London-There is, it has frequently been noted, a certain lack of continuity about the business of appointing a new England manager. This is not just limited to the England managers themselves, who often tend to be opposites or mirror-images of the predecessor who has been found wanting, it also applies to the people who make the appointments. Change is practically built into the Football Association’s constitution. Every time a manager needs replacing it will be a different set of headhunters forming the posse, and hence a different set of ideas, preferences and protocols.
That is why there are no rules for guidance about whether the England manager should be English, say, or whether he should be a certain age and have a particular number of Premier League games under his belt. Nothing is ever ruled out and nothing is ruled in. It is an ad hoc decision each time, and this time it will be reached under the aegis of Martin Glenn, the FA chief executive, who has made it abundantly clear that he not a football expert.
Sam Allardyce could well have been pleased to hear that, because after supervising close to a thousand games and managing to improve each of his clubs to the extent that he has never suffered a top-flight relegation despite being sent into some unpromising situations, his own football credentials are impeccable. And the previous time he was interviewed for the England job, 10 years ago when the FA were looking for a successor to Sven-Goran Eriksson, an experienced panel led by Brian Barwick ended up overlooking him in favour of Steve McClaren.
The FA then added insult to injury by claiming McClaren had been the preferred candidate all along, even though it was obvious Barwick had been turned down by Luiz Felipe Scolari. The new-found commitment to up and coming English coaches lasted as long as it took for England to fail to qualify for Euro 2008, at which point preposterous sums of money were flung in the direction of Fabio Capello.
It remains possible that the best choice for England in 2006 would have been Allardyce. Then, as now, he would not have been seen as a fashionable or forward-looking option, but he deserved his chance and he would probably have made England a tight enough defensive unit to at least qualify for the 2008 finals instead of finishing behind Croatia and Russia. He almost certainly would not have trialled a three-at-the-back system in Zagreb, or let a lead slip in Moscow, though there is nothing to be gained from the application of hindsight when foresight is what is required.
Allardyce has already been seen, so we know the FA are interested, and now he and Sunderland are being made to wait while a few other candidates are considered so that no one can accuse Glenn and his colleagues of not casting their net sufficiently wide.
Yet if, as reported, the FA intends talking to Jürgen Klinsmann, the net is perhaps being cast wider than it need be. On Roy Hodgson’s resignation, Glenn indicated he would be appointing the best man for the job, regardless of nationality. That immediately brought Arsène Wenger into the equation, even though the Frenchman would rather wait until Arsenal have no further use for him than leave his present post to answer an England summons.
Klinsmann is understood to be more attainable, even receptive to FA overtures. While things have not exactly gone sour in the US, they appear to have become somewhat stale. Klinsmann spends most of his time urging his players to show more aggression within their clubs and fight for game time instead of being content with a squad number and a place on the bench.
He is constantly criticised for not picking enough MLS players, or for selecting players out of position, because of his belief that the American system does not produce performers equipped to cope with international football in sufficient numbers.
In other words, his experience, philosophy and skill set are a world away from Allardyce’s, so much so that it is hard to believe two such disparate candidates are being interviewed for the same job. It is true that Klinsmann has considerable international experience both as a player and a manager with Germany, though it is also worth pointing out that the current German side peaked only once Joachim Löw took sole control.
Klinsmann has no real insight into the English sporting psyche other than anything gleaned from his short spell as a player at Tottenham, whereas Allardyce, or Steve Bruce or Alan Pardew for that matter, have been immersed in English football at several levels throughout their working lives.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that the FA makes life unnecessarily difficult for itself when it glibly states that it wants the best man for the job regardless of nationality. No other leading football country gives itself the same dilemma, because almost all the developed nations stick to the fundamental
principle of international football, that it should be a true contest between nations without borrowing or blurring of boundaries.
It is not exactly cheating to hire a foreigner as coach – there are reasons why it might be beneficial for emerging nations to do so – but a country with a strong domestic league and a World Cup winner’s star on its shirts should have no truck with it. Especially when England has no one else to blame if too many of the managerial positions at its top clubs are held by foreign coaches, leading to a situation whereby English managers find it hard to break into the elite.
It is far too easy to sneer at Bruce for only managing at Hull, when the more difficult question to answer is why he has never been offered a chance at Manchester United. Note too how Sir Alex Ferguson rarely misses a chance to rate Allardyce highly when the England job is under discussion, though was much more reticent about advancing his cause as a potential successor at Old Trafford.
English managers are stuck in a double bind. There are not enough of them, they cannot get the top jobs, yet when the England job is up for grabs they are accused of lacking experience. Premier League short-termism might have brought this situation about, but the FA should be resisting the trend, not affirming it.
International football might be in decline, overshadowed by glitzier club competitions that bring the world’s best players together in a more dynamic way, though in the end it is still the most accurate indicator of a nation’s footballing health.
It shows the calibre of the players and coaches being produced. In neither case could the numbers in England at the moment be said to be impressive, but that does not mean there are not enough good people around. The FA just needs to invest the same trust in English coaches as it does in English players, and without delay.
The fact that the shortlist is at present so short might be a cause for embarrassment, though surely the greater embarrassment would be in looking elsewhere.