The development represents a remarkable shift in the FA’s thinking over the past few weeks, with the Portugal manager’s candidacy only gaining genuine credibility among the selection panel with the belated co-option of David Dein as its fourth member. It is understood that the group, comprising Dein, Barwick, the international committee chairman Noel White and the Premier League’s FA board representative Dave Richards, remains divided over who should be approached.
However, that did not prevent the panel reaching sufficiently broad consensus to proceed with an informal offer to Scolari and he will be recommended to next Thursday’s full FA board meeting as the man who should become Sven-Goran Eriksson’s successor. Though some members of the panel would prefer an English coach, they saw the evidence of Scolari’s managerial record as compelling.
And in that, I think they are wrong.
There has been a big forgetting about just how ordinary Brazil were in the 2002 World Cup – it was that ordinariness that was one of the drivers of England’s optimism despite the absence from the squad of Neville and Gerrard, the injuries to Beckham and Owen, and our lack of a left-sided midfielder. That the men in sunshine yellow came through was purely psychological on our part – our England team, very capable of winning, believed that they could not and acted accordingly, a belief helped along by the mind-sapping heat, a factor Erickson forsaw in his book “On Football”.
In Portugal, Scolari had the home team to manage, and furthermore had the home team’s “Golden Generation” of players. England showed in that quarter-final that they were capable of pacing themselves as a team – that, if necessary, as it became necessary, they could raise the tempo and take control of the match. I am one of those who sees Scolari’s famed substitutions not as Mourinho-style tactical switches, but as panicked decisions blessed by outrageous fortune. If you don’t think that England’s luck deserted them that afternoon, then consider the injury to Rooney, the disallowed goal, the mad penalty spot from which Beckham missed, and think again.
And, finally, think on this – how would Sven be viewed in England today if, instead of losing to Portugal in one of England’s typical epic defeats, we’d gone down to Greece in the Final?
For all of that, if Scolari accepts, two good things remain true. The bigots and little-Englanders will have lost. And three potentially-good coaches, McClaren, Curbishley and Allardyce, will have more time to acquire the top posts in club football that their talents deserve. I think there’s a real chance that we are about to see the first great era of English football coaching, and that Sven’s departure has just come a little early. Think how few there have been of the very best quality – Ramsey, of course, Clough, Revie perhaps, Robson, Mercer and Paisley at club level certainly – in the last forty years. All of the others – at Liverpool, at Manchester United, at Arsenal, have been Scots: Busby, Shankly, Dalglish (?), Graham, Ferguson; lately, Wenger.
It’s well known that the reason why we’re suddenly seeing so many English players with a high technical level of skill, why the gap between the lower leagues and the top is closing, why the current England team would waltz around the 75-98 teams, is because Howard Wilkinson pulled our national coaching set-up together. We’ve closed the gap on France, Spain, Germany and the rest. Less thought about is what happens when you improve the training for coaches. But we’ve done that as well. And it’s about to feed through.
Sven’s departure’s come too soon. But, for England football management, the great days may be just around the corner. Watch this space.