The last time the FA came out of a tournament looking for a new England manager, they interviewed the starkly contrasting figures of Ralf Rangnick and Steve Bruce before settling on Sam Allardyce, who had one game in charge before being brought down by a newspaper sting.
That was a dark period for the FA — humiliation by Iceland at Euro 2016 leading to Roy Hodgson’s departure, Allardyce’s short-lived tenure and an overwhelming feeling that the England men’s team was broken, quite possibly beyond repair.
We all know what happened next. Gareth Southgate stepped in, initially on an interim basis, and oversaw what has been the team’s most successful period since Sir Alf Ramsey’s tenure: World Cup semi-finalists in 2018, runners-up at Euro 2020, World Cup quarter-finalists in 2022. That might sound like an unremarkable record for a nation that regards itself as one of international football’s heavyweights, but it represents by far England’s most impressive run in more than half a century.
After defeat by France in Saturday’s quarter-final, Southgate is taking the time to weigh up whether to stay on and lead England into the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign or to call it a day. The past 18 months have been difficult, he says. He has seen England managers hounded out of the job and wants to be certain he has not outstayed his welcome or his enthusiasm for the job at hand.
And so the FA finds itself in limbo, waiting for Southgate to commit to seeing out his contract. Some feel he has reached the end of his shelf life in the job. The FA’s hope, overwhelmingly, is that the 52-year-old has the motivation to stay on for Euro 2024.
The debate over Southgate’s record will run and run. A personal view is that he has been the most accomplished England manager of my lifetime (which is very distinct from saying the best manager to have held the position), but there is still a legitimate debate to be had over whether he and the team would benefit from a change. Again, a personal view: his weariness after the game on Saturday night raised more doubts than his tactics or whatever substitutions he did or didn’t make against France.
What is beyond question is that, if Southgate departs, the FA will find itself in a stronger position six years on. Rather than the poisoned chalice it was always described as — perhaps a poisoned pint glass when it came to Allardyce’s infamous meeting with those undercover journalists from the Daily Telegraph — the England job is now seen as a desirable opportunity to work with a talented group of players and build on the firm foundations Southgate and the FA have put in place.
That is underlined by The Athletic’s understanding that Thomas Tuchel, who led Chelsea to the Champions League trophy barely 18 months ago, and Mauricio Pochettino are intrigued by the potential vacancy. And that raises the familiar question — well, familiar in the 2000s, when the FA widened their net and smashed their pay structure to hire Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello — of whether the England manager should be English.
Another personal view? Yes, the England manager should — not must but should — be English, just as, for example, the Argentina, Croatia, France and Morocco teams were led to the World Cup semi-finals by Argentinian, Croatian, French and Moroccan coaches. This is not a xenophobic argument and nor should it be a remotely controversial one. The whole point of international football is about one nation pitting its best talent against others.
Of the other seven nations to have won the men’s World Cup, five (Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Spain) have had foreign or foreign-born coaches way back in their history, in most cases for one-off matches, but none has done so over the past 40 years. Germany? Uruguay? Never.
Notwithstanding England’s success in winning the women’s Euros under Sarina Weigman, it feels like a trend which is on the way out of the men’s game. Football is more globalised than ever, but only nine of the 32 teams at this World Cup had a foreign manager or head coach — down from 14 in Russia four years ago.
Of those nine teams, only one got through the group stage (South Korea under Portuguese coach Paolo Bento). That is a small sample size, and some were unfancied nations who can claim to have surpassed expectations in terms of performance and results (for example, Ecuador under Gustavo Alfaro and Saudi Arabia under Herve Renard) but this World Cup has not done much for the argument for “going foreign”.
It is very easy to look at England as an exception, to look at a team falling a little short at the last three tournaments — agonisingly short in the case of last year’s Euros — and to conclude that what they really need is a coach with a proven track record of winning trophies. “Enough of ‘Nice Guy’ Southgate. Let’s get a winner, proven at the highest level.”
The immediate problem with this is that title-winning coaches don’t tend to be English. No English manager has won a European trophy since Bobby Robson with Barcelona in 1997; no English manager has won the league title since Howard Wilkinson with Leeds United in 1992; no English manager has even won the FA Cup since Harry Redknapp with Portsmouth in 2008. Since 2003, English managers have taken charge of a combined total of just 34 matches in the Champions League (Redknapp 10, Craig Shakespeare three, Frank Lampard 14, Graham Potter five, Michael Carrick one and Gary Neville one).
So, “let’s get a winner, proven at the highest level” essentially means, “let’s look abroad”. And the number of “proven winners” is remarkably small and they never tend to stray far from the top echelon of European clubs. Breaking the bank to persuade a successful title-winning coach to climb off the Champions League carousel and to come and rescue England instead? The FA have been there and done that.
Eriksson and Capello brought an immediate uplift in results and did significantly better than their predecessors (Kevin Keegan and Steve McClaren respectively) but neither managed to take England beyond the quarter-finals of a tournament and neither left anything like a long-term legacy in terms of the development of players, coaches, a playing identity or, significantly, the culture of the national team set-up.
It is easier to imagine Pochettino, in particular, warming to that challenge. He cannot claim to be a “winner with a capital W”, as then-FA chief executive Brian Barwick lauded Capello in 2007, but he has played a significant role in developing young English players: Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez at Southampton, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Harry Winks, Andros Townsend, Dele Alli and Harry Kane at Tottenham Hotspur.
Tuchel and Pochettino have the elite-level experience of working at big clubs and achieving success; both won domestic trophies with Paris Saint-Germain, Pochettino took Tottenham to a Champions League final and Tuchel went one better and won it early in his tenure with Chelsea, going on to win the European Super Cup and Club World Cup too.
