Foreign Managers (and why I defend Eriksson & Capello)

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Lancaster Gate, home of the FA for much of its history. Photo: Lancaster Gate [22/365]) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the footballing world of today, the sight of coaches managing national football teams other than their own is fairly ubiquitous. For England fans, among others, this has been particularly pronounced as two of the last three managers have been foreign, first Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Swede, then his successor but one, Italian Fabio Capello. Give or take a few months that means that for nine of the last twelve years a foreigner has been at the helm of the national football side.

As an England fan, in an ideal world, my preference, for the position of manager, would be for a patriotic Englishman with many years of experience under his belt, perhaps across different levels of the game and successes to show for it. I believe that both Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp were both good candidates. What if I felt that the best candidate wasn’t English but ticked the other boxes? Then as stated in a previous post I am not averse to seeing a non-English manager occupy the post.

In Why England Lose: And Other Curious Phenomena Explained authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski make the case that foreign coaches can be beneficial to a country’s national team and footballing culture as they bring new ideas and methods. They document how Turkey’s transformation from whipping boys of European football to a decent national side, which reached a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship quarter and semi-finals in the 2000s following the emergence of German coaches and German players of Turkish descent in club sides. Kuper and Szymanski also illustrate the changes in the fortunes of the Greek national side under the stewardship of German Otto Rehhagel. Moulding a more organized, disciplined side, one renowned for its defensive steel, Rehhagel and the Greeks claimed a shock win at Euro 2004 playing, as striker Angelos Charisteas put it, like a “German team.” Under the same management Greece went on to secure qualification to the subsequent Euros four years later and the World Cup in 2010. (Qualification had traditionally been a rarity for Greek sides.)

The exploits of Dutchman Guus Hiddink with South Korea, Australia and Russia including his success at getting his Korean players to play in a less disciplined and regimented manner, as they had been used to, also feature in the chapter. Going beyond Why England Lose there are other examples of successful foreign managers; Jack Charlton with Ireland, for instance. Several of the recent victors of the Africa Cup of Nations have been teams with either French or German managers. Of course not all foreign managers are success stories but plenty of ‘home-grown’ ones aren’t either.

Speaking from an English perspective, the thought of having a non-English manager is one fans may feel uncomfortable about, particularly as the still quite fresh memories of Messrs Eriksson and Capello evoke England’s inability to break their quarter-final duck and the woeful showing at South Africa 2010. A look at the stats and their respective records, however, two things that seem to go amiss when many pass judgment, place both men in the upper cohort of England managers.

Discounting caretakers, of the thirteen men who have led the national side, Capello won the highest percentage of his games in charge, 67%. Eriksson won 59.7% of his, just edging Hodgson and narrowly trailing Alf Ramsey, Glenn Hoddle and Ron Greenwood in the table. Moreover in competitive games, the games that really matter, Capello and Eriksson top the pile, both having won 68% of such fixtures. ‘Svennis’ ‘ competitive record is strengthened further by his wins-losses ratio of twenty-three, eight ahead of his nearest rival, Bobby Robson.

We of course know that both managers’ records in competitive games did not translate into tournament success, either in terms of winning a trophy or making a real impression on the tournament through a string of strong performances. Yet England does not have a glorious footballing history in the way Brazil or Germany does. Qualification to a tournament was something that eluded many of their predecessors at some point in their tenures. Participation in five out of five possible tournaments and, in Eriksson’s case, three successive quarter-final appearances, is, comparatively speaking, a decent return; even after inevitable debates over the ability of available English players and the quality opposition from one era to another arise.

One would hope that because of the size of the English game there would be a number of suitable candidates available for the top job. As fans we hope that the man in charge possesses a deep knowledge of the English game, and, as an Englishman, is deeply passionate about the national team. As argued here that is not to rule out overseas candidates in my mind. Furthermore, due to the scarcity of English managers at Premiership clubs the FA’s attention may be turned elsewhere again in the future.

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I agree with Jack Wilshere

 

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Photo: Geordie Bosanko (Self-scanned) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj’s recent displays and Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere’s statement that “only English players should play for England” have once again raised questions over nationality and who should be eligible for national sports teams. (The Belgian-born Januzaj could qualify to play for England should he remain resident in the country for five years.) Wilshere later took to Twitter to clarify his position before praising the likes of runner Mo Farah and fellow footballer Wilfried Zaha, both African-born, but raised predominantly in Britain and have worn the colours of Great Britain and England respectively. Hopefully this will quieten those perhaps looking to associate Wilshere with the likes of the BNP.

Wilshere argued that just because someone acquires a passport it does not make them automatically English, adding that spending five years in Spain would not make him Spanish. My concern about allowing athletes to join a national team after five years residency is that it could lead to sportsmen and women opting to represent the country in which they have been residing only after failing to be selected by their ‘first-choice’ country, the one they consider their homeland, in other words. I think I stand with all fans in saying that all athletes in national colours ought to be committed one hundred percent to the country they represent.

The case of Jermaine Pennant is a case in point. In 2011 the Stoke footballer said he would play for Ireland if approached. Although Pennant was eligible for the Irish through a grandparent, at this point he was in his late twenties and had won 24 caps for England Under-21s. He had held out in the hope that England would award him a call-up which had (and still has) yet to materialise. The case of Mo Farah is different. He has been in Britain since childhood, attended school here and has come through the ranks of British athletics. I don’t know him personally but after last year’s Olympics would you want to question his loyalty to Britain?

Selection to a national team should certainly be open to those born overseas with roots back in Blighty. There have been many in this category who have represented their country with distinction on a track or field of some sort; Mike Catt, Kevin Pietersen, Justin Rose, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome to name a few. Likewise there have been others born in the country to foreign parents who have done the same; witness recent Olympic medalists Christine Ohuruogu and Phillips Idowu, or the half Italian, one quarter Irish England Rugby World Cup winner Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio. You don’t need to have a name like Smith, Walker or Illingworth to be British.

Furthermore, a born and bred Englishman or woman with firm ancestral ties to the land of his or her birth may have problems with identity and thus feel not greatly attached to ‘their’ country. Look at Jamie Carragher. He once revealed how defeat with England was easier to take than defeat with his club side, Liverpool. Growing up in the city in the 1980s he claims there was a ‘detachment’ between Liverpool and the national epicentre, London. Perhaps Carragher sees himself as Scouse first. Someone’s nationality, in a legal sense, may be different to how they feel in their heart, which may belong, first and foremost, to a city, region or to another country.

Daily Mail sports columnist Jeff Powell went further than Wilshere, declaring that everyone involved in the set-up of any national team, including the manager, coaches, physios and kitmen should hail from that country. Hiring a foreign manager can be a controversial step, and one which many oppose. As will be covered in a subsequent post, I beg to differ on this one. However when it comes to the players, it is time to tighten up the  residency rules.