With the recent departure of Fabio Capello, speculation over his replacement is understandably rife. Stuart Pearce has temporarily taken over as head coach to fill the void, with Harry Redknapp favourite to take the reigns in the near future. But the FA need to choose their new long-term replacement carefully and consider the effect it has on the squad leading up to the European Championships this summer.
It is part of the sport, more so now than in previous years, that football managers need to be adaptable, not just when moving from job to job, but in the approach to the squad at their disposal. International managers in particular face different situations every time they play, in regards to tactics and unavailable players. The modern day manager should have developed an uncanny ability to anticipate and deal with change in the dynamic world of football. Anyone coming into the England job certainly won’t be a new manager on the block, and will want to stamp their authority on the team from the outset. They will know that the squad, currently without a team captain, will need guidance and leadership, and this should be primarily directed at their participation in the European Championships.
It is perhaps a common misconception that the England manager needs to be introduced to ‘build for the future’ and ensure his and the players’ long term ability to contest major competitions. The manager’s primary concern should be the here and now, which at the moment is preparing for the fast-approaching tournament in Poland/Ukraine. With the nation’s fans waiting expectantly, as always, in anticipation of a genuine cup run to get behind in the summer, the pressure builds as any new manager will come under intense spotlight. It’s a harsh reality that the fans, and to some extent the FA, will bring the manager’s position and integrity into question after a run of just a few poor results. This is not something that is about to change overnight.
This is why I think that getting a manager in with the philosophy of setting up a long-term strategy is naïve. Anyone who comes into the role should be able to adjust the squad and their tactics over time, so the initial focus should be on choosing someone, preferably British, with good credentials and experience, along with the ability to gear the team up for Euro 2012. The national side only play in competitions every two years, with qualifiers, so there is time in between to re-focus and think strategy. Football managers are professionals who should understand the implications of becoming England manager and be able to cope with having to adapt and do their best even with a media circus following them around, taking each fixture as it comes.
When it comes to picking the best squad, I’m an advocate of picking the best players at the time. For major competitions, you can’t worry about drafting in youngsters to integrate them for the future, that’s not the way a selection process for an international side should work. Harry Redknapp appears to be good at getting his current set of players to click and work well together, as demostrated at Tottenham. You can argue that top managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been so successful because they have built their team from the base and heavily involved players developed by their youth systems.
However, the England set-up is entirely different. These players don’t play together every week and don’t get a chance to build up a squad relationship on the pitch for their country. Employing a manager who can motivate the players, and forge that team spirit in other ways, is a big step in going into the Euros with belief and confidence. Each tournament is different, with different squad members and new philosophies. If you can get the group of players united in the dressing-room and get them all behind the ‘mission’ of winning a trophy together each time they head into a new tournament, then you’ve achieved something incredibly valuable. This is something that any master tactician may struggle to achieve in 10 years in the job as England manager.
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