Barcelona it is then on May 17th. Hardly surprising from the result in the first leg although like Villarreal, Milan can feel aggrieved at losing, particularly as Shevchenko’s goal looked perfectly OK to me. Of the two, Barca were the team that I most wanted to see in the final and not simply because they are currently playing some of the best football in Europe. More that I think they will give Arsenal more chances to score with Valdes not looking shall we say, comfortable in goal. Milan also have to erase the memories of Istanbul which would have made them doubly determined to avoid defeat. Whichever team got through, Arsenal were always going to be the Underdogs although I find the premature obituaries being written this week somewhat irksome.
One other thing that is going to start building to a crescendo are the “Henry to Barcelona” stories that have already started again in earnest this week. First of all, Samuel Eto’o believed that Henry should join and now former clubmate, Gio Van Bronckhorst has repeated that “plea”. Nothing short of the Frenchman signing a new deal at Arsenal is going to stop these stories and I have to say that I do not believe he will stay in London. The gap between the Champions League final and his departure is less than two weeks. It is inconceivable that Henry has not already made his decision nor that he will decide in the aforementioned timescale. I do not believe that the club can show more ambition for him than this seasons European achievements. He knows that the club is rebuilding domestically and gaining more experience as the season goes on. There will be more money available to Wenger in the Summer for bringing in more players. That Henry has not definitively laid his answer out is entirely his choice, one that he is entitled to make freely in his own time and as he rightly states, he owes nothing to anyone. He may garner even more respect if he outright admitted he needs a new challenge, and believes it to be away from Arsenal.
What is believable is that he does not want to deflate the atmosphere at the club by stating that he will not be renewing his contract before Paris. Sad but true. But there is the best part of three weeks to go and some important domestic football to resolve before minds can turn that to particular match, starting with Sunderland on Monday. It is important to gain maximum points from that visit and the one to the City of Manchester stadium one week today, to put pressure on Tottenham in the final match at West Ham on May 7th.
The long running saga of Sven Goran Erikssons successor appears to be drawing to a close if newspaper reports this morning are to be believed. These suggest that ‘Life Of’ Brian Barwick and his Legal counterpart at The FA are in Lisbon ironing out a deal with Gene Hackman to take over running the England team. Of the names that were interviewed for the role, he has no peers in terms of footballing achievements. Successful at club level in South America, a World Cup Winner and a runner – up at the last European Championships. That is a CV that English born managers can only look at with envy. In fact, very few managers worldwide can do anything other than turn a deep shade of green. If Big Phil takes the role as seems likely, then few can argue on footballing grounds about his appointment. Where much of the teacup’s storm arises is in the “patriotism” being bandied around by various pressmen and footballing people. Most notably, the LMA is adamant that the next England Coach should be English, not a surprising view as they are the trade association of managers.
The question should be asked as to why there are no suitable candidates. And this is where The FA have let English football down badly. It should not have been left until Eriksson’s appointment for succession planning to be put into place. This is something that clubs have carried out for years, not every single club but a number of them do. Unless an already experienced club manager had been appointed or Eriksson had been highly successful in his job, it was unlikely that his Number Two was going to gain sufficient experience during his tenure. The FA can point to the fact that Eriksson has contributed to this situation by terminating his contract early but this is somewhat disingenuous. It was painfully obvious at the time he extended his stay that Eriksson was unlikely to leave the role through footballing reasons. For some unknown reason, probably even the Swede could not provide the answer himself, Eriksson has been a walking PR disaster. His private life has been a tabloid editors dream, stumbling from one affair to another to fake sheik calamities. And yet, the majority of fans really do not care despite what the press would have us believe. I have yet to meet one person who believes that any of his dalliances have affected his performance as England coach. Based on results, Eriksson is one of the more successful England Coaches. His qualifying record is sound, the Quarter Finals of the 2002 World Cup and 2004 European Championships were the expected results. In both cases, it was disappointing not to progress further, certainly in the World Cup when facing ten men, England failed to capitalise. However, this does not detract from the fact that he was the most successful coach since Sir Bobby Robson. Venables may have taken England to the Euro 96 Semi Finals but that was the minimum that should have been achieved as they were the host team, playing all of their games at Wembley. Hoddle and Keegan were not unmitigated disasters as appointments, although Keegan came close, but the second round of France 98 and the Group Stages of Euro 2000 were not anything to write home about even if elimination was achieved in dubious circumstances. What should noted is that Keegan became unbalanced through the weight of expectation whilst Hoddle and Venables were more of a disaster than Eriksson, one being found to be dishonest in his business dealings and the other was just offensive and bigoted.