But is that really the main qualification? Southgate cannot boast a fraction of Eriksson’s or Capello’s success at club level, but he has been a far better England manager than either of them.
Luis Enrique won the Champions League with Barcelona but left the Spain job after falling to Morocco in the first knockout round of this World Cup; Hansi Flick won the Champions League (and everything else) with Bayern Munich but, despite his familiarity with the national set-up as an assistant to World Cup-winning coach Joachim Low, couldn’t guide Germany through the group stage; Roberto Mancini won league titles with Inter Milan and Manchester City and lived up to his “winner” reputation by leading Italy to victory over England at the Euro 2020 final…but then failed to qualify for the World Cup. Didier Deschamps is doing an excellent job with France, after years of being maligned, but being a “winner” at club level does not guarantee success on the international stage.
International football is different, which is why looking for a big-name candidate straight off the Champions League carousel often makes less sense than appointing a coach who knows the country’s football culture and, like Southgate with England or like Low with Germany, understands many of the finer points (on and off the pitch) of the job in question.
Turning to overseas coaches is something the FA have previously done out of desperation after concluding there were no homegrown candidates of sufficient calibre. As much as it might have aggrieved English managers at the time, Keegan’s, McClaren’s and Hodgson’s records did not do much for an English-first policy and, while Allardyce fancied his chances of bucking that trend, he unwittingly talked his way out of the job almost before the ink on his contract had dried.
But now? Now feels different. England cannot boast a Pep Guardiola or a Jurgen Klopp, but it does have Eddie Howe, Potter and others, those who, without having worked at international level, have displayed many of the traits the England job requires — not just the way they coach but the way they manage people, manage an environment and manage a long-term project.
Howe demonstrated that at Bournemouth, performing minor miracles to lead them to the Premier League and keep them up for four seasons before the disappointment of relegation in the fifth, and he is demonstrating it at Newcastle United. Potter’s stock rose dramatically as he took a circuitous journey via Swedish club Ostersunds, Swansea City and Brighton & Hove Albion to Chelsea. A challenging start to life at Chelsea was foreseeable; it doesn’t mean he should suddenly be struck from consideration.
No, the reason the FA might have to put a line through the names of Howe and Potter is that, unlike Tuchel and Pochettino, they are in attractive and well-paid jobs.
Howe distanced himself from the England job in 2016, believing himself to be too young and too inexperienced, but he would have jumped at the opportunity had it arisen a couple of years ago. Now? It is hard — not impossible, but hard — to imagine he would entertain the idea, given he seems onto a very good thing at Newcastle.
Potter would be forgiven for wondering whether he is onto the same at Chelsea, a club and a squad in a state of flux after the turmoil of the past year, but managers and coaches tend to believe in their own ability to succeed if given the time and the support to do so. Even if he has any concerns so soon after signing a five-year contract, he probably isn’t in “I’m a serious football coach, get me out of here” territory yet.
If Southgate departs, the FA should at least try to gauge Potter’s and Howe’s interest. If they prefer to stay put, then that is understandable. But at least ask the question.
And at that point, if faced with rejections from the two leading English contenders, the FA would have to widen the net — perhaps to include Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland and Everton manager Frank Lampard — and look beyond the small pool of homegrown candidates. If so, they might consider Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers (born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland) and Nottingham Forest’s Steve Cooper (born in Pontypridd, south Wales) in addition to Pochettino and Tuchel.
Rodgers’ stock has fluctuated a lot over the past decade, but he is a talented coach who steered Swansea from the Championship to mid-table in the Premier League, almost took Liverpool to the Premier League title, won every domestic trophy available to him at Celtic and has led Leicester to the FA Cup and to two fifth-placed finishes in the Premier League (narrowly missing out on Champions League on both occasions). Even if this season started badly, he had overseen an improvement before the World Cup.
As for Cooper, he is extremely well known to the FA after his work with the England Under-17 team. He led a squad containing Marc Guehi, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Emile Smith Rowe and Conor Gallagher to glory at the Under-17 World Cup and has since worked wonders to guide Nottingham Forest to the Premier League and — so far — to survive the whims of the club’s fiercely demanding owner Evangelos Marinakis. Given the volatility of life at Forest, though, he might be tempted by the England job, even as a proud Welshman.
We are back to the question of looking beyond English borders. Ideally, this would not be necessary. But if it is — if the right homegrown candidate cannot be found — then clearly it would be preferable to appoint a coach with prior links to and understanding of English football.
That would make Pochettino and Tuchel legitimate candidates if their interest is sincere. Both, after all, have been instrumental in the development of several members of this squad, as have Cooper, Rodgers and Lampard.
There is certainly an argument for new ideas and new energy in the dugout, but it is easy to understand why the FA would be happy to stick rather than twist. For once, they have something to lose by contemplating a change of manager.
Maybe the ultimate illustration of Southgate’s success, in creating a more measured, more sensible, more high-performing national team set-up, is that English football’s usual reflex — to go, in desperation, for a manager who is the antithesis of his predecessor — would seem out of place here. Yes, the calls for a “winner” are understandable, but the FA’s priority should be to build on Southgate’s impressive work rather than look for what Gary Neville would call a “hitman” like, say, Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho.
And maybe it is an illustration that English football finds itself in a happier, more sensible place when there are strong homegrown candidates for this job, such as Howe and Potter — but, unlike in the recent past, they are in highly coveted positions at two of the most ambitious clubs in the Premier League.
That they might now be beyond the FA’s reach, in desirable jobs elsewhere, might force the FA to look further afield. But if Southgate decides six years is long enough in the job, then whoever comes next will have a hard act to follow. And it is a long, long time since an England manager left office with anyone saying that.
(Top photo: Getty Images)
Read original article here
- Tuchel is interested but if Southgate goes England should try for an Englishman
- Check all news and articles from the latest Soccer updates.