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A special nation

IF THERE is a football team Irish people love watching as much as their own it’s England.

Traditionalist, who haven’t quite forgiven a millennium’s worth of pillage and oppression, get to see the former emperor humiliated every two-to-four years.

For the rest of us, what endures is the soap opera. Irish women are obsessed with Coronation Street, Eastenders and the royal family. Irish men lap up information and scandal about the English football team.

The lads have drawn the long straw here. Corrie and Eastenders are embarrassingly dire and the royals stopped being good value since they got a decent PR team in the late 1990s. But England keeps on giving.

Central to the drama is the manager.

I enjoy living and working in England. The majority of people here are fair-minded and sensible. Yet somehow, every time, the custodians of the national game, in cahoots with the tabloid and broadsheet press, conspire to appoint the wrong man.

The cycle always starts with a sacking or a resignation. The last bloke is derided as entirely useless so the primary qualification of the new man is that he mustn’t be the old man. He must be different.

Fabio Capello… Foreign… Didn’t work… Harry Redknapp… Not foreign! He’s just what we need.

Of course, Capello was brought in after the out-of-his-depth Steve McLaren exposed the folly of picking a native just because he was the best available native at the time. There’s an exciting world out there chaps! Let’s embrace it.

McLaren, though, was appointed because the exciting world out there had let England down, in the shape of Sven Goran Eriksson.

But the cool-headed Swede was a necessary choice. Kevin Keegan had just shown up the limitations of putting a hot-blooded Englishman in charge.

The chummy motivator Keegan, however, was a breath of fresh air after the aloof, cosmic mutterings of Glenn Hoddle.

The deliberate, stable Hoddle was a natural successor to the flamboyant cockney Terry Venables, who brought unflattering attention upon the Football Association by falling foul of one too many financial sorts.

And so wheel turns full circle. Expect Harry Rednapp to take the job and expect his successor to be: able to send a text message or email, aware of what’s in his bank account to the nearest hundred thousand, reserved and probably foreign. Imagine a footballing Jean Reno and you won’t be so far off.

The opposite of what didn’t work will work. The logic – or the alarming lack of it – is curious.

The majority of English people are sensible and fair-minded, but few of them work for the FA. Administrative hierarchies attract and promote people whose foremost skill is political manoeuvring; keeping their nose clean, saying the right thing to the boss. To thrive in such an environment one has to swim with the current. Offer a view that is contrary to the prevailing wisdom – which, in any walk of life, is usually wrong – and you are doomed.

So if everyone says Harry Redknapp is the man because he’s English and a players’ boss and we’ve had enough foreigners for now, it doesn’t pay to ask what happened the last time those were the popular sentiments? Far easier to charge with the pack. And even if you know you’re all wrong, you’ll all be wrong together.

I’m not saying England would win championships with the right coach in charge. Only one country can win any given tournament and England are rarely the best team at any given tournament. But if you have the best man in charge, you have a greater chance of fulfilling your potential.

Brian Clough was the best English manager during the 70s and 80s – the best by some distance. The FA couldn’t countenance him because he would have tolerated exactly zero per cent of their nonsense. He would have been wholly uncontrollable. Never mind challenging for world and European honours – at a time when England genuinely did have a crop of world class players – a more important consideration was avoiding controversy.

Harry Redknapp, now that’s been exonerated of tax evasion, is a palatable option to the blazers. Jose Mourinho, a serial winner and a manager with a deep knowledge of the English game, should be a more palatable option.

But he’s not. Mourinho would almost certainly speak out of turn – like Capello did, only Jose would do it at the start and middle of reign, rather than save it for a parting blow when it becomes clear the job is too much hassle. The Portuguese is not pliable, therefore he’s not employable. And, anyway, he’s foreign and the next boss has got to be English. He’s just got to be! Didn’t the boy Wazza tweet as much!?

Redknapp is a decent manager but, as sure as Gail Platt is tedious, his tenure will culminate in recrimination and regret. The problem with Redknapp is he’s not the best available. For the money England are prepared to pay – £6million a year for Capello – they can attract the best, who in this case is Mourinho. Surely someone should be booking a flight to Madrid…

Believe it or not, there was a time when Coronation Street was worth watching. Then it became predictable and yet ridiculous. You’d hate to see the same thing happening to the England team. They’ve been ridiculous for a while but you can only keep making the same mistake time and again before the whole affair becomes boring.

Boring is not a word we associate with England. Perhaps it’s time they broke the cycle of knee-jerk, press-pleasing appointments and actually did right by their football-loving people. It’s time the soap opera took a new twist.

 

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Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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