Which brings me to the second problem The FA faced, namely where are the experienced English Club Managers and what have they achieved? In this respect, there are factors in the domestic game that are beyond their control, the biggest of which is that clubs are free to appoint who they see as the most appropriate for the job of manager. The reality is that a prospective England Coach is going to come from a top flight club and one that has been successful to boot. If we go back to Sir Alf as a starting point, this is a pattern that held fast until Keegan’s appointment. Prior to his time as England Manager, Ramsey had won back to back Championships with Ipswich, firstly the Second Division and then the First Division back in the days when they were exactly that, the top two flights of English Football. It was not surprising therefore when he was appointed shortly afterwards. When his successor was chosen, Don Revie was the man charged with translating his club achievements to the International arena something that he failed to do spectacularly, his methodology not finding a comfortable fit with the players nor the requirements of the job. It should be remembered that he was not an overnight success at Leeds, needing several years to blend his side together, a timescale simply not available to England managers then and now. Ron Greenwood was a vastly experienced coach on his appointment although not the candidate with the most honours – Brian Clough fulfilled that criteria but I doubt that he would get a look in at the job even if he were managing today, simply because of his personality. When Sir Bobby Robson joined the fray, it was on the back of the achievements of his Ipswich team, FA Cup Winners, UEFA Cup Winners and regular members of the top five in the First Division. Venables had achieved moderate success domestically but having managed Barcelona to the Spanish title and European Cup Final, he was top of his peer group. Even Hoddle had achieved something with Swindon and then Chelsea. Keegan however, was the first underachiever at club level to manage his country. No trophies adorned the Newcastle Cabinets during his tenure – not a unique circumstance at that club – and he had displayed an inability to cope with pressure during his charge to the runners-up spot, blowing up famously on Sky TV during the run-in. Which is where Eriksson came in. At club level, he had been a success in his native Sweden, Portugal and Italy. The only surprise was that he was appointed in the face of the media fury, Jeff Powell’s diatribe against him being the one that sticks most in my mind. It was perhaps the first time the FA had gone against the wishes of the Fourth Estate and how they have suffered since. Indeed, Eriksson wryly commented that it was the first time in many years that he had not occupied the front or back pages whilst the FA searched for his replacement.
Since well before the inception of the Premiership, the number of Championship winning English managers has been less than the total of the digits on my hands. Working backwards, the last Englishman to manage a title winning side was Howard Wilkinson in 1992. Prior to that it was Howard Kendall, perhaps there is a theme running here. Of the winners of the League or Premiership title since 1980, I would suggest that the list of English managers is Brian Clough, Ron Saunders, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and the two Howards. Not impressive in terms of quantity.
And this highlights the biggest obstacle facing The FA, namely job stability. Uniquely amongst the upper echelons of European football, the successful English clubs do not have a high turnover of managers. In the last decade, neither Arsenal nor Manchester United have changed manager, which is a huge compliment to the present incumbents achievements. And yet compare this to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Internazionale, Valencia, Roma, Bayern Munich and Juventus. All have changed managers, some the day after winning the League, even European Cups at those clubs are no guarantee of job security. In English football, only Liverpool and Chelsea of the top five teams in that time have appointed in the last two seasons, whilst Martin Jol has brought Tottenham up onto the periphary of that list. Given the dominance of those four sides, it is therefore unsurprising that no English manager has won anything of note. Indeed, should West Ham provide a massive upset in this seasons FA Cup Final, Alan Pardew will be, I believe, the first English Manager to win the trophy since Joe Royle in 1995. And that is for the seconday club trophy in this country. A decade since an Englishman has achieved anything of note. It is therefore little wonder that whilst Middlesbrough have not set the domestic league alight this season that McLaren, on the verge of a UEFA Cup Final, is flavour of the month. It will be interesting to see who the Glazers appoint as Sir Alex’s replacement when he retires and who Arsenal opt for when Wenger leaves. Given the support David Dein has shown for Eriksson and Scholari, an Englishman should not be regarded as even a shoe-in for the shortlist for the Arsenal job. And therefore, the question remains as to where the next successful English manager will come from. Certainly, it would seem not from a domestic club. Perhaps we could export managers and they can continue to grow in a new environment but there are precious few English managers who have plied their trade abroad – Venables, Robson and Houghton are the only ones who spring to mind. The top four could yet surprise us and appoint one of McLaren, Alardyce et al as their next boss but there is at present seemingly little inclination to do so.
Todays Tunes are a mix of the old and the even older. First up is The Damned covering Pretty Vacant from 1978, a shambolic cover worth perservering through the Captains’ halfwitted doodle at the start of the track, to get a track that sums up the Punk Era quite nicely. Second up is The Who with Substitute from Madison Square Gardens in 1996.