A New England

Stuart Pearce has said that he is interested in the England job after all. Waste of time, Psycho, if the press are to be believed as Martin O’Neill is the shoo-in following Dave Richards comments that the next manager ought to be British not English. And seemingly, the media are happy with that although surely by their own logic, an Irishman is still a foreigner as he isn’t English. Perhaps one of them can explain that one to me?

Maybe it is because O’Neill’s playing career was in England, notably as a member of Brian Clough’s European Cup winning sides in 1979 and 1980. His managerial career started in England at non league Grantham, followed by a spell at Shepshed Charterhouse. He really became noticed at Wycombe whom he guided into the Football League and then onwards into the Second Division. He resigned to take charge of one of the clubs he had played at, Norwich City. This turned out to be a brief spell as he left due to a lack of funding for players. It was at Leicester that he forged his reputation, winning promotion to the Premiership and establishing the club as a mid-table team, winning the Hokey Cokey Fizzy Lager Cup the following season. This brought him to the attention of the Celtic board who needed to end another spell of Rangers dominance. O’Neill did this, winning the title in 2001 and 2002, followed by a double in 2004. In Europe, his record is second only to Jock Stein by dint of reaching the UEFA Cup Final, albeit losing to Porto 2 – 3. By the criteria of media, he has it all – successfully managed a big club, experience of Europe (despite the fact that his Celtic failed to make it beyond the Group Stage) and more importantly, they like him. O’Neill seems to be an intelligent man, is passionate about his work and has shown that his family values are strong, having take time out to care for his wife during her illness.

The similarities to Sam Allardyce are uncanny. A solid playing career, followed by a period of learning his trade as a manager in the lower leagues, moving to a bigger club (well, Bolton were bigger than Limerick, Blackpool and Notts County), guiding them to the Premiership and becoming their most successful manager in Europe. All that Big Sam is missing is a major trophy. His spell at Bolton cannot be underestimated. They seemed to be the perennial bridesmaids at the Play-Off’s but once they were promoted, Bolton have fought tooth and nail to stay, eventually building themselves into a position to challenge for European places. They are still in this season’s UEFA Cup, successfully negotiating through to the last 32 where Marseilles provide the opposition.

The difference between the two? One is a media darling the other isn’t. Whether this will impact on the FA’s decision is unknown. Whether it should is another matter. O’Neill has not been beyond criticism in his career but has come through the other side. Allardyce is currently fed up with Radio 5Live whom he perceives as having slighted his employers (and a club where he spent the majority of his playing career) – but should he be ignored by the FA for this? No – indeed it shows a loyalty sadly lacking in the present incumbent.

So we come down to the false argument that you need to have managed a big club to take on the England role. Really? Walter Winterbottom didn’t, Ramsey didn’t, neither did Greenwood nor Robson. Did it prove a barrier to their success, although in England terms only Ramsey has ever been succesful. Those that have managed “big” clubs beforehand have hardly covered themselves with glory in the England role. Hoddle and Keegan were pretty awful national coaches. It could also be argued that their club management was not entirely successful when they were in charge of the so-called big clubs, Chelsea and Newcastle respectively. This is not a cheap jibe on my part. At the time Hoddle took over at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were a relatively poorly supported West London team who had not seriously challenged for the title in 50 – yes, fifty – years and to make matters worse, 1955 was the only time that they had won the League. Subsequent cash injections were a decade away from Hoddle’s reign. In Keegan’s case, Newcastle are an even more perplexing proposition. For whilst they have a large and loyal fanbase who regularly attend when they are in the Premiership, their performances do not warrant the tag “big club” but this is turning into a debate on semantics and one that I will revisit on another day.

What is beyond dispute is that Terry Venables did manage a big club before the England job fell into his lap. Arguably (yikes, there’s the dreaded semantics coming into this again) Barcelona are one of the biggest clubs in the world. And yes, he was successful there. And yes, he was a qualified success with England but no more so that Bobby Robson. Well in fact Venables wasn’t a qualified success as this was something he never had to do with his only tournament in charge being Euro 96.

For some reason best known to themselves (but presumably selling newspapers is it) the media are keen to peddle their curious form of xenophobia by demanding a British manager (don’t forget, the Scots, Welsh and Irish are one of us not nations in their own right). Which probably rules out the most qualified of all current managers, “Big” Phil Scholari – one World Cup, runner-up in European Championship (and I bet he still doesn’t know how that happened) and a host of others with better managerial CVs, such as Saachi, Hizfeld, Hiddink, Ferguson. So at least any failure will be homegrown rather than those dastardly continental Europeans undermining us. But they miss a trick – how better to sabotage any further integration within the EU by blaming England’s continued lack of success on the pitch by blaming it on Brussels?

Personally I don’t care who manages England as long as he guides the team to winning the World Cup or the European Championships. It annoys the hell out of me that I was more intent on getting a clean nappy than watching Geoff Hurst slam home his hattrick in 1966. I couldn’t help it Guv, being a mere 6 weeks old at the time although I do remember trying to explain to my Dad at the time that it was pure folly on Ramseys part to play the tournament with his Wingless Wonders. Maybe something got lost in the translation? Could it be that they mistook my crying as need for mothers milk or a clean backside? Either way it proved that I knew as much about football tactics then as I do now. Which is basically diddly squat although now I know how to bluff my way through an lunchtime or evening discourse on the topic – more alcohol please barkeep….

Todays tunes, two demos by The Jam circa 1979.



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