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England manager Phil Cope suffers a heart attack after a couple of bad results in a previously strong campaign to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Brazil. Because of the manner of his departure, none of the English managers in England's top division, the Premier League are interested in taking the job (well, one is, but the Football Association aren't interested in him). As a result, they have to turn to Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson), manager of second tier club Norwich City, and it soon becomes apparent that while Mike has all the enthusiasm in the world, he doesn't really have any of the managerial skill. England's qualifying campaign goes from bad to worse, and they're forced to rely on a flukish combination of results to get through to the World Cup itself. Things eventually get better once they arrive in Brazil, but not before they get a whole lot worse...
The film was followed by a TV series, Mike Bassett: Manager, wherein Mike returns to take charge of his childhood heroes, Wirral County. Unfortunately it got stuck in development hell for four years due to money wrangles, meaning that it was released to a somewhat decent reception, but unimpressive viewing figures.
Both the film and the TV series are somewhat efficient comedies by their own merits, but you really need to be a football fan to really appreciate the subtleties and references that go into them.
The Mike Bassett series contains examples of:
- The Alleged Car: Every car that Lonnie Urquart sells, though the one he sells Mike is apparently particularly bad.
- Batman Gambit: An agent pulls one on Mike, sending him a tape of a striker who is shown to score five goals in a single game. Mike quickly signs him for Wirral County, only to discover that he's actually signed the goalkeeper from the tape. An incompetent goalkeeper who can't speak English, and is knocked out by the regular goalkeeper within 30 seconds due to an argument.
- Big Damn Heroes: With England failing to win their final qualifying game against Slovenia, it looks bleak...and then Luxembourg beat Turkey to send England through.
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Subverted in both the film and the TV series. Mike actually seems to have a pretty good level of alcohol tolerance; unfortunately this is undone by the side-effects of mixing alcohol with anti-depressants (in England Manager), and then by the fact that he has to drink all of Tonka's drinks on a stag night in order to keep him sober (in Manager).
- Cheaters Never Prosper: Averted in the film, where England win a crucial match with Argentina thanks to a handball by Tonka. Then again, Argentina beat England under similar circumstances in 1986, so it can be argued that this was actually a very slow case of Laser-Guided Karma.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Mike drops a Cluster F Bomb that Gordon Ramsay would be proud of during a 4--0 thrashing of England by Mexico.
- The Determinator: Gary Wackett plays in one of England's qualifying matches despite having his jaw wired shut after getting it broken in a testing facility with questionable methods.
- Dirty Old Man: Jack Marshall, the England physio, seems to take inordinate levels of care when inspecting the players' groins. In a deleted scene, he also gleefully talks at length about how his job involves "rubbing young men's thighs."
- Epic Fail: Mike's entire management career. Even his one shining moment with England can be argued to be more down to Alan Massey than Mike.
- Expy: Oh, so many.
- Mike Bassett supposedly has elements of all the worst aspects of English managers, though Graham Taylor and Kevin Keegan are apparently the main influences.
- Kevin Tonkinson was loosely inspired by Paul Gascoigne in England Manager, and subsequently became a much more direct Expy in Manager.
- Gary Wackett is inspired by Billy Bremner, except with the thuggishness turned Up to Eleven (though Bremner was already at about 9.5).
- Harpsey has a similar background to David Beckham, including a pop star wife.
- Dave Dodds and Lonnie Urquart are parodies of Graham Taylor's two assistants, Phil Neal and Lawrie McMenemy.
- The unnamed England goalie is physically very similar to David Seaman.
- Carlton Dawes is a reference to Carlton Palmer, both in his name and his awkward personality.
- Genre Shift: England Manager was a mockumentary, while Manager followed the "Modern Britcom" format popularised by shows like Extras.
- Heroic BSOD: Mike suffers a major one in the last episode of Manager, after it turns out that his father took a bribe to deliberately play poorly in Wirral County's one and only FA Cup final.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: During an argument, Mike accuses Lonnie Urquart of being a useless, stupid, racist fool, who knowingly sells crappy cars. Guess which one of those insults offends Lonnie into punching Mike and quitting the England setup?
