Choosing The Next England Manager

He left with such grace, patriotism and politeness. The manner of Steve McClaren’s departure would make a proper Englishman proud, but there were none of those in the press conference.

I felt it was an error to let Ericksson go; now, here we are again amidst the tangled deckchairs as iceberg after iceberg slips through our weakened defence. If you see what I mean.

Last time, the following were the considerations:

  1. Only an English manager “understood” English players; only an English manager could “inspire” them.
  2. We needed a good old-fashioned English captain to gee up the players.
  3. The players were desperate to show their passion and commitment and needed someone on the touchline who would yell things and dance about like a puppet for this to happen.
  4. The players were also a bunch of primadonnas who didn’t care. Who were being let down by a cautious foreign manager.
  5. Beckham should go. “Bring in,” on some kind of footballing forklift truck, SWP, Aaron Lennon, etc. Ditto Andy Johnson, Jermaine Defoe; Michael Owen is past it.

You can tell from my tone what I think about all of that.

I’m still not sure that the real problems of the job are understood.

  1. International management is different in nature from club management, and success in club management does not run on automatically into success as an international coach. There are a number of “specialist” international coaches who manage country after country, rarely dipping into club management at all.
  2. An international manager, especially in the UK, does not have much time with his players, and long-term team-building skills are therefore difficult to apply.
  3. There is no transfer market in international football; an international manager has to do with what he has, and is rather more at the mercy of form and injury than he would be at a top Premiership club.

What this points towards is the appointment of someone capable of making a quick impact. There have been a fair few good “impact managers” in Britain in the last forty years. Brian Clough was not one of them: his teams took a good two years to get into gear. The greatest impact manager of all time was this man:

(There are three parts to this. Let’s forget current woes for a moment…)

Jock Stein managed three club sides, and won cups with two of them within six weeks of taking over. His first trophy at his other club took him entire months to achieve.

Arsene Wenger is another manager with a track record of quick results. He won the French League in his first year in charge of AS Monaco, and a League/Cup double in his second full season at Arsenal. Wenger is thought to have a very good idea of how to create a successful international structure within the existing set-up of English football, and is one of few men to have an optimistic view regarding young English players in the club academies. He is not interested in the job.

Perhaps the best candidate – on these terms – is Jose Mourinho. He is rumoured to have promised Frank Lampard an England team built around him should the job come Mourinho’s way. In his first season at Uniao de Leiria, he took them to their highest ever position, and within 18 months of joining Porto had won the Portuguese league title with a record points score. UEFA and Champions League success followed. His first season at Chelsea was marked by a runaway success in the Premiership, a League Cup, a Champions League semi-final and a famously brave exit from the FA Cup.

Fabio Capello has won league titles with every team he has ever managed, twice on two separate occasions in the case of Real Madrid. Only at AS Roma did he fail to achieve league title success in his first season in charge – that took him a full eighteen months. Given that he is actually interested in the job – a thing of wonder in itself – these are good signs. Less good is his devotion, latterly, to defensive, cautious football. England have a problem with fear – and have had since the breakup of the second great Alf Ramsey side in ’71-2. I doubt this is what we need.

Whoever takes over has one initial duty to fulfil. David Beckham has been left stranded on 99 caps. After his patient, professional and patriotic reaction to being dropped by McClaren, plus his wonderful first-time pass onto the chest of Peter Crouch leading to Wednesday night’s wonderful equalizer, he is owed his century. And an ovation to follow it. It’s a matter of deciding what kind of footballing country we are – either thuggish, stupid and lingeringly homophobic, or capable of recognising when talent’s among us, recognising when that talent has done its best for us in frequently outrageously ungrateful circumstances.

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7 responses to “Choosing The Next England Manager

  1. Good article.

    So far, it seems Jose feels club management is his next destination. Capello looks like the best pick out of those who have expressed interest so far.

    Personally I like Der Kaiser’s idea of hitting up Klinsmann, if only to see the sports desk at The Sun spontaneously combust when they realise a German is in charge…

    More seriously, I think Capello’s flaw is very similar to Mourinho’s. The approach is brilliant for grinding out League victories, but is prone to runs of 0-0 or 1-1 draws. It’s true that Mourinho won a European Cup, but he did it in precisely the Sven Goran Eriksson manner, nicking some close games, 1-0 and 2-1.

    This isn’t a fatal flaw if you can teach English players to take penalties, but that may be an even bigger challenge…

    I take on board your notion about impact managers, you’re clearly correct that those who work best through player development are not the men to win international cups. (The Houllier – Jacquet contrast perhaps?)

    All the same, I think there’s something to the style of play. International football is largely cup football and a propensity to win leagues is not necessarily the best credential for that job.

  2. Apparently when Katanec was Slovenia’s manager – and he got them to a couple of major tournaments – he went to church in the morning and played tennis in the afternoon, which tells you something about international management. What about Wenger doing it part-time?

  3. Gareth Southgate made some intelligent remarks about the players’ problems. He reckoned that many of them are just too tense even to hit an accurate pass. I had thought that McLaren was getting better at the job, but his reversion to Gerrard + Lampard seemed to betray his own efforts. Perhaps McLaren was too tense too.

  4. James

    I agree heartily with the need to do the right thing by Beckham. Arrange a friendly specifically for the purpose, if necessary.

    I speak as someone who has always regarded him as talented but comically overrated (once spoken of as an all-time great when inferior to Keane, Giggs and Schmeichel in his own Man. Utd. side, for example).

    Beckham’s England career has been exemplary, and his 100th cap should serve notice to future generations of England players that the FA has a sense of gratitude towards those who wear the white shirt with pride.

  5. Vlad Ungureanu

    Short version: My opinion is that you need a manager who can take the pressure off the players and in whom the players can put their trust so that they can play with total confidence. You need someone who won something or did very good at a World Cup or European Championship.

    Long version:

    I am from Romania, but I follow this blog as I find it quite interesting.
    For me it seems amazing that you have not qualified for the European Championship.
    In my opinion you have the best players in Europe (except maybe for the goalkeepers).

    So why did the team perform so bad? (Just some thoughts)
    1. Bad tactics?
    2. Too much pressure?
    3. Or maybe the team did not believe strong enough that they can do well under Steve McLaren.

    MY POINT is that you need a manager who can take the pressure of the players and in whom the players can put their trust and play with total confidence. You need someone who won something or did very good at a World Cup or European Championship.
    That’s what I would go for.

    Eriksson was good (almost good enough), but – if I am correct – his experience before England was only at club level, and as James pointed out managing a club team is something different in many aspects.

  6. You are absolutely right about club management being different- one of the reasons that Don Revie didn’t work at England despite being Leeds’s greatest boss was the fact that many of his techniques were perfect for a club- bonding the players together over a long period of time- but not so great at international level.

    Capello would be an interesting choice- definitely someone who knows an incredible ammount about how to get teams organised. The key for whoever is next is also not to dump so much pressure on them- especially as regards friendlies, I do think that we take friendlies far too seriously not realising that they are times to experiment.

  7. The croatia game was an interesting match which showed how England can apply themselves with nothing to lose when 2-0 down. However, when the equaliser went in, the players seemed to realise the magnitute of what they had done and stopped playing to retreat once again into fear.

    Why do England seem to practise/ train so much when there are more important aspects of the game to know? For instance did they realise how bad the Croatian left back was… Did the players fully understand their role in the 4-5-1 formation?