Bergara's plight symptomatic of insular England

'I told them then: too little on technique. It was all teamwork and tactics, good stuff. But nothing on skill... Nothing much has changed'
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Following the débâcle of Kevin Keegan - the big-name player promoted to national coach way above his unqualified station - the Football Association chief executive, Adam Crozier, promises that the FA will learn from "the mistakes of the past" and attempt a grown-up approach to its next appointment. This includes a nod to the legitimacy of coaching qualifications - shortly to become mandatory according to the FA technical director, Howard Wilkinson - and, possibly, hiring a foreign manager, a suggestion opposed vehemently by John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association.

Following the débâcle of Kevin Keegan - the big-name player promoted to national coach way above his unqualified station - the Football Association chief executive, Adam Crozier, promises that the FA will learn from "the mistakes of the past" and attempt a grown-up approach to its next appointment. This includes a nod to the legitimacy of coaching qualifications - shortly to become mandatory according to the FA technical director, Howard Wilkinson - and, possibly, hiring a foreign manager, a suggestion opposed vehemently by John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association.

Barnwell, while acknowledging a "lack of quality" among current English managers, and supporting mandatory coaching qualifications, described the suggestion yesterday as: "An insult to our profession." Yet if, as seems unlikely, the FA does go foreign, it will not be the first time a foreigner has worked in England's international set-up.

That record is held by the Uruguayan Danny Bergara, who coached England's youth team between 1980-1982. A man with a folder full of qualifications and distinguished playing career, Bergara has struggled for much of the five years since he was disgracefully sacked by Stockport County in 1995 and now fidgets underemployed at home. His 27-year experience tells a damning story about English football's approach to management - and foreigners - and the huge task Crozier faces if he is genuine about reforming the game.

Bergara played his football for Racing Club of Uruguay, then in Spain, for Real Mallorca - coached by Cesar Rodrigues, his first mentor - and Seville. He played Barcelona and the Real Madrid of Puskas, Di Stefano and Santamaria, players he evokes magically, passionately, from his Sheffield living room.

He took his preliminary coaching award in Spain, consolidating his belief in technique, skill, and the psychology of self-belief. He met his English wife, Janet, in Majorca, and they decided to settle in England. Vic Buckingham, the former Fulham manager then coaching Seville, warned him he would struggle:

"Vic told me: 'They're too insular. They'll never appoint a foreign manager.'" Now, his spirits battered, Bergara says grimly that English football is indeed prejudiced. Finding a job is about who you know, not managerial skill. Even then, it took an introduction from a cousin of Janet's to the Luton Town manager, Harry Haslam, to get his first job - as a youth coach in 1973. Bergara trained two generations of Luton youth, including the Stein brothers and Ricky Hill. He took coaching badges at Lilleshall.

"I told them then: too little on technique. It was all teamwork and tactics, good stuff. But nothing on skill. Everybody agreed, but still nothing much has changed." As is the way in football, when Haslam moved to Sheffield United in 1978, he took his staff, including Bergara, with him.

Bergara's work by then had been noticed by the FA. John Cartwright, the England Under-18 coach, asked Danny to be his assistant. Bursting with pride, three lions on his Admiral polyester tracksuit, he coached the team for two years, including the 1980 Under-20 World Cup in Australia, where England finished fourth. Wilkinson's predecessor, Charles Hughes, told Bergara that his methods were a revelation. The team doctor, Professor Frank O'Gorman, assured him: "The doors will open for you now." But they never really did.

After 1982, the FA never contacted him again. At Sheffield United, the chairman appointed a big name, Martin Peters. The Blades were relegated to the Fourth Division. Then Ian Porterfield arrived, bringing in his own staff, and Bergara was out.

He struggled until 1986, then went to be assistant to Bruce Rioch at Middlesbrough. Receivers were appointed and the Ayresome Park gates locked. He returned to Sheffield United, where, in 1988, Dave Bassett came in, and he was out again.