- Next Sunday AD: The TV series was first broadcast in late 2005, but is set in the course of the 2007--2008 football season.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the second-last episode of the TV series, Mike goes out on a stag night with Tonka, fearful that Tonka will get himself arrested or injured just before an important match. Mike gets so drunk that he ends up breaking Tonka's jaw in an punch-up, ruling him out for the entire season.
- The Other Darrin: Bradley Walsh and Dean Lennox Kelly played Doddsy and Tonka in the film; they were replaced by Steve Edge and Renton Skinner respectively for the TV series.
- Put on a Bus: Mike's son is reduced to only appearing very briefly in a single episode of the TV series. Justified, since he was in high school in England Manager, and had moved onto university during the six year gap until Manager.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Atomic Kitten member Natasha Hamilton is mentioned as having been too ill to take part in the England team's official World Cup anthem -- in real-life, she had just had her appendix removed prior to filming, and was in no condition to take part.
- Another incident affected the ending of the film. Normally Ricky Tomlinson has a full beard, but shaved it down to just a moustache for this film. The producers decided they wanted to reshoot the ending, but were faced with a problem since Tomlinson had regrown his beard. As a result, they put in a throwaway line alluding to Bassett having agreed with Doddsy not to shave until England got knocked out of the World Cup.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: In Manager, Mike accuses Tonka of making up ridiculous stories so that he has excuses to carry on drinking to excess. It's not until just before a vital game that Mike finds out that Tonka has been telling the truth the whole time.
- Sequel Hook: Mike's "four more years" cry at the end of the film. Unfortunately, the next time we see him it turns out that he rather overestimated his future as England Manager.
- The TV series ends with Mike and Karine walking away together, leaving Doddsy as the new manager of Wirral County, until Mike mentions that he doesn't just want to retire in Spain, and wants to become part-time coach of a local junior team. Karine says that if he wants to do that, they might as well just stay with Wirral. The series ends on that note, and we never find out what happened next.
- Shout-Out: In the FA's meeting at the start of the film, one of the board brings up an English manager in the Premier League who seems absolutely perfect for the England manager's job... only for the rest of the board to laugh off the suggestion, because he's a "big head." This is a reference to Brian "Ol' Big Head" Clough, who was passed over for the England manager's job in 1974, 1977 and 1982, which to this day is regarded as the biggest wasted opportunity in English football history.
- Shown Their Work: Say what you want about the film (and series), you can't accuse the writers of not knowing their football.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Richard Johnson in the TV series has almost exactly the same personality as Sir Geoffrey Lightfoot in the film. His role's a bit different though, as Sir Geoffrey was just uninterested in giving Mike any help or advice, while Richard was outright villainous and wanted to destroy the club to sell its stadium.
- Tempting Fate: Mike proudly boasts that he's a traditional manager, and that he writes his squad list down on the back of packets of "Benson & Hedges" cigarettes. Come the next match, he finds out that he's got the 46 year-old Ron Benson and the 20-stone Tony Hedges as part of his squad.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film's setup is very similar to the situation the England national team found themselves in after Kevin Keegan stepped down in 2000. In fact, it was worse in real-life, because at the time there wasn't a single English manager in the Premier League who had won anything meaningful.
- What Could Have Been: The film was originally supposed to end with Mike quitting the England job despite his eventual success, and moving to Bolivia to coach there. The producers decided they wanted a Sequel Hook however, and refilmed the ending to have Mike proclaiming "four more years!" (In the TV series we find out that he lasted just over one year, getting sacked after losing every single match in the Euro 2004 qualifying tournament)
- Yes-Man: Doddsy takes this to ridiculous extremes in the film (though so did Phil Neal, his real-life counterpart). In the TV series he's a lot more self-assertive, though still pretty subservient to Mike.