I’ve listened a lot of people’s opinions on who should become the next England manager, and their reasoning behind their choices, and I’m left to ask one question:
Why is the automatic assumption made that the requirements for club and international management are the same?
Let’s look at a couple of the names that I’ve heard come up.
Various people have suggested Redknapp as a viable candidate, based on his success story with Portsmouth. Now I think he’s doing a tremendous job at Fratton Park – he has turned a struggling Premiership side into one that will probably be playing in Europe next season. Since their great escape in the Premiership 18 months ago, they have only amassed more points than anyone outside the ‘Big Four’.
But what is this success based upon? From what I can see, Redknapp is a master wheeler-dealer, a genius in the transfer market who assembles a powerful and athletic squad, with no small sprinkling of skill, on a relatively modest budget.
But as an international coach, he would be stuck with the players he has. He couldn’t effectively trade them in for bargain models as he does at his club.
Bear with me here, but I don’t think Wenger would be a successful England manager. Firstly, the expectations on him would be huge based upon his record at Arsenal, expectations which would be almost impossible to achieve.
But think about how Wenger operates. He scours the world for a certain type of player – quick, athletic, strong in body and mind, intelligent, articulate – and signs them at an early age. Then, he and his team train them in the Arsenal way, before giving them a chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage. And because his initial judgement is generally so accurate, many of these players become superstars.
But he wouldn’t be able to do any of that for England. He would be unable to find even a couple of teenagers fitting the mould he is after, he would not be with them for long enough to mould them into his way of thinking, and on the most part, those players available to him lack precisely the attributes he values so highly. That’s why there are so few Englishmen around the Arsenal first team.
How many young England stars come across in interviews as intelligent and modest, down to earth and responsible?
And how many put their excessive diamond studs back in their ears for the cameras, struggle to string a sentence together, and then drive home in their Bentleys?
How many of them love possession of the football and are capable of playing the open attractive football Wenger would crave? These English players reach 17-18 with less skill and finesse than most of the 14 year olds Wenger sees at club level, and they’re supposed to be the great hope of the nation?
Wenger would find international management incredibly frustrating in comparison to the free reign he has now, to mould the best players he can find into the footballing dream he strives for. He is wise not to touch the job with a bargepole.
So who would be good?
When choosing an international manager, you are not looking for a man with the ability to spot a cheap diamond in the transfer market. You do not need a man who can sell players at their peak price and replace them for 20% of the cost.
You need a tactician, a motivator, a manager who can react to the game unfolding in front of him with clever substitutions, a man who recognises young talent in the country and introduces them at the right time. A man who instinctively knows how to get the best out of players on an individual basis, and how to construct a team from a bunch of individuals used to opposing each other.
When a manager joins a struggling club, and dramatically improves their fortunes without dipping into the transfer market, they have potential at international level. Such managers are usually at smaller clubs, with success based upon the notion that the team is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, many of those managers, by their very definition, are not working with the sort of ego you get around the England setup.
So what do you need? In essence, a manager who can get the best out of average players, but will not tolerate ego and underachievement. He must be his own man, unafraid to drop the players who, despite their celebrity status, aren’t performing.
In other words, the FA were stupid to turn down Martin O’Neill when he was available and interested.
Today, he ruled himself out of the race. So the search must go abroad, because no matter how much the Daily Mail promote their Little Englander notions, there is simply no-one else with the required attributes anywhere in Britain.
Fabio Capello is interested, experienced and bloody minded. He can cope with egos, having managed the dysfunctional Real Madrid to success, and he wouldn’t flinch at the prospect of axing the famous names.
So in what new and creative way will the FA mess this one up?