England's most wanted man: 'What we are looking for is a leader capable of slamming the dressing room door in the faces of his critics': Eamon Dunphy calls for a manager who truly understands the character of his country

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FEW will lament Graham Taylor's passing. On the contrary, as an opinion poll conducted last year showed, this England manager was one of the least popular public figures in the country. Purporting to be a leader, Taylor was too eager to please, irritatingly desperate to explain himself with an eye, always, on self-justification. Yet, sadly, he was not the master of post-rationalisation designed to deflect the buck which was inevitably heading in his direction.

Long before Taylor departed, he had illustrated Harry Truman's maxim that you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Taylor made many mistakes which are well documented, one of the most grievous of which was to believe that support for his regime could be generated by pandering to the unreasonable, and frequently inane, inquisitions of the broadcasters and print journalists who chronicled the twists and turns of the nation's longest running soap opera, the English Game.

Taylor sought to explain, and appease, a media culture which consists of a few informed observers, a large number of those purveying received wisdom, the plausible theorists, and the lads from the tabloids for an influential minority of whom baiting the England manager is blood sport of the most gratifying kind.

In this process, Taylor's credibility was eroded even when, in the early days, the results were going his way. He began to look like a weak man willing to 'take things on board', a man prepared to listen and indeed act on advice about who should be in the team and how that team should play. What was evident almost from the beginning was that Taylor himself possessed no strong convictions about how to manage the national team. Sensing this debilitating condition, the mob became more insistent in their advocacy of this player, that style; the agenda was forever open and as a result Taylor's three-year reign will be remembered as a period of incessant debate relieved by the occasional game of football, the play reflecting the confusion of the dialogue.

Taylor allowed himself to be consumed by this nonsense; worse, he exposed his players to the demoralising whimsy blended with undiluted malice which masquerades as the conventional wisdom of football commentary. His dressing room door was always open, the seeds of doubt gusted in, disabling the coach and players, who were paralysed most obviously at the European Championships in Sweden and in the decisive World Cup qualifying test in Oslo.

It is tempting to conclude, as many have, that Graham Taylor was symptom rather than cause, that with the English game in decline, as it undoubtedly is, failure of the national side in international competition is inevitable. According to this analysis the solution lies in root and branch reform of the system, a purge of Lancaster Gate and a commitment to style, 'the passing game', rather than substance, the real game, which is, one should underline, about judicious deployment of the players at your disposal.

Those who are persuaded by the arguments above or some plausible variation of them are invited to recall the last World Cup final, a dreadfully banal indictment of the contemporary international game contested between two mediocre teams, Argentina and the current holders of the trophy, Germany. Only a fool would deny that a well- managed England team would have been capable of beating either of the protagonists of that memorably poor World Cup final. The England team which Bobby Robson led to the semi-final that year was competent rather than inspired. Robson was a wiser football man than Taylor but was, similarly, besieged by those anxious to tell him how to do his job. Listening, Robson aged visibly. The corrosive effect on the morale of his players can only be estimated. I think it reasonable to presume that England might have won the 1990 World Cup if Robson had been a tougher character.

Character, the manager's character, determines the degree to which any team from Sunday League to World Cup finals fulfils innate potential. Reasonable men who wish to be popular should not apply for this position. The great international team managers, like their equivalents in park football, do not come in identikit form. All, however, share one distinguishing characteristic: self-possession.

When they sit down to select Graham Taylor's successor, the FA's International Committee would be wise to reflect not on the type of football favoured by the candidates rather on their men's disposition. Football history offers some interesting examples of the kind of man best suited to the brutal business of managing a nation's dreams. Officer material is not enough - Taylor and Robson were officers and gentlemen - what we are looking for is a leader capable of slamming the dressing room door in the faces of his critics or simply retreating behind the barrier of charm to create the cocoon of certainty footballers require to do justice to their national shirt.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes: the charming, intense German Helmut Schoen; the calm, sardonic Dutchman Rinus Michels; Guy Thys, the inscrutable Belgian pragmatist; the hard, sophisticated Italian Enzo Bearzot, who magically transformed chaos into coherence to win the World Cup of 1982. Europe's great footballing generals understood the nature of the job and, equally important, the characteristics of their nation from which there was no escape, from which, on the contrary, the governing imperative was to forge an identity that was distinct. Helmut Schoen's Germany was Germanic, as Bearzot's Italy was that country's essential spirit in blue shirts. Guy Thys's Belgium was, like Rinus Michels's Holland, as true to place as the leader himself.

