Choosing the next England manager: talent or nationality?

by Ashley Wilkinson

Since Fabio Capello resigned as England manager last month, speculation has been rife regarding who should lead the Three Lions into this summer’s European Championships. The overwhelming favourite, Harry Redknapp, has been relatively coy about his interest in the job and whether or not he would be willing to leave Tottenham Hotspur, a club to which he has brought a great deal of success.

Redknapp is the public and bookies’ favourite for a reason. His managerial record at teams like Tottenham and Portsmouth speaks for itself, winning the FA Cup in 2008 with Pompey. Redknapp’s Spurs currently lie 3rd in the Premier League, four points ahead of Arsenal and seven clear of Chelsea, presumably making him the public favourite for the job everywhere except North London. The FA have made no bones about the type of manager they want to hire and that, above all else, they want the next manager of England to be a successful Englishman. Harry Redknapp would indeed appear to fit that bill.

But the FA seriously risk throwing all their eggs in one basket here. Should Redknapp turn down the chance to take over as England boss or to even lead the country to Euro 2012, the search for a suitable manager will be much, much tougher. Redknapp is an outstanding candidate for the role but, beyond Harry, there are very few English managers capable of taking on such a high-pressure job.

Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce took charge of the senior side for the recent friendly match against Holland but, despite an impressive late showing, there was very little on offer to suggest that the side were any more confident under Pearce than they were under the faltering Fabio. Pearce has done a superb job with the country’s young players and he would probably be better waiting a couple of years until several of the players he is currently coaching have graduated to the national side.

Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson have been touted as possible candidates should a move for Redknapp fall through. Pardew’s career has largely been one of inconsistency, enjoying success at Newcastle, Reading and Charlton but overseeing poor runs at West Ham and Southampton. Hodgson has impressed at West Bromwich Albion since signing at the Hawthorns and took Fulham to the Europa League final, but his tenure at Liverpool gave rise to questions over his ability to manage top-level players.

Other English managers like Tony Pulis, Gareth Southgate and Chris Hughton are outside bets but the likelihood is that none of them would get the necessary backing from the rest of the country or the English media to allow them a real chance at success. Non-English but British managers like Martin O’Neill, Brendan Rogers and Paul Lambert are other potential candidates but all three seem happy and set to stay at their respective clubs.

You only have to look at the amount of foreign talent currently available to the FA to see that going down the English-only route of talent-searching is narrow-minded at best and downright self-destructive at worst. Should Redknapp turn down the role, moving on to another English manager would see the FA ignore the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Andre Villas-Boas and Rafael Benitez.

Mourinho is currently in charge of Real Madrid and his side sit 10 points clear at the top of La Liga but he is heavily rumoured to be leaving his post at the Bernabeu at the end of the season. The “Special One” may be more interested in returning to Chelsea than taking charge of the English international side but the Portugese manager’s record at club level speaks for itself. Guardiola has overseen Barcelona’s dominance over European football over the last four years and is also rumoured to be considering leaving his role in the summer. Like Mourinho, there is no doubting Guardiola’s credentials in football management.

Villas-Boas and Benitez have had mixed results at their respective English clubs but both have to be considered candidates. Villas-Boas’ odds were slashed last week when he was unceremoniously sacked by Chelsea manager Roman Abramovich and, although there may have been question marks over his relationship with several senior Chelsea and England players, his tactical knowledge and ability to spot an opponent’s weakness (his “scout’s eye” if you will) would make him a good choice for England manager. Benitez has been unemployed since leaving Inter Milan in 2010 and his personal record at Liverpool and Valencia speak volumes about his ability to get the best out of the team at his disposal, though critics may point to the Spaniard’s last season at Liverpool and his tenure at Internazionale to suggest that Benitez may not carry the same tactical nous that he possessed earlier in his career.

Messrs Mourinho, Guardiola, Villas-Boas and Benitez may not even be interested in the England job. They may have seen the intense pressure that comes with such a role and thought better of applying for it. But for the FA to announce that they will not consider these managers on account of their not being English is preposterous and short-sighted.

There are several outstanding candidates for the England job, and Harry Redknapp is at the top of that list. I doubt there would be many disappointed England fans if the headlines screamed “REDKNAPP TO TAKE CHARGE IN MAY” tomorrow morning. But if Harry should choose not to accept the job, and that isn’t an unlikely scenario, then the FA’s “English-only” attitude will see them miss out on a number of talented foreign managers.

Perhaps the FA have Capello’s disastrous 2010 World Cup or Sven’s progressively poor championship campaigns when considering who their next England manager should be. Perhaps the FA feel that an English manager would communicate better with the national side. But you only have to consider the names Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren to realise that isn’t always the case.

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