Wrong mug for the mug: Why Barack Obama replaced Chris Smalling

President Barack Obama is not playing for England in the World Cup, despite what Chris Smalling souvenir mugs might show you. A friendly reminder of parents battling summer slide and kids forgetting their school lessons.

Screen grab, Warehouse Clearance website
US President Barack Obama in the soccer uniform of England's national team. The mug was supposed to carry the image of center back Chris Smalling.
Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
President Barack Obama was featured on a souvenir mug meant to feature England's Chris Smalling. In this image Mr. is pictured before an international friendly soccer match against Ecuador in Miami, Florida, on June 4.

In a gaffe, an apprentice at a British company mistakenly put President Barack Obama’s face on an England World Cup mug instead of that of Manchester United center back Chris Smalling. Parents everywhere were perhaps reminded of the importance of both teaching kids about world leaders and supervising those we are teaching a new task.

While the idea of the US president in England's national team uniform on a coffee mug is funny to a number of people, my guess is that none of those people work at the unnamed Dorset, England company which produced the now defunct commemorative mug set of the team. 

I imagine that right now the only person truly happy with the President of the United States being mistaken for a handsome, buff, 24-year-old World Cup soccer star is Mr. Obama himself.

The company decided to do away with the misprinted merchandise via the Wholesale Clearance web site where it was outed for the error of its ways.

“The Dorset company in question (whose blushes we shall protect for now....maybe!) was given the seemingly easy job of sourcing royalty free pictures of each England squad player to use on the England mugs,” according to the item description on the site. “They passed this onto to their young, bright eyed and bushy tailed new apprentice.” 

It’s easy to blame the bad job on the intern or the "new guy," but where were the supervisors and quality control people?

“The designs were proofed and signed off by the Boss, who had clearly had a heavy night with the lads playing poker and before he’d had his first vat of coffee the following morning,” the Wholesale Clearance site includes in the description. 

However, as we poke fun at the apprentice who couldn’t tell Obama from Mr. Smalling, at a glance it should also give parents cause to pause and reflect on how savvy our own kids are about politics and their major players.

It wasn’t all that long ago, just prior to the Olympics in Russia, that my own sons thought I was making a joke when I pronounced the name of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Poo-ten! Oh that’s hilarious Mom,” crowed my youngest Quin, age 10 at the time.

So I am not entirely surprised that a young person could get so insulated in their own nation as to fail to recognize a foreign president.

Also, I understand how a company can experience this kind of mishap with a trainee.

It’s very similar to the cascade failures that can happen in a household when a parent gives a child a new responsibility, but fails to monitor or check the result.

When the boys were little I gave Zoltan, then age 7, the task of running the dish washer, which I had carefully shown him how to do many times before.

Then I got busy and forgot to check until he began to scream as the dog barked, his brothers laughed, and my kitchen exploded with suds.

He couldn’t find the proper detergent and took the initiative by filling the dispenser with dish soap.

My husband walked into a kitchen and dining room overflowing with flooded, sudsy mayhem.

As Zoltan began to cry, I told my husband what had happened and explained to our son that part of it was my fault for not checking in on him and also for not warning him to only use the right detergent.

There are some great lessons in this mishap: know your world leaders, take responsibility for those you train, and don’t leave the most important jobs in the hands of those least experienced without supervision.

The most valuable take-away from this is the laughter, not to mention the fact that the mugs will probably be the most highly prized collector’s item to come out of the World Cup for England. According to one report, they're going for more than $3,000 each.

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