Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Ice Man Cometh for England #ENGICE

Not so long ago Chris Coleman had to leave the Larrisa club in Greece due to a lack of money, a move that followed his sacking at Coventry City, who hired him when he walked out of Real Sociedad in San Sebastian. A departure that was of his own making and seemingly rejecting an ideal place to rehabilitate his reputation after a number of seasons at Fulham came to an end. A club where he was a successful player and looked the ideal candidate to become a coach - following a serious injury that ended his playing days. On replacing Jean Tigana he showed some talent in management in his season. But then was faced with the exit door when the Craven Cottage dreams could not be fulfilled, in his view, as the club sold key players. Today he stands on the brink of history with Wales now the only home nation to make it to the EURO 2016 quarterfinals and his reputation more than rehabilitated.

In contrast Vicente del Bosque returns to Spain with his future in doubt, having said pre-tournament anyway that he was unlikely to continue much further. So the Royal Spanish Football Federation now have little choice but to close that option as they also departed France 2016 relinquishing their eight year hold on the EURO Trophy first seized in Vienna. For a while Del Bosque continued the magic Luis Aragones first sparked in Austria and Switzerland in 2008. But Spain have reached the end of that cycle it seems and now a search for a replacement will soon begin no doubt. The inept performance by Spain in Brazil in 2014 also casting a shadow heralding the end of Spain’s Barca football production line - for the moment. Despite topping their qualifying group unbeaten they failed to fire once again in a major tournament. A sharp contrast to their hunger in South Africa at the World Cup in 2010 which was followed by the Euro 2012 demolition of Italy in the final.

Iceland’s defeat of England secured the only possible career move for Roy Hodgson. Who read out a statement confirming his retirement as the match in Nice barely ended. Equalling the speed of Kevin Keegan resignation in the Wembley toilets after a home defeat by Germany in a 2002 World Cup qualifier. The result compounding another timid appearance at the 2000 EURO in Holland and Belgium where defeats to Portugal and Romania precluded passage to the knock out stages for England. The sputtering performance at Wembley forcing the passionate and honest Keegan to hand in the keys early to the FA and walking out of the England job he loved. In Nice Hodgson did something similar after a nation of 330,000 ended the unrealistic aspirations of England followers once again, who are now seeing another chance to repeat 1966 pass them by. The names of who might replace Hodgson now ringing in the air and proving the major debating point in the wake of the defeat. Apart from more comedic asides arising as the likes of Alan Shearer declare a possible interest.

The logical thinking is that the Football Association have a structure in place. One that over the years has tried to cultivate potential candidates over the long term with Trevor Brooking and Stuart Pearce amongst those earliest on the shop floor fulfilling interim roles on occasion. Albeit Pearce failed with his underage charges in his time and was pushed off the ladder of candidates. With his former teammate at EURO 1996, Gareth Southgate, the main name currently the mix for the Russia 2018 campaign. We say logical if the FA are to back their own system and development structure. Especially with other English candidates few and far between. Though the FA also have a penchant for highly paid foreigners such as Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Ericsson. 

As always though it is the incumbent manager that pays the ultimate price regardless of circumstances. Or whether the overpaid players failed to perform. In Nice the latter was definitely the case and the suitability of Gary Neville to management is now also in smithereens as from the bench alongside Hodgson he proved an unviable alternative. With his term at Valencia earlier this year not bolstering his CV either and undoubtable proof that punditry is easier than life in the real world.

Amidst the mayhem a few issue stands out as bizarre. One of the first is that a coach like Paul Clement, who has just re-joined Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich seems to offer no appeal to the England set up. Yet he has been with Ancelotti at Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid with league titles and Champions League medals under his belt. Always operating at the toughest of levels and having to deal with some of the highest paid talent in the world. That accumulated expertise and skill one would imagine to be invaluable to any national football federation. Particularly one struggling to deliver results at the highest levels such as the FA. Whether as a coach or an adviser surely Clement has something to offer England football. 

More so if one looks at the supposed minnow nations relying on their own former players such as Michael O’Neil at Northern Ireland, Martin O’Neill with the Republic of Ireland or Chris Coleman. All proving very effective operators among the elite nations with supposedly lesser talented sides than England. Or, more accurately, more non-Premier League players. Ironcially, none of whom would have ever figured an FA list of possible candidates to manage England.As with Iceland's manager Lars Lagerbeck, who ensured that his own CV continues to show no defeats by any England teams in 6 or more major tournaments. In a  career spanning time with Sweden, Nigeria and now Iceland. 

However, Hodgson is part of a long list of England managers who arrived with excellent CV’s and found nothing but failure managing the national team. All unable to replicate the feats of Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966 or indeed 1970. Except for the late Bobby Robson who took England to a semi-final with Germany at Italia 1990 only to lose out in the penalty shootout. Or Terry Venables in 1996 who squeezed past Spain on penalties in the quarterfinal only to stumble at the seminal stage to Germany once again - on penalties. That German resilience always apparent in major tournaments with them finally exercising their own demons in Brazil two years ago with a Mario Götze goal that ended the dreams of Lionel Messi and Argentina. Spain also did the same in 2008, 2010 and 2012, as have France in 1998 and 2000; with Italy winning the 2006 World Cup in Germany. 

In fact, of the major football nations England’s over expectant ambitions remain unfulfilled on the world stage and as consequence of poor play now exit left in France without any willingness to analyse the fundamental problems at player level which seem to preclude any success. Bizarrely Southgate was not part of England’s original travelling party to Euro 2016 but he did undertake various scouting missions on opponents during the tournament. Hopefully one of them was not Iceland. Or someone forgot to read his notes. Although not an official member of the coaching staff there were late moves to make him part of the England set-up. 

For some within the FA the former Middlesbrough manager is already a favourite and improved his reputation by leading the England Under 21s to victory in the Toulon U-21 Tournament final earlier in the month – also beating the host nation France.

For the moment though Roy Hodgson joins a rogue’s gallery alongside Steve McClaren, Graham Taylor, Fabio Capello, Glen Hoddle, Peter Taylor, Howard Wilkinson, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, and Sven Goran Eriksson. Not forgetting those who were refused the chance like Brian Clough, Harry Redknapp or Luiz Felipe Scolari. 

Another fine mess! 

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