With Harry Redknapp acquitted of tax evasion charges, we can now all safely return to debating whether or not he should replace Fabio Capello as England manager.
A victory for justice? Perhaps. A victory for perspective? Certainly not. But should we be surprised? After all, FA chairman David Bernstein has spoken previously of there being a ‘national desire’ that the next team boss should be an Englishman. A ‘national desire’? What’s that?
Ah, yes. The ‘real’ supporters. Those who ‘know’ the game. The Rule Brittania brigade. The Three Lions contingent. The England tribe. If the recent Luis Suarez and John Terry controversies are anything to go by, tribalism results in the most mis-guided and, at times, sinister opinions, thought-processes and dangerously ill-informed theories.
When Capello was appointed back in December 2007, the FA’s former Chief Executive Brian Barwick discussed how restructuring the country’s coaching system could lead to identifying a potential successor to the Italian. But now we find ourselves here.
With Harry Redknapp front and centre in the current managerial debate. Progress, eh.
Back in 2010, in the aftermath of the World Cup debacle, he spoke about his interest in the England job, saying ‘I’m English. Who wouldn’t want to manage England? We should be able to produce someone who can manage the England football team and let’s be honest, they can’t do any worse than what they’ve [Eriksson and Capello] done’.
Them. The foreign lads. Actually, worth remembering that Capello and Eriksson both qualified the country for each major tournament they’ve been in charge for – unlike Steve McClaren, Graham Taylor (’94), Bobby Robson (’84), Ron Greenwood (’78), Don Revie (’76) and (uh-oh) Sir Alf Ramsey (’64, ’72, ’74).
Is it that a typical England fan can relate to Redknapp more than the other guys?
That cuddly, puppy-dog, reddened face. The crooked Cockney smile. The auburn-tinged hair. That’s real. He could control John Terry. And calm any potential dressing-room unrest. It’s simple. It’s a culture-clash.
Capello didn’t have a bond with these players or the supporters. He wasn’t from here. He didn’t get the quirks. The insecurities. The dysfunctions. He didn’t share an identity with these people.
So, it comes down to background then?
McClaren went to Grammar school. Hoddle is a religious nut, ain’t he? Taylor the son of a sports writer. Dagenham’s El Tel. Now there’s a proper England manager. Left school early, headed straight to Chelsea as an apprentice. In charge at Euro ’96 – when football came home. Well, almost. But for a missed penalty, as always.
The rumors of bungs and his unceremonious sacking from Spurs? Who cares! The players loved him. Remember when he refused to force through any suspensions in the wake of the Cathay Pacific incident? Loyal. And the fans adored him too. So much so that after Kevin Keegan resigned in 2000, a BBC online poll showed an incredible 40% of voters wanted Venables brought back as England manager.
Forget that just two years previously the High Court banned him from being a company director for seven years. Forget that the case against him taken by the Department of Trade and Industry showcased examples of his bribery and deception. Bring him back! He was the best!
So, it comes down to success then? Capello has the best win percentage of any England coach in history. At his unveiling, Barwick told the room that the FA had appointed ‘an outstanding man with an outstanding record’. 9 league championships over a 16 year period with 4 different clubs in 2 different countries.
Oh, and the Scudetto win with Roma was their first league title in 18 years. Oh, and his 06/07 La Liga success with Real Madrid came 10 years after his first one during his second spell at the Bernabeu. Oh, and he’s also a Champions League winner.
Speaking with an ex-pro recently, he told me that a manager commands respect from a dressing-room in one of two ways. Either his record as an ex-player or as a boss is impressive and a squad realizes they’re in the presence of a proven winner or his personality has to be strong enough to cut through any immediate suspicion or dissension.
You would’ve thought Capello easily fit into the first category. But the England camp is a strange place. A place where during a World Cup tournament, the players grow bored of having only darts, pool and snooker as recreational outlets. Here it was. The toddler tantrum. They felt isolated and alone, like prisoners in comparison to other squads.
It never occurred to these players that they couldn’t be trusted to maintain a level of maturity, dignity and intelligence when left to their own devices. When they were, Capello had to clean up the subsequent mess.
John Terry openly discussing with the dumb-founded English press what was wrong with the camp, how the team had been restricted to one beer (the cheek) since the tournament began and how squad unity had been lacking ‘at times’. He didn’t even get the irony.
So, success means very little in this job. Bobby Robson once said that the biggest problem faced by managers today is walking into a room filled with millionaires.
What have England players got to lose when knocked out of a tournament? Dignity? Pride? Both old-fashioned traits and both long gone. In his autobiography, Jamie Carragher tells the story of the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Portugal. He misses his penalty in the shoot-out, Ronaldo scores his and England are out.
After the game, he gets a text from a friend. It reads: ‘Fuck it. It’s only England.’ Carragher feels better about himself and admits, ‘Defeats while wearing an England shirt never hurt me in the same way as losing with my club’. Tribalism.
The players will return to their pimped-out mansion, escape to their ‘games room’ and try to win the World Cup with England on FIFA 2012 instead. And then tweet about it. Dysfunction runs right through a family. Man hands on misery to man.
In the aftermath of Capello’s appointment back in late 2007, Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Director of Football Development, spoke cautiously about the dangers of getting lost in the fanfare of the Italian’s arrival.
The real problem, according to Brooking, wasn’t the coach of the senior side but the lack of technical development in younger players. He outlined how when clubs need to make a call on an English 16-year old, they’ve got many stand-out attributes – mentality, physicality, determination.
But technically, they’re behind a foreign player of the same age. Just prior to the World Cup in 2010, the England Under 17s proudly hoisted aloft the European Championship trophy after defeating Spain in the final. It was their first age-group title since 1993. Most worryingly of all perhaps is that there have been fourteen Under-17 World Cups since the first one back in 1985. England have competed in two. To contrast, the United States, have appeared in all 14 editions.
So, it comes down to the players then? And how England love their players. Even the fragile ones. Connor Wickham, who scored the winning goal in the Under-17 Euro final, was sold from Ipswich to Sunderland for over $12.5 million. He had scored 15 goals in the Championship. He’s 18 years old. No-one batted an eye-lid. He’s scored one league goal in the top-flight. No-one’s batted an eye-lid.
Other curious cases abound, like that of Ravel Morrison. His better-known namesake expelled from the Conservatoire de Paris as a young man, though the attacking midfielder’s off-field problems and subsequent transfer from Manchester United to West Ham is probably more famous.
How do we know so much about men who’ve done so little?
And so to Harry Redknapp. The players want him. The media desperately want him. And the country appears to want him. He’s English, don’t you know? The fact he’s a caricature? Makes it more fun, doesn’t it? No one wants to attend boring press conferences and hear some bloke attempting to speak the language.
Tactics? No-one’s interested!
Imagine the sound-bytes? ‘Harry, do you think the French midfield will try to press or setup a little deeper?’ Y’know, Rob, I ain’t sure, pal. They’ve got the tall lad from Marseillaise – what’s his tits – ‘Allo Diarrhoea. He’s a top lad.’ Progress. Just liked the FA hoped for all those years ago.
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