Tag Archive | "sam allardyce"

Tags: , , , , , ,

Where did all the English managers go?

Posted on 08 January 2010 by JamesHamilton

The lack of English managers at the very top level has been well and truly noticed now: last night, Radio 5 devoted ninety minutes to discussing the situation with the likes of Tony Adams, Steve McClaren, Terry Venables and Sam Allardyce. The programme went out live, it’s not clear how much any of the participants had prepared, and the comments rarely went beyond the obvious and the hackneyed. Top clubs won’t give an English coach a chance; clubs don’t give managers long enough; there’s no realistic career path in which to gain experience; chairmen think top players turn into top managers.

Only Richard Bevan, of the League Managers’ Association, came up with anything new. Football management in England, said Bevan, is a profession that needs taking more seriously and whose members need taking more seriously, by those who employ football managers. His job is all about raising the profile and status of managers. This reminded me of the situation in Italy, where a manager is more likely to be considered experienced after a sacking than incompetent – and Italy, let’s not forget, trains its managers properly in an institution created for the purpose.

Privately, I was depressed by the programme. Compared with Scottish or Irish managers, the English ones – Sam Allardyce excepted – came across as inarticulate. And jejune, and ill-at-ease. Even Terry Venables. But then, the programme was live and it was long: plenty of bright, sharp people  crumble at the mic.

What the programme missed was also depressing, but understandable. Here’s my take on the issue.

It’s assumed that there will, all else being equal, always be a through-flow of good English managers. It used to be assumed that there would be a flow of good English players, but not without reason: we’d set things up that way. Almost every school played the game from age 8 upwards; there were junior leagues aplenty, thousands of amateur football clubs, county and regional sides, and an army of volunteers to run it all. Post-war prosperity ate into all that to some degree, but there’s still a structure there that many countries would envy. We had players because we did something to get them. Not as much as Holland, but something.

What have we ever done to get ourselves managers? Even now, I would argue that UEFA ‘A’ and ‘B’ badges do not an infrastructure make. The programme noted, briefly and glumly, that there seem to be as many Scottish and Irish managers as there ever were, but no explanation was offered. I’ll offer one: there’s a cultural difference between Scotland/Ireland and England in their respective attitudes towards the possession of intelligence. England’s a clever, astonishingly literate country – so many people read on buses and tubes compared to Europe and the US – but it prizes the concealment of intelligence in the individual and team sports actively fear it. This doesn’t make for the production of managers, who need to be communicators and influencers (but you can be clever in a Scots or Irish voice without putting backs up). It makes for jobs for the boys, which is what England’s got at the moment.

Anyway: the good English managers are all dead. It’s not just that no English manager has won the Premier League – or, since Heysel, a European trophy. It’s that, with one exception, all of the English managers who have won League titles or European trophies have died. And the period of glory was brief. The first European Trophy won by an English manager, Tottenham’s European Cup Winner’s Cup with Bill Nicholson in 1963, is separated from Sir Bobby Robson’s European Cup Winner’s Cup with Barcelona by only 34 years. And we’ve had another 15 since then.

There were, in those 34 years, a small number of English coaches who were without doubt amongst the world’s best. Nicholson himself; Don Revie; Brian Clough (and Peter Taylor); Sir Alf Ramsey; Ron Greenwood; Bob Paisley; Sir Bobby Robson. (And I’d like to cull the list further – Clough and Paisley are streets ahead… but that’s an argument for the pub).

This suggests to me that there were the conditions, however briefly, in place to produce those managers. Those conditions have gone, and there’s nothing in their place. What conditions? Well…

