Are England's caretakers taking care of business?

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Last week saw a unique moment in English sport when both the football and rugby teams played – and lost – under temporary management. Here, Steve Tongue and Hugh Godwin offer their progress reports on the nearly men

Stuart Pearce

Stuart Pearce was confirmed as a safe, if unexciting, pair of hands by the friendly against Holland in midweek, but the clamour is still for someone else. His media grillings yielded no faux pas, he was not fazed by the usual crop of withdrawals and injuries, he declined the easy option of naming Steven Gerrard as captain and the players responded well to him.

Does his personality suit the job?

The wilder one of his youth would certainly not have done and he has had to work at calming himself down; an incident with a German player at the Under-21 finals suggested old habits are hard to lose. But he has become far more studious, methodical and organised, without losing the ability to rouse players with patriotic team talks.

Where is his power base?

Football Association modernisers are keen to have him involved for the sake of continuity and for buying into their vision of the National Football Centre, improving coach development and putting country before club. But that does not mean the No 1 job. Having never courted the media – actively shunning them as a player – he has little support there, and even fans who loved his lionheart attitude now see a failed club manager, not a messiah.

What are his strengths?

He has the respect of players as someone who has been there and done it for club and country. More than half the current squad played under him for the Under-21s, qualifying for three tournaments – for which they were well prepared. Compared to the Fabio Capello era, he is a straightforward communicator for players, media and public with a strong patriotic message. Hard-working, keen to improve as a coach and aware of the need for long-term thinking, unlike foreigners such as Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson.

And his weaknesses?

Pearce is stuck with an up-and-at-'em image in an era of technocrats. Does he have the coaching nous and intelligence to compete? He is remembered instead for moving Manchester City goalkeeper David James to centre-forward for the last few minutes of a crucial game with European qualification at stake, and for running a City side that went eight home games without scoring. He can come across as abrasive and could make better use of a dry sense of humour.

What is his public persona?

His best-selling autobiography produced while he was still a player was called Psycho and had on its cover the image of his clenched-fist celebration after a converting a penalty against Spain at Euro 96. Inside he admits to youthful indiscretions, fuelled by drink, which earned three convictions: for joyriding, being drunk and disorderly and causing criminal damage (to a traffic light). It's an image he is now desperate to shake off, hence perhaps his over-seriousness. He was embarrassed too by revelations in 2008 that his older brother Dennis was a BNP activist, which he claimed not to be aware of, and by the regurgitation recently of how he racially abused Paul Ince 17 years ago.

How is he handling the big time?

Comfortably, on the back of experience gained in almost three years managing Nottingham Forest and City, and as Under-21 coach for the past five years. The level of interest is far greater but he has remained steady. Struck just the right note after the Holland game.

How does he like to relax?

He loves music, particularly the Stranglers whom he has seen some 40 times and who named a record label "Psycho Records" in his honour. He had never a read a book until his thirties but as part of his self-improvement he has taken in everything from Sherlock Holmes to Tolstoy as well as enjoying theatre trips. Married to Liz, eventually coming to share her interest in horses, and they have a daughter, Chelsea.

Most likely to say...

"It will be an honour and a privilege just to be involved in whatever way the federation wants me to be."

Best remembered for...

Penalties, especially in semi-finals: a missed one in the 1990 World Cup semi-final, then that ecstatic one against Spain, leading to a Pizza Hut advert with fellow sufferers Chris Waddle and Gareth Southgate. As caretaker manager at City he missed out on a Uefa Cup place when Robbie Fowler missed a penalty in the last minute of the last game. In 2007 his Under-21s lost an epic semi-final shoot-out 13-12 to hosts Holland, but then finally won one at the same stage in 2009 against Sweden.

Who are his main rivals?

In a thin field, Tottenham's Harry Redknapp remains the odds-on favourite, with few other credible candidates even after the FA opened up the process to non-Britons. Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger have both said in the past that the job should go to an Englishman but Roy Hodgson, with much more international experience than Redknapp (he managed Switzerland and Finland), is one of the few who would fit the bill.

So will he get the job?

No, on his own admission. But if there was any stumbling block with either Tottenham or Redknapp, Pearce could take the team to Euro 2012. He will stay with the Under-21s, almost certainly maintaining a valuable link by assisting with the senior side on match days. He will keep monitoring players at all levels, and start putting together his Team GB for London 2012.

