So, what have foreigners ever done for us? Well, we’ve been invaded a few times, done a bit of invading ourselves, made chicken tikka massala the national dish, and now they’ve only gone and bloody appointed an Italian as manager of the national team. Or words to that effect.
So, unsurprisingly, Fabio Capello is the new England coach, the predictable salvos against him being the wrong nationality start up with Paul Ince, Steve Coppell, Tony Adams, and the rest lining up to but the boot in, pun very much intended.
Once honorary Englishmen Martin O’Neill and The Special One had ruled themselves out of the running, it was always going to be thus. The best placed English manager, Harry Redknapp, was never going to get the job after being arrested and the rest of the bunch, bar Mark Hughes, who isn’t English either and probably wouldn’t want the job, and Alan Shearer, who is a totally unknown quantity, simply weren’t up to it. Today’s comments strike more of sour grapes than any particular reasoned argument.
The two common themes that only an Englishman can understand the game, and the appointment stops English coaches rising to the top can, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, be answered with two words: Steve McClaren.
The less tongue in cheek argument is a bit longer, but reads as somewhat of a sad indictment of British football. Perhaps there is a ring of truth in the complaint not enough British coaches are being given a chance, although few would argue against the foreigners currently inhabiting hot seat in three of the top four .
But actually, there are only five coaches out of 20 in the top flight who come from outside the British Isles (Grant, Wenger, Benitez, Ramos, and Sven). Even more bizarrely, three coaches (four if you include Grant, and five if you take Ferguson’s caretaker stint in charge ofScotland) have experience at managing at international level (Hughes, McLeish, Sanchez). Two of the 20 are in their first managerial jobs (Southgate, Keane), while of those who were into their second or further management jobs, and who are from the British Isles, four (Moyes, Hughes, Sanchez, McLeish), or five if you include Fergie, had no experience of managing in the Premiership when they took the job.
So, what does these statistics suggest? Firstly, there are clearly opportunities for British Isles managers to land jobs in the top flight. Given that both O’Neill and Hughes are realistically talked a successors to Fergie when he eventually calls it a day at Old Trafford, its also reasonable to assume that British Isles coaches can still make their way to the top. Of the foreign coaches, one assumes Grant’s job, for all the good results, has a touch of nepotism about it; Wenger has been in the job for ages and is clearly one of the best managers ever to ply his trade over here; Sven knows the English game and Premier League as well as any English coach (one would assume); Rafa has a European Cup, and has pedigree. For Ramos, its a bit too early to tell if he’s more Alain Perrin than Alex Ferguson.
But what is also quite interesting is the number of coaches who have go round the merry-go round a number of times. Redknapp, Bruce, O’Neill, Curbishley, Allardyce, Megson, and Jewell account for just under half the Premiership managers, while Coppell is certainly no young pretender in the management game. This implies that chairmen are unlikely to take risks with unproven managers of coaches from further down the football pyramid. Only Moyes is a genuine appointment from a lower division, while before him the Paul Sturrock debacle probably put many people off.
This safe pair of hands mentality means managers such as Graeme Souness, Peter Reid, Glenn Roeder, and Bryan Robson can continue to find work even though the stats suggest they’re not actually very good. It also stops young, talented managers being able to come through the ranks unless, like Paul Ince, they’ve already made a name for themselves on the pitch, and even then that’s no guarantee.
The other factor is length of time at their current clubs. The trouble in today’s footballing climate is the craving for immediate success, and while a new manager often brings a short upturn in fortunes, those teams that have been most successful in the recent era are, with the exception of Mourinho at Chelsea, ones that have give their managers time to build a squad.
It’s no coincidence that those English managers touted as credible candidates last time around were no longer considered front runners after changing jobs. Both Curbishley and Allardyce had taken time to build what they had at Charlton and Bolton respectively, and were appreciated for it. Now both need at least another season or two before we see the real West Ham and Newcastle. Ironically, if either manager does well at their current club, they could justifiably argue they deserve a crack at top job as they’ve managed to construct two decent teams, and may be in a strong position when Capello eventually leaves.
As for the rest of the managers, excluding non-Englishmen, Redknapp is too much of a risk with the arrest still in the background (although in pure footballing terms would have definitely been a front runner), Curbishley and Allardyce could be strong candidates in a couple of years time, Coppell is in a similar position and probably needs to show he can handle a bigger club than Reading, Megson hardly has a record to inspire confidence, Southgate is still learning, while Paul Jewell has an excellent record with relegation-threatened teams but again lacks that big club to polish off his CV.
Steve Bruce is possibly the only one who might just have been convincing enough (and I write this as somebody who is not a fan of Bruce’s style of football or general demeanor), although his record pales in comparison to Capello’s, and seemed to be struggling to turn Birmingham out of the also-runs before departing for Wigan.
Quite simply, the FA have looked at the current crop of English managers and gone: “Don’t fancy yours much.” And after deciding Steve McClaren was the best of the bunch last time, that’s probably the most sensible thing they could have done.
While the Premier League may be healthy, English international football is in something of a malaise, and sometimes you need an outside influence to put that right. In Capello can instigate root and branch changes, instigate a winning attitude into the English team, and leave it in a better state then when he found it, then by that stage there should be a new generation of potential English coaches he can hand over custody to, and England can have their English coach.
Personally, I’m indifferent to the nationality of a manager, as long as they get the results – and yes, I’d happily countenance a foreign coach for Wales if he was the right man. But for English fans who demand an English coach, they could do worse than see Capello as a necessarily evil. Quite simply, in terms of availability, there is no better qualified coach at the moment out there. And rather than moan about having a foreigner in charge, the current crop of English bosses should use it as an incentive, and redouble their efforts to prove to the FA that next time there’s a vacancy, the FA shouldn’t have to look abroad,
 Ok, so the jury is probably still out somewhat on Avram Grant, and it probably won’t be until next season that we’ll be able to judge if he is any cop or not, but his time in charge so far has a very enviable record.