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:
- Only an English manager “understood” English players; only an English manager could “inspire” them.
- We needed a good old-fashioned English captain to gee up the players.
- 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.
- The players were also a bunch of primadonnas who didn’t care. Who were being let down by a cautious foreign manager.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.