his chest. He is famous for that.

"Newcastle legend? Jackie Milburn is a Newcastle legend. But I would have thought Steven Taylor was a class above the A-league."

Stay tuned.