He finally had his break then, appointed manager of Rochdale, and was believed to be the first foreign club manager ever in Britain. He tells a laugh-out-loud story about mice in his Spotland office, but he did a good job. The following year Brendan Elwood, a Sheffield businessman who had seen Bergara coaching the historic amateurs, Sheffield FC, years before, took over Stockport County and offered him the job of manager.

"I served a 15-year apprenticeship," says Bergara, animated, passionate. "I knew my job, I had worked in every coaching position. This was my opportunity." Stockport had been Fourth Division strugglers for 27 of the previous 30 years, living so gloomily in the Manchester clubs' shadow that they played on Friday nights in the hope of drumming up a crowd.

Bergara brought them success, but more fundamentally, he made Stockport a self-respecting club. He wrought exceptional performances from ordinary players: Kevin Francis, Andy Preece and Alun Armstrong, heading a team-sheet of players who made millions for Stockport when they were sold on. Bergara worked on technique, passing on skills learned years before fromMallorca's Rodrigues:

"It was psychology too, making the players believe they were better than they were." Stockport won promotion in 1991, then went to Wembley four times, to the play-off andAutoglass Trophy finals in 1992 and 1993, only to lose each time. By 1995, he thought a change might be needed. But he never could have foreseen what was about to happen.

He was on close to £90,000 a year, with bonuses, and a percentage of the considerable profits on players. Still living in Sheffield, he had a £50 per week accommodation allowance. In March 1995 he and Elwood agreed to review the expenses allowance at the end of the season. A fortnight later, according to the subsequent industrial tribunal, Elwood falsely told his own Stockport board that Bergara had agreed to waive his expenses.

Bergara's claim for £64 for two weeks' expenses went unpaid, which infuriated him. The tribunal recorded unequivocally what happened next. After a sponsors' dinner at the Alma Lodge Hotel in Stockport:

"Mr Elwood swore at [Bergara] and sought to assault him by striking him with an over-arm action and told him not to bother to turn up for work the following day.

"[Bergara's] conduct was not that of the aggressor and he was backing away.

"David Jolley, the Financial Director, subsequently poked [Bergara] in the chest, issued him with a tirade of swearing and abuse, and [told him he would] 'tear up his contract and shove it up his arse.'" This judgment, though, supported resoundingly on appeal, took four long, expensive years to win. The tribunal found thatElwood had not only lied to his fellow directors about the expenses. Much more damagingly, Elwood told his fellow directors that Bergara hadassaulted him.

"That was clearly, on the findings of the Tribunal," said the appeal judgment, "an untruth." It is one which has arguably destroyed a career. Long before he cleared his name, the story went round football's insular world. Bergara has struggled to find work since.

"People heard that Danny got involved with his chairman," says Barnwell, "and they didn't want to touch him, even though he won his case." Bergara believes, reluctantly, that his foreignness, the clichéd stereotype about "Latin temperament", helped fuel the lie.

Dave Jones succeeded him - on, the tribunal noted, a third of Bergara's salary. That Elwood and Jolley are still in their jobs shows how laughable the notion is that companystatus, board meetings, or the FA, bring any accountability to football clubs.

Barnwell has produced figures on England's managerial merry-go-round, which is based largely not on qualifications or even ability, but on hire-and-fire and who-you-know, without a thought for grooming for the future. In the last six years, there have been 270 sackings. Of these, 35 were officially cited as resignations, 39 have returned to management, 61 are employed somewhere in the game. Therefore 135 have been chewed up and spat out. Bergara, the England set-up's first foreign coach, is buried in these statistics:

"He has devoted his life to the game," says Barnwell. "But the game hasn't looked after him very well." Bergara does some scouting now for Tottenham, some analysis for the Press Association. Otherwise, his skills are unemployed. At 58, he remains passionate, desperate to coach, believes the English game needs his skill and expertise, particularly his coaching of youth.

"There must be something wrong with the system," he says, rawly outraged, "if there is no place anywhere for me." His story should give Adam Crozier, freshly abandoned by an unqualified Big Name, a great deal to ponder about the realities of English football, on the threshold of this, its next new dawn.

davidconn@freeuk.com

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