Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who Will Be England's Next National Team Manager?

By Alexander C. Miles

Since Fabio Capello stepped down questo Febraio, several candidates have emerged as top choices to take on what many consider to be the toughest job in international soccer today: England's Manager.

Somewhat of a poisoned chalice, the top job in English soccer has it's pros and cons.

On one hand, England's new manager will enjoy a title that is no doubt the highest position possible in the birthplace of the famous game, mixed with an opportunity to manage some of the world’s best talent. On the other hand, there is a far worse side: pleasing what is perhaps the most incredibly demanding fan base in the world.

Generating a ravenous media circus that is quick to jump on the smallest of infractions, the English have become almost overly clamorous for success. Not to mention the inability of English players to break away from their tribal club mentalities and translate their individual talents into a wider team effort.

The running has narrowed itself down to two candidates: Harry Redknapp and everyone else

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Arry (as he’s affectionately/derisively known) has done a very good job at Tottenham. He’s more tactically astute than he prefers to let on, and he’s beloved by the English media. His players all love him, and speak only in superlatives whenever ‘Arry is brought up. However, he is not without his drawbacks.

Redknapp is a manager who thrives on the transfer market. Despite his protestations, Redknapp is a wheeler-dealer. He loves the buying and selling of players (as some of his former clubs, now bankrupt, will attest), and is never quick to give a hint about whom he may be signing. There’s no transfer markets for a national team, just a relatively consistent stable of talent old and new to draw upon. Can Redknapp cope with such limitations?

‘Arry’s CV is very good, but not glowing. The most notable win he’s mustered is an FA Cup trophy with Portsmouth (which eventually doomed them repeated bankruptcies) and a few scalps of the Milan teams last year in the Champions League. With him at the helm, Tottenham are flying high in the Premier League at the moment, but that comes with the caveat of spending heavily on their talent. And I was left thoroughly unimpressed by Redknapp’s inability to impose their will on lowly Stevenage this past Sunday.

How will Redknapp break down teams that shut up shop (a current international trend) who match up with England phsyically? Teams like Coatia, Macedonia, and USA.

The biggest problem facing England is it’s own footballing culture

The English FA doesn’t know what it wants. After Shhhteve McClaren ignominiously flamed out as England manager, failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the English press demanded a world-class manager with a disciplinarian reputation. They were even willing, in some quarters, to compromise for another foreign manager (a thorny issue in international soccer). So Fabio Capello was brought in, and from the moment he took the mantle, he faced near rancorous discontent. It wasn’t enough that he was one of the most accomplished managers on the planet - he had to deliver results, learn English, and jump through hoops to please the press and public alike.

Capello never got off on the right foot with the English, and he was entirely culpable for a woeful performance at the World Cup. But that’s in the past, and it’s time to look forward.

England must decide what it wants. After Sven Goran-Erikson's WC 2006 stint, the people called for an English manager who was a player’s manager. They got what they wanted in the form of umbrella-toting McClaren, but after his failure, it was a stern disciplinarian with a worldly reputation that they called for. Capello was delivered, but alas was never accepted.

When the Italian stepped down, the English managerial cycle was completed: most English people and the press are now calling again for an Englishman again, a player’s manager, who the lads can really get behind. Someone to put an arm around their shoulders, as the cliché follows, but someone who can also charm the press with a twinkling eye and a flippant sound bite.

The English are in need of a watershed moment

The entirety of the English game, it’s very fabric and culture, must be rebuilt from the bottom up. English talent spotters love athletes who shine in 11 on 11 games in huge pitches: the strongest tacklers and the fastest sprinters. This has failed England for nearly 50 years, one only needs to look at the examples of Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott. Pace to burn, but it’s not there between the ears, if you catch my drift.  Technique, but more importantly, embracing the tactical and mental aspects of the game is paramount.

For this reason, I advocate yet another foreign manager. With Guus Hiddink, the master of revamping national teams, out of the running (he recently signed an ungodly contract with the phenomenon that is Anzhi Makhachkala - it’s a real club, I swear on Gerrard’s right boot), we are left with only two men capable of handling the job: Jose Mourinho or Rafa Benitez.

Everyone knows Mourinho brings success, and loves a good challenge. The English press has always had a girlish crush on him, as they so often do towards men who flatter them one moment and play the proverbial jackass the next. But, he too is a man who thrives in the transfer market. His time at Real Madrid has been described as tumultuous, to say the least. And he has a penchant for walking away from teams. His scorched earth policy towards any dissidents, and towards his players, often leads to a fractious end. Perhaps he is not the best candidate.

I admit, I am a biased, but I cannot think of a man more suitable for the job than Rafa Benitez. He has succeeded in England and Spain, and his trophy case is quite full: Champions Leagues, La Liga titles at the expense of Real Madrid and Barcelona, domestic cups, and so on. He is the master of the knockout competition, and despite his rather undeserved reputation, his players are incredibly fond of him. He demands perfection from his players, and they love him for it.

Respect is to be earned, and not given. Rafa is a man who makes you earn his respect. English players, quite frankly, don’t deserve the respect a man like Redknapp will give them because they have failed so abjectly on many levels.  Benitez will take no prisoners and build a squad based on talent and achievement, not reputation alone.

To paraphrase Black Sheep, the choice is yours England. The world will continue to turn afterwards, even if England follows history and crashes out of Euro 2012 with and underperforming performance and media firestorm that have become customary in the Augusts and Septembers following large tournaments.  It’s a matter of “tried and true” versus a serious attempt at reform, and we’ll soon see how it unfolds.

Miles in on twitter @amoiles15

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