Friday, February 10, 2006

Who's the next victim to lead England?

On Friday, Premier League Chairman Dave Richards, one of three men charged with the task of finding England's next manager, said the next gaffer for the team of superstars should be British.

"It's time for a British boss, somebody who understands our passion, belief and commitment. There's no distinction between English and British."

It is interesting to hear such vehemence in terms of what nationality is appropriate for the England team. Sven-Goran Eriksson, the loose-lipped and indiscreet Swede is the first non-English manager to match the lack of success that has characterized the Three Lions since Sir Alf Ramsey brought the World Cup to England in 1966 and saw them through to the quarterfinals in 1970. Sir Bobby Robson brought them back to the quarterfinals in 1986, only to have Diego Maradona's "hand of God" goal steal the thunder from their storm of revitalization.

But interestingly, Sven is not the worst manager England has had; in fact he is among the top four managers in winning percentage, behind Ramsey, Glenn Hoddle and Ron Greenwood. And it is Sven's mouth and libido that have done the most damage to the notion of a foreigner managing the team, in addition to his befuddling tactical choices and inability to motivate some of Europe's top stars.

The latest fake sheikh fiasco was merely the final straw to break the back of Sven's tenure. How Richards thinks this reflects the need for a British manager is beyond me. Certainly, one only has to recall Glenn Hoddle's remarks during the qualifications for Euro 2000, when he suggested that disabled people were being punished for sins committed in a previous life (Not just a gaffer, but a religion expert as well). Perhaps England was and is being punished for sins committed in its previous football lives. Has England had success with English managers? Yes and No. It's hard to come to a definitive conclusion when Eriksson is the only non-Brit they've ever had.

Since the whole fake sheikh reality show has gone down, we've heard from various people, from fans like me to the galactico Becks saying the next manager of England should/should not be English/British/Foreign. Is Richards missing the bottom line or is he simply patriotic? Man City's Psycho, Charlton's Alan Curbishly and Bolton's Sam Allardyce, as well as Celtic's Martin O'Neill have been widely and frequently reported to be up for the job.

As successful as these managers are at achieving results (w/the exception of O'Neill, mediocre at best) with less than stellar squads, there is no reason to think they will achieve more in charge of the England squad. Guus Hiddink, of PSV Eindhoven and the Australian national team, as well as Luis Felipe Scolari of Brazil, currently the coach of Portugal, continue to surface as potential replacements.

Hiddink, who has led South Korea and the Netherlands to 4th place finishes in the 2002 and 1998 World Cups, respectively, has also lead Australia to the upcoming 2006 World Cup for the first time in 32 years. Big Phil (Felipao) won in 2002 with Brazil and led Portugal to the finals of the Euro 2004. Pearce (Psycho), Curbishly and Allardyce have simply kept their clubs afloat in a league owned by the big four, and have only currently been heaped such high praise. Not to mention, their collective experience coaching on the Continent is more or less non-existent. But can you imagine the potential these two men could realize with the star-studded England side?

Teams play different styles of football in the UEFA Cup and Champions League competions, as opposed to their style in the Premier League, so the success of the above three (as well as O'Neill) do not translate to success on the world stage. However, to look at what Mourinho, Benitez and Wenger have done in three of the four "big" clubs, not to mention what Martin Jol is doing in North London (albeit for a short time) seems to make Richards' declaration during the FA's search seem all the more foolish.

Patriotism can spur a team onto success, as we have seen numerous times in past World Cups; however patriotism itself cannot lead a team to victory, but rather experience, the ability to motivate, teach and manage the extremes in personality that accompany someone who is paid millions to kick a ball about (yes, I know it's not as simple as that). If you've ever walked the neighborhoods of London, from Brixton to Stamford Hill, you will hear an astonishing array of accents and smell a broad range of cuisine. Shouldn't Soho Square pay attention to its surroundings?

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