A winning coach from overseas is no foreign concept

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As far as foreign football coaches go, Ernst Happel must surely be able to claim the high ground. In 1978 he took a Netherlands side deprived of their talisman, Johan Cruyff, to second place in the World Cup. But in international football that is as good as it gets. Only four of the undisputed major powers of football have never had a foreign national coach: Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina. They are also the four most successful World Cup nations, winners five times, four times, three times and twice respectively.

But the notion that alien coaches are a foreign concept pun intended in the international game is wide of the mark. France were coached by an Englishman, Fred Pentland, in 1920, and had a Romanian, Stefan Kovacs, in charge between 1973-75. Spain have had three foreigners: the Franco-Argentine Helenio Herrara, the Hungarian Ladislav Kubala (1969-80) and Jose Emilio Santamaria, who played for Uruguay before Spain then coached them in the 1982 World Cup.

The most open-minded country towards imports for the top job is the Netherlands, where 20 foreigners have been the coach, and 12 Englishmen among them between 1908 and the 1960s, including Edgar Chadwick, Fred Warburton, Jesse Carver and George Hardwick. The Dutch have also had Austrians (Max Merkel, Ernst Happel), a Romanian (Elek Schwartz), a Czech (Frantisek Fadrhonc) and a German (George Kessler) at the helm. Happel was their most recent foreign coach.

Naturally enough, many nations hire foreign coaches while emerging see much of Asia and Africa for recent examples. The United States has hired from overseas more often than not, and Australia too, including their newest recruit, Dutchman Pim Verbeek. Terry Venables was only one of their foreign contingent, taking them to the brink of qualification for the 1998 World Cup, losing out to two late goals from Iran in the second leg of their play-off.

Turkey have had 16 foreign coaches, including four Englishmen. And even among the leading 25 nations in Fifa's current rankings, seven of them, not including England, have foreign coaches: Portugal's Brazilian, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Greece's Euro 2004-winning German, Otto Rehhagel, Nigeria's (and formerly Scotland's) German, Berti Vogts, Paraguay's Argentine, Gerardo Martino, Russia's Dutchman, Guus Hiddink, Poland's Dutchman, Leo Beenhakker and Cameroon's German, Otto Pfister.

English sport across the board has been hiring overseas for its top jobs for years, and not just in international football. In cricket, the Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher led England to Ashes glory in 2005 (and Ashes humiliation either side of last Christmas), while the Australian Tony Smith has been entrusted with the fortunes of the Great Britain rugby league side (another Aussie, David Waite, was in charge from 2001 to 2003).

In tennis, the Frenchman Patrice Hagelauer came and went as technical director ages ago, while currently Brad Gilbert is only the most high-profile of a gang of foreign coaches at the Lawn Tennis Association. In swimming the now-departed Aussie Bill Sweetenham rescued a bit of British pride, leading his charges to two medals in Athens and 15 more at two world championships only three fewer than Britain's overall total in the eight world championships before that. And where would Britain's Olympic gold medal tally since 1992 have been without our very own German, Jrgen Grbler?

In fact, of the principal national sports, rugby union stands almost alone in having an entire history of English coaches. Most nations shop around. Heck, even Australia has a Kiwi, Robbie Deans, who has just become the first non-Aussie Wallabies rugby coach, joining his compatriots Graham Henry, formerly of Wales and the Lions, and Warren Gatland (ex-Ireland) as successful exports. There was, of course, a heated debate about the Deans issue in Australia. Sound familiar?