  • Career dissatisfaction. Every man on our list lived through World War II. Greenwood, Nicholson, Ramsey and Paisley had their playing careers interrupted by it. Clough’s playing days were ended by injury, and he never got over it. Revie and Robson had full playing careers, but Robson “won nothing” in his and hated the fact. Keane, Adams, Southgate, Ince and co. had brilliantly successful, personally fulfilling careers. An earlier generation had finished playing but still had it all to do.
  • International and club humiliation at European hands. First it was Hungary in 1953. Ramsey played in that one: Revie changed his entire game because of it. Then it was Real Madrid, Benfica, Inter, Ajax, Bayern… not until Liverpool’s 1977 side was there an “English” team considered unequivocably, emulatably the best on the continent. But by then, the England team were embarrassingly bad. It’s hard to remember now, when England are assumed to be World Cup quarter-finalists and Premiership sides fill 3 out of 4 Champions League semi-final places, but for many years English managers fought as underdogs: there was something to prove and real humiliation to avenge. That feeling went before Heysel.
  • Northern Cultural Dominance. All of our list bar Ramsey were born in the north of England – and most of the northerners are from Middlesbrough or Newcastle. Of course, that’s to do with professional football being as much a phenomena of urban industrialization as machine shops, cotton mills and shipyards. Most people who played the game lived in the north. But in the sixties, seventies and early eighties, northerners were far more prominent in all of the most visible walks of national life. Where have they all gone, the Morecombes and Wises, the Barbara Castles, the Parkinsons, the Harold Evanses, the Alan Bleasdales? The working class voice of clichee used to come from Manchester or Liverpool, and the person using it was avuncular, middle-aged and smartly dressed: he was a warm and comforting figure that I knew well as a boy. But the Etonians are coming, and the working class clichee voice is Danny Dyer’s and despised. Cockney used to mean Michael Caine. We got accustomed to a world in which people from any background were starting to come through to national leadership, and then that world went away again.  What Brian Clough stood for – brilliance, hope and rootedness, in one man – went with him, and we don’t know when we’ll see it again. His modern successors lack the polish and glamour that our age demands of leaders. Now, Roy Hodgson,  you have to be posh or foreign, a Cameron or a Mancini. Signor Allardice was right. For the rest of us, there’s the X Factor.
  • A blue collar world. It’s old hat but true: football failed to follow the advice of a million working class mothers to go white collar. It’s starting to, now. But our great English managers predate, most of them, the days of universal secondary education. All of them possessed the intellectual strength to go on to 16, 18 and 21, but couldn’t. Today, it’s still unusual for an Englishman going into professional football to bother much with school after 16, but the question is whether potential Paisleys aren’t taking the risk that football represents as a career choice when staying on (and more than half of schoolchildren now express a desire to make university) offers such comparatively certain rewards. Football was never a great bet, and our great English managers won a hidden lottery to reach the places they did. But you have to be in it to win it, and with fewer boys playing football seriously in the first place, it has to be asked if men like our greatest managers aren’t now just choosing washing machines, cars, compact disc players, electrical tin openers and a fucking big television over the risk of football and the slim chance of great, grand adventure.

In short, I’m saying two things: there aren’t the English managers there were, and the big four aren’t entirely wrong to steer clear. But those that are around – Allardyce, Hodgson – aren’t given the chance because the culture’s played them crook. And Hodgson’s 63.. If this is to change, three things need to happen. First, “show us your medals” has got to go. Only one of the big four is managed by a man who was also any kind of player. There’s little real connection between great playing success and managerial brilliance. Second, England needs to set up a managerial college along French lines. Third, Richard Bevan’s efforts to raise the image of the profession must succeed, and the consequence must be that managers are given time and backing. If the structure of the league, which so penalizes failure now, must change to accommodate that, then so be it.

What mustn’t happen is any kind of affirmative action. It’s too late to appoint an Englishman to the England job just because he’s English: after Sven, after Capello, the second-choiceness of the situation would overwhelm anyone but the thickest-skinned. The next Englishman in the job must have the job because he’s the best of a superb bunch. And there’s many years of hard work and change before that comes about. In 1977, the choice was between Robson, Clough and Greenwood: that’s the level we must now demand.

Comments (14)

Tags: , , , , , ,

The England Managerial Race: Sam Allardyce

Posted on 19 March 2006 by JamesHamilton

I make no bones about being depressed at the prospect of the next England manager. We have enjoyed five years of Sven Goran Erickson, during which the expectations we hang around the national team have risen spectacularly. Under him, we went into the 2004 European Championships pretty much expecting to win, and, Brazil aside, we’re doing the same for the 2006 World Cup (we were right then, and we’re right now). Although there’ve been criticisms of Sven – no loyalty, and his teams can’t get interested in matches against minnow sides – the facts are that we have always had enough playing talent over the years to compete with the best in the world, and now we’re actually doing so. And because I can’t see an English – even a British – coach to match Erickson at the moment, I think that all this is going to come to an abrupt end once the tournament in Germany is over.

