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Hodgson the latest victim in tale of English-manager-phobia

January 10, 2011 1 comment

 

English football managers are not as good as foreign ones. Reads like a truism, doesn’t it? Well it’s wrong. It is the result of long-term, blatant, endemic discrimination and it must stop.

The cause of restoring the beleaguered image and reputation of English managers suffered a major blow when Roy Hodgson parted company with Liverpool last week. Hodgson’s troubled tenure at Anfield gives credibility to the popularly-held opinion that fine English managers like him, Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp, Alan Curbishley, Ian Holloway, Steve Bruce etc are okay when handling a bunch of journeymen at their battling, middling clubs, but can’t deal with top players and manage the top teams. No, no, when one of those jobs comes up, don’t even bother listing an Englishman on the odds list – wasted bet. Not an option.

When the Chelsea job comes up, who will it be? Someone with Champions League experience? Well, then! It can’t be an Englishman because almost no Englishmen are given jobs with teams capable of qualifying for the Champions League. Tottenham is an interloper into what has until this season been a very exclusive cartel, in which two of the top teams – Manchester United and Arsenal – haven’t changed their managers (both not English) for decades. The only real chance for a home-grown gaffer would have been Chelsea or Liverpool, neither of which has appointed an English manager since 1994. So English managers are presumed incapable because none has been given a chance at Champions League level. Harry Redknapp’s performance with Spurs should prove that home-grown bosses do have the knowledge and the expertise: no one was worried about Redknapp’s lack of Champions League experience while Tottenham played champions Inter Milan off the park last November.

It is peculiarly English to denigrate and ignore our own managers, to the point where we can’t bear to appoint one of our own to the national role. In Spain and Italy, if a manager does well with a smaller, middling or good side they are given a chance at a big club (like Roberto Mancini, who did well at Lazio before getting the Inter job). They also appoint rookies of their own tribe (such as Guardiola at Barca) to top, top jobs, and after winning with what were already extremely good sides, these are presumed geniuses.

Sam Allardyce took Bolton into the Premier League and between 2004 and 2007 produced four consecutive top ten finishes: eighth, sixth (which put them in the UEFA Cup for the first time), eighth and then seventh – a record bettered only in that period by the then ‘big four’. Rafael Benitez had done far less before he inherited a Valencia squad brimming with potential. Had Allardyce done the same as an Italian in Italy, or a Spaniard in Spain, he would have had a top job. But not in England. He was fired by Newcastle when an average but improving team were 11th in the league.

It is sad to say it, and it sounds a little shrill, but it really is the case that many people instantly believe a man to be a more serious, impressive manager for a club with ambition if he has an exotic name. Ancelotti is better than Allardyce, Benitez is better than Bruce, Mancini better than Redknapp.

Hodgson’s departure sets back the cause of disproving this fallacy years. In reality, he has not become a bad manager. He inherited a team on the way down: with several very average players, injured good ones, and little money to spend.

He was a crucial test case for English managers everywhere and Liverpool have lost their courage after five months. Regardless of whether it is right or wrong, justified or unjustified, it is a disaster for English football.

The truth is there are plenty of talented and able English football managers out there, but they are banging their heads against a glass ceiling.

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Categories: Football Tags: , , ,

Hard to love you now, Wayne

October 23, 2010 5 comments

Wayne Rooney was always destined to be a legend.

Decorated with natural gifts beyond those of any Englishman for a generation, he was also a very English player, full of heart and endeavour: a man fans could be proud to love and to call their own. It is the combination of Rooney’s being better than all his England team mates and his fans’ perception of him as the committed, down-to-earth, people’s player, that made him their favourite as well as the team’s talisman.

The unseemly saga that unfolded this week is all the more depressing for that. Rooney, in collusion with a clever and determined agent no doubt, has behaved, at best, like an embarrassing, stroppy teenager, and, perhaps more realistically, like a graceless, conniving mercenary.  His actions have been a direct challenge to his employers at Manchester Utd, to his manager and his team mates. Yet he has been rewarded with a brand new 5-year contract, reportedly worth £160,000 a week.

Other than the emotional impact that revelations last month might still be having on Rooney and his family, the historical context of sleazy behaviour by a range of England players is not strictly relevant here. But it does point us to raise the question: how much are supporters supposed to put up with? How far from reality can these players ascend (descend) before we cease to see in them that which was so recognisable and appealing in the first place? Sport is made such a compelling spectacle in part by distilling and dramatising human endeavour. It is that which, lest we forget, leads supporters to part with ever-spiralling wads of hard-earned to pay the wages of its stars. But if our heroes can no longer be recognised as one of us, will we love them?

For we have loved Wayne Rooney. He was ‘crucial’ to our chances in the 2006 World Cup despite beginning the tournament with one leg, and he was equally crucial to our chances last summer. While he flopped, so did England. While he oozes skill, for many fans he also embodies what they love about football and about themselves: the honesty, the passion, the love for the game. The love heaped upon Rooney is clearly something which, at some time at least, mattered to Rooney. His outburst against England fans who booed the team’s World Cup draw with Algeria showed he found it difficult to deal with not being adored.

Setting aside the fact that Rooney has not played to the sparkling level that made his name for several months, let us remember that prior to this week’s elaborately constructed contractual negotiation, he was already being paid £90,000 a week by Man Utd. He has several lucrative endorsement deals and gets paid every time he plays for

"How wrong is the game?" Ian Holloway has been passionately outspoken on the issue

England. He owns a mansion in Cheshire. In short, he is not short of a few bob. Such a public demand for increased pay seems not just ungrateful, but both insensitive and undignified at a time when his club’s owners are in debt and his fans are asked to pay nearly £50 just to see a first round Carling Cup tie at home to Wolves. It also draws wider, sadder reflections on the significance of player power and the state of football today. Ian Holloway is surely right when he says “football should look at itself.”

If Rooney chooses to play audacious contractual hard ball to secure a wage rise from £90,000 a week to £160,000 a week, while of course accepting huge rewards for his various sponsorship deals (and having sold his wedding to OK magazine), he is eschewing emotion, honesty and passion for the game and cashing in on his assets; smartly making the most of his position. But, that being the case, can we any longer let him off the hook for his (various) transgressions on the grounds that he is just a naive boy who would play football for nothing if it meant he could do it every day?

There are some sportsmen whom fans admire, like Pete Sampras or Tiger Woods. There are some whom they love, like Andrew Flintoff, or, until recently at least, Wayne Rooney.

I think I was able to turn a blind eye to the World Cup flops, the fouls and the foul-mouthed rants. Even the hookers were being forgotten, although the cumulative impact of these might have been starting to tell. No doubt, once he regains form, I will continue to admire Wayne Rooney.

It’s just hard to love him now. To Manchester Utd and England supporters alike, Rooney has made his priorities very clear.

I hope he can live without the love.

Categories: Football Tags: , ,