Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Man's Opinion: Why the English can't manage their own team

Former Fulham miracle worker Chris Coleman has left his latest post in Spain after a seven month stint. The smart money is that he will make a move back the isles when the opportunity arises. Coleman may not have had the best run is Spain, but he did gain a little of what most British managers lack, international experience. In the long run, I believe the ingrained reluctance of British managers to go to the continent for experience will hurt the Home Nations', and specifically England's, ability to find a home-grown coach to successfully manage their national squads.

Seriously, this is a long post. Go grab a drink and come back.

Coleman does not have a long C.V. at the manager's position. His first position came at Fulham, initially as a caretaker, then as permanent manager in 2003. He has been cited as the manager who did the best job with the least amount to work with in his time at Fulham, steering the team clear of relegation every season. He was sacked in 2007 late in the season, on the heels of a seven game winless streak. Despite Coleman's relative inexperience, John Toshack recommended him for the job at Real Sociedad, one of Toshack's former clubs.

Chris Coleman

John Toshack is an interesting character. In an era where many British and Irish managers played hot potato with jobs in England, he has forged a thirty year managerial career holding only one British job, his first position at Swansea City. Since he left Swansea, he has taken top spots in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, France, and Italy while also helming the Welsh national team twice. In short, he's just the kind of NT Manager one would like, successful at many different clubs in many different leagues, and a man who knows how players and managers from other continental leagues think.

John Toshack

Toshack had three stints in charge of Real Sociedad, twice leading them to Copa del Rey titles. It is safe to say that he is well regarded in San Sebastian. So, after their relegation last season, when the club was looking for a new manager, Toshack brought Coleman to the club. He acted as a go between, allowing the sides to feel each other out. A couple of interviews later, Coleman was hired, and his adventure began.

It started out rough for Coleman, as he did not speak the local language. When he showed up 90 minutes late for a press conference, he cited a broken washing machine instead of telling the truth, that he was hung over after showing some visiting friends the town. Still, as time went on, he made headway. He produced and won with a young squad with local talent, and he scaled the language barrier, taking on pressers without an interpreter. However, in the fickle climate of Spanish football, he felt hung out to dry when new team president Inaki Badiola was elected. Despite assurances that he would be allowed to continue to run the team, Coleman felt the writing was on the wall and resigned.

Sadly, this deprived Wales of something they could use in the future, a native manager with lots of international experience. But, as stated above, at least he has some. England, on the other hand, has no one waiting in the wings for when Capello leaves. Almost every English manager whose name was brought up in the last go around suffered on two fronts--no international experience, and lack of long-term experience overall. If England do not start to produce managers with a combination of these two parts, one of two things will happen. Either we will see England's NT job filled by foreign managers, an unappetizing thought for many Englishmen, or we will continue to see England languish on the International stage.

Why England will not see success with an English coach

If you look at World Cup winning managers of the last 20 years, three things stand out. They either had long-term experience at the National level (Beckenbauer), had extensive international experience (Parriera, Scolari) or had extensive (20+ years) experience managing domestically (Jacquet, Lippi). I submit to you that each of these different experiences helps significantly on the international stage. Long-term work with the National Team leads to a great understanding of wht you have to work with. Globe-hopping allows for a coach to get to know many different styles of play. Not only to implement within his own squad, but to know what to expect from other teams. While long-term domestic managing means that you learn subtle nuances of how your countrymen play, allowing a manager to better fit a squad together. In the last English NT manager search, the only candidate who approached these stats was Capello.

What is interesting is that from Terry Venables and before, England managers often fit the above mold. Venables had the international experience, Taylor had the long-term domestic experience, Robson had the long-term NT experience, and so on all the way back to Alf Ramsey. But in 1996, there was a sea change. Glenn Hoddle was hired on the back of five years experience with two domestic clubs. Kevin Keegan similarly had managed two squads for seven years. Steve McClaren had coached one squad for five years. Only one England manager over the last 12 years has had a NT worthy C.V., the foreigner Sven-Goran Eriksson. Who, incidentally, was the most successful English NT manager over that time frame. Why is it that England no longer produces successful native managers?

The easiest way to rectify the current situation would be to hire managers that have scads of experience in the domestic top flight. Unfortunately, the current state of English managers in the EPL (suck it, Barclay's) would not help. Of the 20 squads, only 10 have English managers. Of those 10, only 3 meet my criteria, Roy Hodgson, Steve Coppell, and Harry Redknapp. Of these three, Redknapp is tainted by scandal, Coppell is sorely underrated and was not seriously considered, and Roy Hodgson, well, he's an enigma.I

Why not Roy Hodgson?

Hodgson would seem to fit the profile--30 years of experience, most of that international, and he has managed 3 NT teams to boot. Yet his name never came up when the most recent search was conducted. I attribute this to two reasons magnified by one source. First of all, Hodgson, before taking over at Fulham, had not managed in England since a brief stint at Blackburn in 1998. Therefore, he effectively had no face time before the FA, the press or the fans. Out of sight, out of mind, it would seem. Secondly, his record is not the best, especially in England. I think a good but of this comes because he often manages squads that are overmatched against their competition, but I would need to invest more time on this before I strictly believed this for myself. That said, the press would never give him a shot, and in today's climate, the press run opinion in England.

Roy Hodgson

We see it every time there is a new manager opening in England. Immediate, uninformed speculation rules the initial reports. I mean, how many managers were in line for the top spot before Kelvin Koogan took over at Newcastle? The fact is, that in England, when it come to football, the press seems to make the speculations fact instead of gleaning facts out of speculation. Hodgson could never get on a short list in England prior to now because the press wouldn't know what to do with him. He was a forgotten man, and since the press didn't rate him, it seems that the FA did not either.

Who else is out there for England?

This is bound to meet with skepticism, and believe me, I understand why. But there is one manager out there whom I think will make a solid candidate once Capello moves on, pr even after. That man is Stuart Pearce. Currently in place as the England Under-21 manager, he seems like a man who wants to do the job at the National level. He does have a modicum of experience at Manchester City, but openly lobbied for his current position while he was there. With his job, he will see the young players coming up, and will presumably have access to the coaches at the full national level. The wild card here is whether or not Pearce goes back to club coaching. Given the way he went after the position, and his knowledge of the necessity for immediate results at the club level, I don't think he will be tempted. Given a couple of years seasoning at the U-21 level, followed by a stint as an assistant on the full NT squad, I think that Pearce could be up for the challenge of taking England to a level it has not seen in decades.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your next trophy winning England manager

Depending on the players, of course, but that's a whole other article.

All images courtesy of bbc.co.uk

1 comment:

The Fan's Attic said...

This is the first in a long line of posts of "Why the English can't _____." The next post will be about "Why the English can't own their own EPL teams."