Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Home or Away? - England's Next Coach

So Sven is about to make his excuses and leave, after the World Cup at least. Not before time; it's just a shame that the most talented England team in years will be led by Eriksson at the World Cup. To win tournaments at the highest level, teams need a level of tactical ingenuity and the ability to take calculated risks - both of which Eriksson does not possess. You cannot beat teams at the top level playing defensively once you've taken a lead.

Nevertheless, he's leaving this summer, and the speculation is now on who will replace him. The BBC has this list of possible candidates. The one problem, however, is that it seems unnecessarily biased towards English candidates. It might be fashionable in the media to talk about a home manager, but that would be disastrous. As things stand, there isn't a sufficiently capable candidate. Sam Allardyce may be forward-thinking in his approach, but he hasn't got any (major) experience of coaching or management at a level beyond English club level. That's not good enough, in all honesty - the English game is just too different to the rest of Europe, and so styles at international level have to be able to adapt accordingly. Similar arguments apply against Alan Curbishley.

Steve McClaren does have the experience, from being at Manchester United, but is an appalling man-manager by all accounts. And holding a team of fragile egos together requires that almost more than anything - there's a need to get a team spirit engendered in short order. McLaren isn't the man for that.

Of course, the idea that England will play better under an English manager is utter claptrap anyway. None of our top clubs have an English manager; just about all our best players play at those top clubs. Nor is there an 'English' style of football in formation that has been played for years and years and years. If you were saying the German national team needed a German manager, I would have some sympathy: they play a particular formation in a particular style and players are often groomed specifically for those particular roles. The same just doesn't apply for England. If there isn't an English manager sufficiently qualified (and there isn't), then we should look abroad.

The leading candidates for a foreign coach seem to be Martin O'Neill, Guus Hiddink and Ottmar Hitzfeld. Hitzfeld, though, surely couldn't take the job. The sad fact of the matter is that the tabloids will not accept a German in charge of our national team; he will be hounded out of his job at the first hint of a mistake. If foreigners think the British press is strange for its treatment of Eriksson, it would be magnified at least three times for Hitzfeld.

O'Neill is currently on sabbatical to care for his ill wife, and many question whether he would want to step into such a high profile job on his return. I'd be surprised, personally, if he didn't return to a high-profile job, because the competitive instinct in him is so high. What we don't know, of course, is whether he wants to return to football so soon. If he did, though, his record seems to be second-to-none. He's been successful wherever he's gone, and has coped admirably with the pressure of the Celtic job. He'd be my first choice if he wants it, although he may have problems getting on with the FA.

Failing that, Guus Hiddink would be an excellent second choice - again, what he has done both at club level and international level is exceptional. To get South Korea to the semi-finals of a World Cup, even with the help of some dodgy refereeing, is no mean feat, and to follow that up by getting Australia to qualify is a nice postscript. Then you look at what he did with PSV, and you'd certainly mark him as a man who can bring the best out of a side. Either O'Neill or Hiddink and I'd be optimistic for the future. But if the temptation to go for home is too strong, then I fear England will not have a chance at a major trophy for a long time yet.