The English Patient: choosing England’s new manager

On Feb. 9, the highest-paid manager in football resigned. Fabio Capello left an England team that he was set to manage at the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine this summer.

Capello spoke out against the decision by the English Football Association to revoke John Terry of the captaincy pending his trial for alleged racist remarks aimed at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.

Because Capello came to the defense of his captain he broke the terms of his contract, and so had to resign as manager of England. Capello had been the most successful English manager ever, winning 67% of the matches he was in charge for.

Apart from a disastrous showing in South Africa against Slovenia, the US and Germany, Capello ensured qualification to both the World Cup and the European Championships, unlike his predecessor. Whoever follows Capello will have a lot of work to do.

Following a man who has won both the La Liga and the Serie A, who does the Football Association really think will carry England forward? Both the FA and the players seem to have drawn up a list of qualities wanted in a new manager.

The most important quality is that the next manager be an Englishman, according to Wayne Rooney. The FA wants something similar, but it would accept a British or even a foreign manager if he were of top quality. The manager will be required to handle high expectations both from the fans and the press. He will have to sacrifice his own privacy for the job.

The team will be expected to play fast attacking football that is popular in the Premier League while maintaining incredible defensive strength. If the new manager wins anything then he will be knighted for sure and be the most popular man in England.

If he doesn’t, then he will never be able to show his face in public again. Since this is such a long list of requirements, the FA is willing to pay a lot of money for it to make the burden a little less trying. However, even with a huge payout to sweeten the deal, any person willing to take over England will have probably the most difficult job in football after the managers of Real Madrid and Chelsea.

The most likely to succeed Capello is Harry Redknapp, manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Redknapp is an Englishman and so fits one of the requirements. He has brought success to Tottenham and has managed a title challenge this season, which is far beyond the expectations of Tottenham fans and the board members. Some players, including Rooney, as well as managers, have issued statements backing Harry Redknapp to succeed Fabio Capello. It seems like England desires Redknapp to be the next England manager since he has the force of character to unite a fractured team and start the team playing fast, attacking football.

While the masses are typically right (that is democracy, after all), they are wrong in their choice.

Obviously, Redknapp is a good manager: he won the FA cup with Portsmouth and he took Tottenham to the Champions League knockout stages. But he is a successful club manager, not an international manager.

Redknapp works best when he is given a squad of players that he can change by dipping in and out of the transfer market. He does not fit his style of play to the players around him but sells those that don’t play his style to buy better players who do.

England does not have a playmaker like Luka Modric or as prolific a winger as Gareth Bale. Redknapp will have to do his best with what he has at hand, and that is not his style. He may be the popular choice, but he may not be the best one.

Another problem with Redknapp is that if Tottenham put in a sustained challenge right up until the last few games of the season he is unlikely to want to step away from the job. His team is beginning to challenge for titles and cups, so why would he walk away to start a new project even if it were for Queen and country?

If Tottenham finishes fourth, he may leave. If they don’t qualify for the Champions League, he will most likely leave for the England job. But if Tottenham finishes third or above it is unlikely that he will throw all that work away.

Yet, the Redknapp argument does have a glimmer of hope: he could just take this tournament, and then a new manager could start after the Euros. If the competition goes well, then Redknapp is considered to be a top manager, and if it goes badly then it is fortunate for England that he is only in charge for the tournament. This situation seems to be the best fit in the current circumstances since it allows Harry to keep his current job and take a summer job to bolster his CV.

The list of other managers that are being touted for the managerial vacancy includes some good prospects: Jose Mourinho (once he leaves Madrid in the Summer), Roy Hodgson and Stuart Pearce. While Pearce does not have a good club record, he has done well with the under-21 side and has brought through a number of players hoping to get into the England side.

He may just be the person to kick-start a youthful revolution in an increasingly stale England side. Hodgson did wonders with Fulham, and now West Brom, and could teach the England side how to play football the traditional way: pass and move.

Though Hodgson did not have a good time at Liverpool, it was not his fault. The board refused to back him, there was a takeover during his reign, Kenny Dalglish turned up to games to unsettle the supporters, and Hodgson was not given as much money as Dalglish to change the side to play his way. Hodgson would be much more effective at the England job than any other because he has managed international teams before.

He has managed both Finland and Switzerland, and before you say those are two average teams, let me just point out that under Hodgson, Switzerland reached its highest ever position of Number Two in the world rankings.

Hodgson has the experience, the style of football, and the right attitude for dealing with players that would make him a great England manager. Plus, he is so old that this may be his last job. He will give it his all for one last chance to be a hero.

The last choice is the “Special One”. I’m not going to go into the political situation in Spain, but it is clear that Mourinho wants to manage in England again. However, until a top job becomes open, except for Chelsea, he will bide his time. Managing England for a few years would give him some extra experience and help him develop relationships with some of the players he will one day surely manage or buy. These few years will help him keep in practice till Alex Ferguson retires and Mourinho can move up to Manchester to succeed him.

The England manager’s job is a tainted chalice. I called this week’s piece the English Patient because the team is just that. The current squad is aging and the young players that are coming through have little or no experience.

There is little hope of winning any competition in the near future due to the structure of English youth football and the national style of play. Still, the fans and the press expect victory at every competition.

No manager will ever please the English public even if the public get their choice, which is why it should go to the lovable and humble Hodgson.

James is a sophomore. You can reach him at jivey1@swarthmore.edu.

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