English Football

Call for a Frenchman

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Wenger could bring together two cultures better than any Bordeaux pub.

WHEN Roy Hodgson was appointed England manager in 2012 there were many who questioned his credentials for the job. A nice guy, yes, a safe pair of hands, certainly, but lacking in dynamism and perhaps an average track record. But there was more to Roy Hodgson than a softly-spoken manner and an avuncular appearance. A very intelligent man, but he really represented the past. When you compare him to managers like Antonio Conte and Joachim Loewe, for example, he seems from another age, although I too would look younger with a hair transplant and some “product”.

That Hodgson departed after the Iceland debacle was predictable and warranted, but it does leave England with a problem. Who the hell wants the job of England coach? More to the point, who is there to take the job?

The fact the media is now looking to Glenn Hoddle to return as England manager is symptomatic of the dearth of managerial talent we have in England today. It’s the old Premier/Brexit problem again, the French, Portuguese and Spanish are “taking our jobs”.

The morning after the Iceland game, I saw an electronic billboard at London St. Pancras that declared Alan Shearer wanted the job. Again, ludicrous given Shearer has largely warmed the bench in television studios since retiring. Then we see names like Gareth Southgate, Eddie Howe, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce mentioned in the same breath as Arsene Wenger. Is that the best we can do?

Actually, it probably is. There really is just one candidate and it is Wenger, but again, this is a man at the tail-end of his career. But Wenger’s experience might just get the best out of some talented, if slightly over-rated, young players. To be a top international boss, you need to be well versed in European football. Wenger has, for many years now, had at least eight European games a year with Arsenal. His team is one of the most international in the Premier (not necessarily a good thing since June 23, 2016) and he’s a student of the European game. What’s more, he has taken Arsenal as far as he can and the walls are starting to creep in on him in North London. That said, Arsenal look set to give him a new deal, so the accountants at the Emirates are clearly not unhappy with their decade of under-achievement. England, though, would be overjoyed at a top four place of any kind!

Nevertheless, the England job would be the ideal escape route of dignity for Wenger. Nobody was ever going to tell him it was time to go, but a calling on the international stage might be the best way to exit. In fact, given his contribution to English club football, finishing off by helping rescue England might be a storybook ending to the Wenger story.

If the Football Association manage to prise him away from the Emirates, the Wenger style may be ideally suited for international football. If they don’t, the prospect of an Allardyce England is quite worrying. I have the greatest respect for Big Sam’s achievements of being “the man for the job”, but I just cannot see him operating in the international arena. And as for Hoddle, for all his talent and observations of the game, “never go back” is my advice.

Every time England depart a major competition, there is plenty of soul searching and investigation into the state of the game. Nothing has changed, the problems are still there and they are deep-rooted in the structure of English football. There’s no shortage of money, but it is all heading into the pockets of players, many of whom are overseas imports. We all know what’s wrong, but we don’t seem to learn. As well as a shortage of home-grown talent, we also have a lack of top English coaches.

There’s no doubt that a lot of foreign coaches have added some real value to our top leagues, but they have no real affinity with the towns and cities where they are employed and their desire is to build a team for their two/three  year stint and then move on. I happen to think that just as a national team is picked from players who have the right to represent their country, so too must their manager. That’s not xenophobic, that’s just plain common sense. There needs to be a natural pride in playing and managing England. We seem to have lost some of that in recent decades.

But an English coach is probably not possible this time, so why not choose a man who has a close connection with the country due to the longevity of his time in the domestic game. At the same time, succession should be built into every appointment. If you want to develop a structure that feeds the national team with top level coaches, you have to plan beyond the next tournament. Other nations have managed to achieve this, but in England, every appointment appears to be purely transactional.

Arsene Wenger probably understands the psyche of English football better than most. It may only be short-term, but the seeds could be sown to nurture talent in the dugout to make the England job more than a grazing ground for managers at the back end of their career.

www.gameofthepeople.com

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