Foreign Managers (and why I defend Eriksson & Capello)

Lancaster_Gate_(22-365)_(12087447693)

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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