Sep 26, 2010

English After Capello?

by Jake Harrison

Fabio Capello's departure as England manager after Euro 2012 will leave room for a fresh, new English manager....

Fabio Capello announced a few weeks ago that, unsurprisingly, he would leave his post as England manager when his current contract runs out, after Euro 2012. The FA, amid media criticism and pressure from somewhat-erratic fans, stated shortly before Capello’s announcement that the next man to lead the Three Lions would be English. Although it was expected that Capello would only guide England for one more tournament, the question of who will be the next England manager has become something of a hot debate, two years before any decision should be made.

The dismal World Cup in South Africa resulted in Capello receiving harsh criticism of his tactics, in-game decisions and apparent lack of man-management skills. The media, England fans and world-football fans alike immediately waded in with their opinions on the hugely successful Italian manager, who has won trophies in both Spain and Italy and succeeded in qualifying England for the before-mentioned World Cup in superb style, albeit in a relatively minnow-full group.

The fact that the Football Association appointed a foreign manager to succeed Steve McClaren was always going to provide ammunition for the English media storm; if a foreigner succeeds in the proud nation of England they are cherished as an asset to the country. Since the World Cup it has become clear that, if the high expectations are not met, a foreign manager is suddenly a problem.

Media personnel from all around the world have voiced their opinions, with Steve Claridge taking an anti-Capello stance at all times, while the most of his BBC 5-Live colleagues take a more relaxed view, placing some blame on the surely-accountable players for three poor performances at the World Cup as well as an average showing against Slovenia in the final group game.

After receiving a slaughtering from the press, and a chorus of boos in the recent friendly match victory against Hungary in their ‘homecoming’ game, Capello has changed aspects of the side, with players such as Emile Heskey, Jamie Carragher and, more recently, John Terry and Frank Lampard being replaced by the new, exciting prospects of Adam Johnson, Phil Jagielka and Darren Bent, who have all impressed in recent matches. Wins against Bulgaria and Switzerland in qualifiers for what is to be Capello’s final tournament have given fans some sort of pride in their national side, although most are still to be convinced.

The time has come, though, for England fans and media characters to forget about the World Cup and personal views of Capello. England need the backing of fans, especially as a completely new reign will begin in two years.

The favourites for the England job are an interesting group and sure to provoke intense debate. Harry Redknapp, recently offended when given the label of “wheeler-dealer” in an interview, looks to be the immediate favourite with both the bookies and the fans. Redknapp’s success with Tottenham, guiding them to Champions League football for the first time in the club’s history, as well as the relative success at Portsmouth, Southampton and West Ham means that the sixty-three–year-old can currently be seen as the best English manager around.

It is doubtful, though, whether Redknapp would be able to improve on the work that Capello has done for England. The Spurs boss is a wheeler-dealer and, wherever he goes, is accustomed to buying several players in order to make his mark on the respective side. This is something that cannot be done in international management; you have to work with whatever you are given. Redknapp’s man-management skills would also be brought into question, with Darren Bent knowing all too well of his former manager’s acid-tongue.

Current England Under-21 manager, Stuart Pearce, could be the most likely choice with the FA, however, simply because it would be the easier choice. “Psycho” established himself as a cult hero with England fans when he played as a tenacious left-back under Sir Bobby Robson. Pearce has some club management experience at Manchester City, where he guided the then-recently-funded Manchester club to 8th, 15th and 14th place finishes and was then rather prematurely sacked. This lead him on to the national stage, though, taking his England side to the Under-21 European Championships in 2009, losing to Germany in the final. Pearce would be the obvious choice for the FA; when replacing Sven Goran Eriksson after the 2006 World Cup, they installed the Swede’s assistant manager, McClaren, as manager). Pearce, though, is doing a great job with the Under-21s and it would be a great shame if the Under-21s had to suffer in order to gain success for the main England side.

Pearce is a relatively young manager and there have been reports that a youthful boss is what England need. Even managers who are currently in the Championship, but could well be in England’s top league by 2012, are being tipped for the England job. Current Leeds manager Simon Grayson, who has transformed the historic club’s fortunes since joining the Elland Road outfit in 2008, is one name being mentioned. Other Championship managers are being stated, with QPR’s Neil Warnock the name being reported the most, as well as the recently retired Steve Coppell, who is thought to be interested in a position at the FA anyway. These, though, are outside contenders.

If the FA decide to go with a more experienced manager, however, then there is really only one man. Roy Hodgson may have only just signed on as manager of Liverpool but the former-Fulham and Inter Milan boss would be the ideal candidate. Hodgson is loved in many countries abroad, especially in Switzerland and Finland where he managed their national teams relatively successfully, taking the Swiss to the last-16 of the 1994 World Cup. His recent success with Fulham, getting the London side to the Europa League final especially, and his appointment on Merseyside is a sign of the sixty-three–year-old’s success in the management game. If the Football Association want to go for a practised manager, with relevant national team knowledge, then Hodgson is surely the right choice.

England, though, have tried the practised boss route. Eriksson, McClaren and Capello are all examples of this, and all have endured poor tournaments when leading England. The forty-four years of hurt has become something of a cliché for England but, with the quality available to the country, England should be doing better.

It is not very often that England should take note of what Wales are doing in footballing terms. With John Toschack leaving his post as Welsh manager there are talks of a young manager getting the biggest job in Wales. Names such as John Hartson, Ryan Giggs and even Robbie Savage are being banded about, with fans calling for a passionate boss with fresh, new ideas. The fact that, as national team manager, you do not need to actually manage day-in, day-out is of big importance. The boss is able to watch matches every week and prepare tactics and ideas, while players perform for their respective clubs. That is one way in which national team management is different to club management, and that is why McClaren and, more recently Capello, seemingly fell short of expectations. Capello especially likes to work with players every day; this makes the idea that England were ever going to win the World Cup in Capello’s first international tournament was quite outlandish.

With this in mind, the idea of hiring a recently-retired player as manager would not be such a shocking decision. In two years time, players such as Alan Shearer, Gareth Southgate or maybe even David Beckham are sure to be in the running for the England manager’s job. Shearer recently told the BBC that he would happily manage England, while Southgate, who has been out of a managing job since he was sacked by Middlesbrough in 2009, is currently a pundit on ITV but could possibly come back into management in what would be a controversial move by the FA for the man who splits opinions with many fans.

Beckham, who recently made his return for LA Galaxy after the injury that kept him out of the World Cup, would surely be considered. The former Manchester United midfielder has his own soccer academy brand, in many countries all over the world, and, although he has said that he has no interest in managing England, his decision may change within two years, especially if he is seriously considered by the FA. He is loved by all players and is a born leader, although his time in USA has been less than perfect.

The England manager’s job has always provided great discussion for all England fans, and it always will. The fans won’t always be happy immediately when the appointment is made, which is two years away, but, whoever is brought in, England should be at least competing in major tournaments. The FA are certainly going to have a difficult job on their hands when Capello leaves.

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