Best of a bad bunch is Sam Allardyce. Allardyce is without any shadow of a doubt a great club manager, and were I him I’d be looking for one of the “big” club management roles now. There’s a more interesting than usual analysis of the Allardyce effect from the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson here:

It is five seasons since he dragged Bolton into the Premiership, and during that time the perception of Allardyce as the stereotypical English manager has shifted. ‘People respect Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho as foreign innovators who have brought new ideas,’ says a senior source at the FA. ‘Sam Allardyce has quietly been doing the same things for a long time. He’s not quite the classic throwing-cups-of-tea, old-school English manager you might think.’

Allardyce was one of the first managers to use ProZone, the computer system that tracks every physical detail of a player during a match. He is wired up to an earpiece during games and has consulted the expertise of Humphrey Walters, the business guru Sir Clive Woodward credits as being a big influence in England’s 2003 rugby union World Cup victory. The Bolton squad are offered massages, t’ai chi, yoga and Pilates. Some, though, wonder whether his approach is gimmicky and question why he has such a large backroom staff (17 at the last count).

‘There is a feeling at the club that it is all about him,’ says one first-team player. ‘He can treat players harshly and some of the top players feel he cannot add anything to their game. That is maybe why he needs so many people around him.’ The players are aware that many pundits question Bolton’s basic style – famously described by radio commentator Alan Green as ‘ugly football’. ‘In Europe we might struggle,’ the player adds, ‘because we can be attacked down the wings and in the final phase of a match.’

I view Sam’s large backroom staff favourably: it’s the sign of a man who knows where his own limits lie, and who knows how to overcome his own limits by building an effective team. Of the current candidates therefore, it’s no surprise that he’s the one with the superb record in reigniting the interest of top-name stars, to say nothing of integrating them into a proper team. Sven has treated England as a club, with a relatively fixed squad, and the result is a side familiar with itself and with its own culture. Sam’s done this at Bolton – it’s the context into which you have to place his loyalty to the likes of Kevin Davies. It may be he can do the same with England.

The “gimmicky” charge is a red herring. None of the top managers around at present are quite the geniuses they are sometimes flagged up as. Most of the “innovations” that have come into the game in England since 1990 are in the realm of the obvious – don’t get drunk, eat properly, don’t train stupidly. The rest are in the realm of the strange – popular sports injury specialist from Germany, Hans Muller-Wolfhart, would be treated very differently by the British press were he American.

Fans, though, seem to like Allardyce. He might be behind Martin O’Neill and Curbishley in the betting for the England job, but for many he is the popular choice. ‘Big Sam’ struck a chord with supporters when, a little more than two years ago, he remarked during a spat with Arsene Wenger that if his name was ‘Allardici’ his status would be the equal of that enjoyed by foreign coaches.

It’s been said. In truth, part of the status enjoyed by foreign coaches has come precisely because they aren’t English – because there’s been a widespread feeling for years, only beginning to fade now, that the English game has been, in Pete Davies’ phrase, “All Played Out”. It’s no use asking Sam to play the part of smooth, urbane operators such as Venables, Erickson or Wenger, for all that he’s probably the most intelligent of the group.

Instead, Sam could look to South America, where another hyperactive, gumchewing, thickset retro-manager has enjoyed considerable success. Luiz Filipe Scolari, World Cup Winner, European Championship Finalist and general old-fashioned manager is widely considered, although not by me, to have outfoxed Erickson twice. He’s been mentioned in the context of the England job. If Sam is serious about the step up to Lancaster Gate, he’d do well to play on this, because if he can’t be the English Sven, he could very well pass off as the English Scolari. But he needs to do it soon.

Comments Off on The England Managerial Race: Sam Allardyce

Advertise Here
Advertise Here