Charlton the only man for England job

A business approach reveals a shortlist of just one candidate qualified to replace Terry Venables, says management consultant Tom Cannon
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The Independent Online
Since Terry Venables announced his intention to resign, England's national sport has stopped being football and become choosing a coach or manager for the England team. Amid the welter of comment and criticism, it is worth asking if there are any principles or guidelines that the FA could follow in selecting a manager. How fair are the accusations that the FA hierarchy are "inept", "incompetent", "a shambles" or simply "unfit" to do the job of choosing the next coach or manager?

The basic principles of selecting a manager of any enterprise are fairly straight- forward. It is important to know, in advance, what the job involves; its objectives, the skills needed, the responsibilities and any other requirements. The FA, so far, have not performed badly against these criteria, despite the confusion created when a key employee announces he is leaving.

The FA have already identified the main professional requirements of the new manager. He will need experience of playing and managing in the top flight and must be willing to provide some continuity with the Venables regime. So far, so good, but the FA's real problems lie in satisfying other key aspects of good selection practice.

A successful candidate must be sure that he has the support of the people with whom he must work. The problem with the England job is that the FA is a disparate group of people with different interests, objectives and expectations. For some people the only thing that matters is England's playing success. Others want the England coach to be a media star while some want the coach to represent other aspects of the national game.

It is essential that the FA is clear about both the professional and personal attributes of the coach or manager before making a new appointment. The personal criteria pose special problems. At least three of the last five England managers or coaches were undermined as much by personal as professional issues.

The appointment of Venables seemed to be a victory for those who put coaching and media skills as their top priority. His chequered business career and legal entanglements were public knowledge. Anyone on the international committee party to his appointment but getting cold feet ought to have resigned.

The timing of highly publicised appointments poses special problems. The first priority is probably to damp down speculation by agreeing a clear timetable for decisions. There is pressure to make a decision before the European Championship finals in the summer. This might provide continuity but an unsuccessful campaign could undermine the new coach before he gets started.

The FA's task is made even harder by the limited number of English candidates who meet all the professional criteria. The older managers in the top flight have limited international experience. The younger front runners like Keegan, Bryan Robson or Wilkins are just starting on their managerial careers. They are intelligent enough to see that only one England manager - Bobby Robson - has successfully returned to club football and even that was abroad.

The best way to choose the coach will, almost certainly, mean concentrating on the immediate task in hand - preparing England for the 1998 World Cup. Getting the team to the finals is a vital staging post in the recovery of the English game from the nadir of the 1994 campaign. The effort to prepare the team for the 1998 finals should involve Robson, Keegan and Wilkins in supporting and developmental roles, not as ways to make or break their career.

Against this background and using the FA's stated criteria, there are only two real candidates - Venables himself and Jack Charlton. It is astonishing that Charlton's name has not come forward. He meets all the professional criteria. He was a key member of the victorious 1966 team (Robson, Keegan and Wilkins have, so far, only known failure in World Cup campaigns.)

More important is Charlton's success with Ireland. In two World Cup campaigns he used the limited resources available to Ireland brilliantly. He should perform even better with the resources available to England. His personality and lifestyle are important defences against the pressures of the job. He has immense credibility.

It is much easier to imagine the up and coming generation of managers and coaches working with him than any other serious contender. The only potential serious barriers are his age and his willingness to speak his mind. At 60, his age is hardly a serious impediment. The dignity and assurance he showed over the last few years should reassure even the most timid FA administrator.

In the early stages of the search for a new coach, the FA have not performed badly. But with recruitment and selection the real test is the final choice you make. The best man or woman for the job should be the person best qualified, and competent. The challenge to the FA is to keep this in mind and avoid other distractions.

Professor Tom Cannon is chief executive of the Management Charter Initiative, a business management consultancy.