Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The announcement of Sven Goran-Eriksson’s exit from the England manager’s job has resulted in a show of sympathy for the FA unprecedented in recent years. Why? More than a few pundits have noted that Sven had forced the FA’s hand into agreeing his departure, that they couldn’t tolerate his antics any more. But you have to wonder why the FA thought it necessary, a couple of years back, to extend his contract by two years and put themselves in a situation in 2006 where they wanted him to leave and have probably had to pay him a few million quid for the privilege.

This, of course, followed his scandalous decision to investigate what job opportunities might exist for him elsewhere. It seems clear from what has transpired this month that the FA frowns upon such activities – or, at least, that it wishes to be seen to frown – which begs the question why they rewarded him for them back then. However much blame one attempts to slough onto Sven’s shoulders, the entire episode has the feel of yet another golden entry into the annals of FA incompetence. It’d almost be funny, if it wasn’t at the centre of a multi-billion pound global industry of which Britain is one of the market leaders. Never mind, I’m sure when they’ve utterly destroyed football for good we’ll be able to look back and have a chuckle.

As for Sven, I still don’t see what he did as a manager that was so wrong. He’s taken England to three major tournaments, topping the qualifying group each time. It’s true that the performances which saw the team knocked out of those tournaments left something to be desired, but against Portugal this was as much because of half-hearted showings by the players, and against Brazil… well, they were Brazil. England had a good chance but Brazil, with ten men, shut up shop very well. Who cares if he experiments in friendlies, except the people who pay extortionate ticket prices to go and watch them (which, again, is surely the FA’s fault)? And as for his off-the-field conduct, it strikes me that he’s been treated as if he’s a politician, which is patently ridiculous. We’re not looking to him for moral leadership, we’re looking to him to advise some men on ways to move a ball around.

In any case, an ad reading ‘Ethically lily-white tactical genius with common touch wanted to fulfil near-impossible expectations and deflect attention away from employers’ howling idiocy’ is going up in job centres as we speak. I firmly believe that there is only one obvious candidate for the England job, and he’s bafflingly rated at a mere 12-1 to get it. Luiz Felipe Scolari is set to leave Portugal after the summer, he’s said he’d be interested in the England job if it was offered and, for Christ’s sake, he’s won the World Cup. What can any current English manager offer in response to that? Most of them haven’t even won the League Cup. The English candidates are all in jobs already, and none of those jobs really prove they could do the England job. I’m sure that if Sam Allardyce were put in charge of Man United he could do very well, but I think he would need that experience before moving on to England. If not Scolari, then I’d go for Martin O’Neill, provided he makes himself available.

But many in the FA want somebody English, probably because they want to curry favour with fans who usually, quite rightly, deride them. And there are plenty of fans who agree, going so far as to suggest former England heroes with no managerial experience whatsoever, such as Alan Shearer or Ian Wright. Please, though, not Steve ‘I’ve got the credentials’ McClaren.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Now there’s a seismic news story: Man Considers Leaving Job If He Achieves Highest Possible Accolade Within That Job. How dare he. What a bastard.

How much effort did the News of the World go to in order to extract the ‘admission’ from Sven-Goran Eriksson that he may leave England if he wins the World Cup? One suspects they were gunning for something rather bigger and had to puff up the laughable notion of him going to Aston Villa and using Middle Eastern cash to transform the club into something akin to the Villa side I’ve painstakingly assembled in Pro Evolution Soccer (Robinson, Riise, Evotargo, Ferdinand, Carvalho, Gerrard, Emre, Park Ji-Sung, Nakamura, Rooney and, er, Johan Cruyff).

I hope this bizarre obsession with Sven’s loyalty doesn’t extend beyond the Sunday press trying to shift a few extra copies,. I don’t remember this happening with any previous England manager, so why does it? It’s tempting to think it’s xenophobia and the press are trying to drive him out, but I think it’s yet another example of England’s twisted self-image. We assume that if any English manager was offered the chance to manage England, they’d sign the contract immediately just as soon as they had been able to wipe away the tears of sentimental pride for long enough to read the small print. In fact, they wouldn’t even bother reading the small print. No clause could bar a true Englishman from doing the job.

However, if a foreign manager wants to do the job, we don’t seem sure why. The very substantial salary Sven is on seems to be a sticking point, leading to the suspicion that that’s the only reason he’s doing it – but the whole point of the big salary is to make the England job competitive with top club management jobs. QED, he could be making as much or more money managing a club, so I think we can assume that he is genuinely interested in the job itself. But nobody quite seems to believe that Sven has anything much invested in England, an impression reinforced by his largely impassive demeanour during matches. But it’s the players who need the passion: the manager’s job is to pick the team, and you can hardly argue he’s putting no effort into that when he’s tried so many different combinations. In fact, shifting the team around is another thing he’s criticised for.

It’s always the way in football, though: in any other profession it’s acceptable – advisable, even – to make yourself aware of what other opportunities might be out there, but do this in football and accusations of disloyalty crash down on your head. Apparently it isn’t enough to merely do your job to a good standard. Anyway, whatever happens, please don’t give Steve McClaren the full-time job. He’s not all that as a manager, and he’s annoyingly smug too.