If the reign of Fabio Capello has taught us anything, it surely must be that hiring an expensive foreign ‘master tactician’ is no silver bullet for success.
Not that Capello has proved himself the ‘Professor of Football’ that many proclaimed him to be. During the World Cup qualifying campaign he proved himself a sensible manager, ready and willing to make rational decisions and follow through with them. Players were picked on form and fitness, a system was picked and, when successful, stuck with.
Come the eve of the World Cup proper however, the ‘sensible’ Capello went out the window and in its place England were rewarded with a desperate manager whose judgement had left him. Odd calls to Scholes and Carragher sent a message to squad members that the Italian had no faith in them, and the Capello index farce seemed entirely out of character. In places his squad selection beggared belief.
Worse still, he showed displayed no tactical acumen once the competition actually started. Who can explain him needlessly playing Lampard and Gerrard out of position throughout the tournament, ANY of his substitutions or why Wright-Phillips was twice given run-outs ahead of Joe Cole? Can any England fan pinpoint a time when Capello managed to successfully change the shape or style of an England performance during any of the four matches, or when he even tried to? For me, the like-for-like substitution of Defoe for Heskey towards the end of the Germany match was Capello’s lack of imagination and bravery as a World Cup manager in microcosm.
And then there was the Terry scandal. For all those for whom Terry is evil personified, Capello made no mistake. But for everyone else, the Italian’s hanging of the former captain out to dry only intensified any potential splits in the squad and emphasised his dictatorial grip on the team. In the modern age, fewer and fewer coaches manage in Capello’s distanced fashion, and a more hands-on, inclusive approach is normally the way forward.
Players, of course, should take their share of the blame too. But the nub of my argument is this: that managers you think are geniuses are often fallible, and a foreign coach in glasses that comes with a hefty price tag doesn’t necessarily present a better option than others closer to home.
And this is where, for me, the FA have got it all wrong. They assume that the team is good, and therefore hiring the best manager will help it progress. I’m a big believer in the finest managers being able to work wonders (look at Hiddink and Mourinho for recent Chelsea examples of just this), but those managers are few and far between. But generally playing big money – around £6m a year - for an international manager where the requirements are different from club level is a poor investment when you look a the wider problems with English football.
Yes, it’s just my thinking and not based on research or experience, but the better option is surely this. Find a competent English manager who will do the simple things that are needed at international level (ie. play players in their positions and make them feel good about themselves) and not cost the earth – say £2m a year.
That’s £4m extra in the FA coffers. Imagine using that £4m to scour the country and the world for the finest youth coaches there are available, and paying them £40k a year to develop English youngsters up and through the ranks. That’s 100 new coaches funded through just one alternative hire.
Finding new ways to get the best coaches working with young players is the closest thing there is to a silver bullet, and actually it’s where England are most lacking. An article in the Guardian this morning suggested just how far England have fallen behind: while the country has produced a measly 2,769 coaches holding UEFA’s top coaching qualifications, Germany (after much soul searching after failures of the national team in 1998 and 2000) has produced over 12 times as many – 34,970. For the record, France has 17,588, Spain has 23,995 and Italy has 29,420.
In that context, 160 new coaches isn’t that many, but it would still represent a considerable uplift for England. A better idea though, would be to use the £4m to take existing coaches throughout the country and give them grants to get coaching certificates. Paying for each course up to the top UEFA qualification would cost around £5k (you wouldn’t need to go that far, but just for example) – so the money saved would buy you an absolute minimum of 800 top-trained coaches (and that’s if you were funding each course 100%). In this context, having to pay Capello £12m just to leave the post – because of another classic example of a monumental FA bungle - could be costing England as many as 2,400 newly-qualified coaches.
But I’m sure the FA have thought all this through. And dismissed it beacuse of footballing arguments. Or considerations relating to financial efficiency. Or because there's a better way to start catching up with our continental competitors. Of course they have. Probably…