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster will be interviewed for the permanent England head coach position in the next fortnight, and superficially he is stronger placed than in December when he was appointed as interim coach for the Six Nations' Championship. But it is a sign of how far the 2011 champions' stock fell under Martin Johnson if Lancaster's narrow wins away to Scotland and Italy (ranked 11th and 12th in the world) and a home defeat by Wales, who jumped above England into fifth, are seen as progress. In any case it could all be academic if the new chief executive, Ian Ritchie, and his RFU board already have someone else in mind and Lancaster's role was only ever a holding operation.

Does his personality suit the job?

A former teacher from Cumbria with a Scottish mum, he built his playing and coaching career fairly quietly in Leeds, carries an inch-thick Mid-Year Diary everywhere and gives off an earnest, studious air. Not the cunning, cussedness or brinkmanship you'd associate with a top Test coach.

Where is his power base?

Lancaster is a Twickenham man who has his existing job of RFU Head of Elite Player Development to go back to if necessary. Northerners in the union might be drawn to him, and the RFU's chief of coach development, Kevin Bowring, would be an obvious fan after mentoring Lancaster to the highest coaching qualification at Level Five. But Bowring, possibly significantly, is not on the five-man RFU/Premiership panel advising on candidates. Instead Ritchie is overseeing Richard Hill, the ex-England flanker, and Rob Andrew for the RFU, and Sir Ian McGeechan and Conor O'Shea from the clubs. Hill, a great of the game, played under the likes of McGeechan, Graham Henry and Sir Clive Woodward and his would be the surest view on whether Lancaster can cut it with England's top players.

What are his strengths?

With an overarching brief to start laying the ground for a home World Cup in 2015, Lancaster acted decisively in dropping the old guarders Nick Easter and Mike Tindall, and drink-driver Danny Care. And he headed off any rancour by talking to every player. Those who are in – including eight new caps in three matches – are speaking well of him, although mainly in off-field terms. He copied the British and Irish Lions by introducing eve-of-match jersey presentations by former internationals. He also contacted parents, teachers and others involved in players' upbringing, asking what selection for England meant to them. Their words were framed in a plaque and presented to each player.

And his weaknesses?

Tactics have been necessarily straightforward, with a much changed team. England worked Wales out, to a degree, but they lost. Only two tries in three games have highlighted endemic problems unlikely to be solved in the short term by Lancaster and his assistants Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. And Scotland, Italy and Wales are one thing. France, Ireland and the Sanzars are still to come this year.

What is his public persona?

Avuncular at 42. A ready smile makes him a pleasant, relaxed interviewee on TV. He has attracted support from the former England captain Lewis Moody and coach Brian Ashton. But he probably remains a mystery to most.

How is he handling the big time?

He appears to be enjoying it, though he bristled slightly at a reporter's accusation that he is a "classroom coach" by saying, "I've spent 90 per cent of my time hands-on coaching."

How does he like to relax?

Supporting his children in their rugby. Last Sunday, after the Wales defeat, he rose at 7am to drive from Surrey to Halifax and help dole out bacon butties at Old Brodleians where Daniel, 11, and Sophie, 10, were playing with West Park Leeds Juniors. And mugging up about leadership; his idol was the late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, whose books included The Score Takes Care of Itself. He has read Woodward's book Winning but has never met him other than once shaking his hand.

Most likely to say...

"We want players with pride in the shirt." "The score takes care of itself."

Best remembered for...

Lancaster's time as a flanker for Leeds, followed by coaching Leeds to promotion to and relegation from the Premiership, then winning the Churchill Cup with England's second team, the Saxons, are ones for rugby anoraks only. Nothing like the career of his friend Stuart Pearce, who gave a pre-match talk to the Saxons last year and attended the Wales game at Twickenham as Lancaster's guest.

Who are his main rivals?

The Union can afford anyone they like and Ritchie has admitted the RFU will consider candidates beyond those who have applied. Nick Mallett reportedly told business contacts in Cape Town last Thursday that he is awaiting an interview. Born in Hertfordshire and raised in Southern Africa, Mallett's coaching record makes Lancaster's look puny: 17 Test wins in a row with the Springboks in 1997-98, French league titles with Stade Français and Italy's first Six Nations win over France last year. Former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan is interested. Intriguingly, Gary Gold, a more recent Bok coach who is currently on a short-term deal at Newcastle, is thought to have applied. Gold has a good CV.

So will he get the job?

No, at the risk of second-guessing Twickenham's unpredictable politics. In the comparatively small world of rugby, expect some strident voices to continue advocating Woodward's return, though as a department director, not coach. Ritchie is playing a straight bat but, reading between the lines, some RFU power-brokers have had Mallett in mind from the off.

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