Our English football writer voices his opinion on the vacant England managerial job and who he reckons should fill the role.
In the aftermath of yet another ill-fated English footballing campaign, attention has turned to filling the much-maligned vacancy left by one Roy Hodgson. Sam Allardyce has emerged as the clear frontrunner for the post.
The general consensus seems to be that this could bring back that ineffable English character that has been deemed lacking in England’s recent incarnations. The rugged, honest identity that was synonymous with the 1966 World Cup winning squad.
My question is however, does that character even exist anymore? And is Big Sam the right man for this appointment?
The 1966 side, comprising of the likes of Bobby Moore and Sir Bobby Charlton, was clearly more connected to the average member of the British public. They weren’t multi-millionaire prima-donnas operating in an age of unprecedented player power. The life of a contemporary footballer is a far cry from that notion of a roughly hewn individual connected to the beating pulse of the proletariat.
The likes of Micah Richards and Adam Johnson are reflective of the worst aspects of this trend- lapsing into cruise control once their first big money moves were finalised. So the idea that the English footballer is somehow more inherently predisposed to humility and integrity is a tough sell in the current climate.
Furthermore, the influx of foreign talent into the fabric of British football has further diluted and obscured whatever remained of an English footballing identity. And this does not have to be seen as a contamination.
Football styles evolve and the English national side has struggled to evolve with the times. I actually believe that Hodgson generally succeeded in altering the tempo and aesthetic of the English national side. They became far more dynamic and tactically adept, but still managed to fall short at the critical juncture. Now would they have necessarily fared better with Big Sam at the helm?
They have tried every approach to management. They have had the detached, laconic European sensibility of Sven-Goran Eriksson. It failed. They had the strict disciplinarian in Fabio Capello. That failed. They had two prototypical examples of Britishness in Steve McLaren and Roy Hodgson. They both failed. Surely it is has become fairly clear that the problem goes beyond the aesthetic and intention of the manager.
The hugely lucrative financial world of club football- in my opinion- has somewhat diluted the allure playing for the national side. The English players that do emerge in the highly competitive market that is the Premier league tend to be defined by their supporters and clubs, quickly catapulting them before they have really proved anything. Just look at the example of Raheem Sterling.
So it’s all well and good getting Big Sam to come and bring back some good old fashioned British pragmatism. But it’s not as if he will be managing a Bolton side eagerly hoping for a mid-table finish. He will be managing a cosmopolitan group of players playing at the highest level. Players playing under the likes of Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte. So what sense is there in encouraging these players- immersed in the teachings of the world’s most progressive managers- to try to fall into a more regressive approach at a national level?
The English national set-up has to acknowledge these realities. I personally believe that an option like Arsene Wenger is more attuned to the dynamic needs of a contemporary national assignment.
There is a deep psychological basis to their woes that has to also be confronted should the English national football side ever wish to attain success again. There is no way that England should have lost to that Icelandic side. Iceland were exposed by France in a match that truly accentuated England’s deficiencies. As soon as they conceded that equalizer, one could sense that there was a shared feeling of fear that permeated the side. As if the weight of all previous failures had finally told and they collapsed under the enormous amount of expectation.
In summation, the task of being the next English manager is going to go far beyond just bringing back some antiquated notion of English identity. He will have to navigate a fractured psychological landscape and perhaps eliminate the sense of entitlement that the nouveau British player seems to have. But he must also acknowledge that Hodgson’s side was moving forward stylistically and not abandon steps to become more progressive.
The selection of Sam Allardyce will be a step backwards for this side. It was only last year that West Ham fired him for his lack of dynamism. And just look as what Slaven Bilic achieved.