Last night, Fabio Capello made the eminently sensible decision to take leave of one of the world’s best paid but least satisfying jobs: England football manager. One knows the England football team, and particularly the manager’s job, has gone beyond parody when the events of Mike Bassett: England Manager seem a perfectly plausible version of reality. While thousands of words of analysis and conjecture will be poured forth on Capello’s departure, a much more interesting study is into where England will look next, and why they will look there.
Immediate media speculation has centred on the possibility of Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp succeeding the beleaguered and ultimately defeated Capello. A quite remarkable turnaround for Redknapp, who began the day in the dock at Southwark Crown Court, and ended it odds on favourite for the England job.
English managerial, erm, personalities like Neil Warnock and Barry Fry held court on the BBC and Sky proclaiming that an Englishman must get the national team job and extolling the yeoman virtues of “passion”, “pride” and “commitment”, while indignantly expounding on the unscientific theory that “foreigners just don’t get it and are only in it for the money.” In fact, the latest managerial farce has prompted the unprecedented scene of England’s national media in unanimous agreement on an issue. Harry Redknapp is the man for the job. Unequivocally.
The benefits of installing Redknapp are easily identifiable. While his personal trophy cabinet remains somewhat bare – one FA Cup aside – his sides have always been renowned for their team spirit and attractive football. While he won’t be able to dabble in the transfer market – unless Mikel Arteta fancies a game for England – ‘Arry will certainly lift the mood of the English support and that might currently be the most important consideration for the FA.
Redknapp’s England team would play fast, attacking football and while they still wouldn’t quite challenge for Euro 2012, any improvement on the turgid, functional dross served up by the national team in every single tournament match they’ve played since Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal snapped against Portugal in Lisbon, would be welcomed.
There is certainly an argument for suggesting that a native manager will best understand the footballing culture of his country. This theory regarding certain countries containing specific footballing ideals was supremely evidenced by David Winner in Brilliant Orange, a magnificent analysis of the Dutch psychological makeup and resultant footballing culture. It probably helps that Holland has produced managers of the calibre of Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Louis Van Gaal, Dick Advocaat and Guus Hiddink but the ability to tap into a footballers’ inherent psyche must surely be a key consideration for a national manager.
While both Warnock and Fry tended toward the Two World Wars, One World Cup footballing xenophobia that can blight English soccer on occasion; strangely, they both had a point. An Englishman should have the England national job. Just the same as a Scot should have the Scotland job, a Welshman the Wales job, and a Zambian the Zambia job.
A quick analysis of World Cup and European Championship statistics uncovered a quite compelling statistic. Of the thirty one European and World tournaments that have been played since 1930, precisely one was won by a non-native manager. One. One. An incredible stat, and barely skewed by the recent proliferation of non-native managers in the international game.
Otto Rehhagel leading Greece to an astonishing triumph at Euro 2004 was the only anomaly. Every World Cup winner was managed by a native. Examples include: Vicente Del Bosque with Spain in 2010; Marcelo Lippi with Italy in 2006; Carlos Bilardo with Argentina in 1986; Alf Ramsey with England in 1966. And all the way back to Alberto Suppici, the Uruguayan coach of Uruguay in 1930. Indeed, Rehhagel’s success with Greece was built on a concerted effort to change the footballing culture of a nation – verve and free spiritedness making way for compact defense and rigid discipline.
With England’s utter unwillingness to countenance a change in its footballing culture Harry Redkanpp is certainly the ideal choice for manager. Redknapp will take the best of the English footballing stereotypes and turn passion, pride and commitment into positives; while nullifying the worst: kicking and rushing, shooting at the moon and running into each other. While the xenophobia on show in the media can be tiresome, the root of Fry and Warnock’s argument is sound, merely distorted by a genuine, overwhelming desire for English success. And who knows, both recent and ancient history shows that it may just work.