With all the talk of decline, and all the neurosis about style, English football has an identity crisis of clinical proportions. The atmosphere is poisoned with shame and recrimination, the most insistent voices propounding theories about decline and reform, the former exaggerated, the latter impossible, and neither having any real bearing on the task in hand which is to manage wisely, ideally with inspiration, the resources available.

Decline is a debatable concept. So is reform. The England manager has no time for such largely idle musing, nor should he attempt to influence the debate. Those who assert that the next England manager should conform to one or other of some spurious school of thought are barking up the wrong tree. He should be first an Englishman and proud of it. When people tell him what's wrong with the English game the Leader should talk about its virtues, the most palpable of them being relish for battle, that deep well of resilience from which the English have always drawn in moments of crisis.

A national resource, a distinct identity, is the way out of the morass of defeatism in which the soul of the English game (and maybe England) at present resides. To that list of great international managers above you can add the name of Sir Alf Ramsey. This Englishman has been vindicated by history, and someone of his uncomfortable ilk is urgently required, someone who knows the game, their own mind and the quintessential character of his country.

Does such a man exist? Is there any evidence to support a positive analysis of the England game? The answer to the first of those questions is maybe, to the second a resounding yes. When, in 1974, Jack Charlton applied for the England job, the FA didn't bother to reply. A large, cantankerous man who falls some way short of greatness in this observer's view, Jack is too fond of systems, less willing than he ought to be to free his players but, that significant reservation not withstanding, Ireland's Geordie national hero possesses the steely conviction to lead.

Evidence of the enduring virtues of the English game exists in the form of Charlton's Irish team. The manager's greatest achievement has been to close the dressing room door, dispell the atmosphere of doubt, and thus define his team's identity which is, as it must be, a reflection of the players' talents and Charlton's own uncompromising character.

When they leave the dressing room Charlton's team carry with them another useful item reminiscent of Ramsey's era: a healthy scepticism about foreigners' capacity to stomach conflict at its most intense. 'Fairies begin at Dover' should not serve as a motto but the idea should never be entirely absent from an English dressing room.

From the candidates touted to succeed Graham Taylor few if any match the criteria that must necessarily be applied. In passing one should say that Graham Kelly's notion of a 'two-tier' management team, eminence grise acting as a mentor to a Ray Wilkins or Glenn Hoddle, is a misguided attempt to have the best of all possible worlds. Successful teams are the product of one man's conviction rather than a kind of compromise inevitable where two minds and differing spirits are at play.

Masters Wilkins and Hoddle can be dismissed on the grounds of inexperience. Kevin Keegan looks attractive until you consider the principal argument in his favour 'that he likes the game played the right way'. A desire to play the game 'the right way' is part of England's problem. A return to Bobby Robson would be an uninspiring step backwards. Steve Coppell can be discounted if for no other reason than this week's exoneration of Graham Taylor on the grounds of 'injuries to key players', identified by the former Crystal Palace manager (another minus) as Gary Stevens and Lee Dixon.

Howard Wilkinson has experience, intelligence, a degree of pragmatism and the residual conviction this job demands. He is suitably English and arguably large enough to damn the doubters and reassure his team. The other interesting candidate is Gerry Francis, a man from the Wilkins/Keegan/Hoddle generation who has proved to be principled and resourceful and sensibly indifferent to the media. Terry Venables without the baggage and glib patter, Francis might turn out to be an inspired choice, an Englishman young enough to dream yet old enough to know that management of resources is, as he has successfully proved, what it's all about.

(Photographs omitted)