Excessive burden of expectation
Ken Jones argues that the national coach has an almost impossible job
Thursday 02 May 1996
It means attempting to restore a reputation that exists only in the minds of blinkered patriots; 30 years since England won the World Cup, nothing either side of that achievement. And never mind the technical flaws, the British cultural divisions evident in great club teams, who has been held to blame? The managers.
Constrained by autocratic selectors who were not above applying quite ludicrous regional bias, England's first manager, Walter Winterbottom resigned in 1962, unable to get beyond the quarter-final stage in four World Cups. Alf Ramsey, the feted hero of 1966, was fired six months after failing to qualify for the 1974 finals in West Germany.
Less than a year into his term of office, Don Revie, who had built Leeds into one of Europe's most feared teams, was conceding privately that he had taken on an impossible task. "I got carried away, simply didn't pay enough attention to the fact of how many important players in the First Division wouldn't be available to me as manager of the England team," Revie admitted. "I'm scraping the barrel and it will be a miracle if we qualify [for the 1978 finals]."
Soon after it became obvious that England would not get through, suspecting that it was only a matter of time before he was sacked, Revie took off scandalously for the Middle East without bothering to inform his employers.
Ron Greenwood restored respectability to a role he should have been considered for earlier, and got England to the last eight in the 1982 finals before handing over to Bobby Robson.
It was during Robson's tenure that the task of managing England became one nobody should consider without first demanding a heat shield. Forced to withstand probes into his personal life and a mounting flood of criticism, Robson had aged perceptibly by the time Argentina put England out of the 1986 finals in Mexico. He hung on, and despite tactical blunders in the early rounds, he came within a penalty shoot-out of the final in Italy four years later.
Of all the appointments in sport, few carry such an overwhelming sense of national responsibility as being manager of England and it proved too much for Robson's successor, Graham Taylor. In attempting to refine the direct method he favoured as a club manager, Taylor got lost, his teams neither one thing or another, the subsequent vilification brutal.
Particularly as he was a member of Robson's squad, Hoddle is acquainted with the weight of expectation borne by managers of the national team. To my mind anybody who even considers the job is a suitable case for treatment but in fact this may be the right time in Hoddle's career to succeed Terry Venables.
History emphasises that football clubs are notoriously fickle. There are no guarantees. A hero one season, a victim the next. Plenty of praise has come Hoddle's way for the Ruud Gullit-inspired football Chelsea have played this season but it only got them as far as the FA Cup semi-finals and a mid-table place in the Premiership. There is the matter of dissent in the boardroom, too. How deeply does Ken Bates resent the fact that Hoddle appeared to side with his rival, Matthew Harding?
Thinking practically, it would be unlikely to affect Hoddle's career a great deal if things did not work out for him with England, less I think than if they went wrong for him at Chelsea.
If, as seems probable, Hoddle takes over the national team, one of the things for him to guard against will be the usual glut of mindless presumptions. "Tel wants England to play like Brazil," bellowed one of our popular prints when Venables, who remains unquestionably the best man for the job, was appointed.
Another is the suggestion that it would be an advantage to have Gullit at his side. A great player, an intelligent man, a wise head, but too big a personality.
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