Keegan's successor should be an Englishman

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The Independent Football

I'm sure that Kevin Keegan would like to be in my shoes right now. The amazing thing I've found about international management is that, in spite of all the hassle, there's a great deal of satisfaction in having the privilege of dealing with the country's best players, especially on the training ground. At present I'm preparing to leave with my usual depleted squad for a training session in advance of Scotland's game in Zagreb. The experience is still fantastic, although I've been doing it with the Scottish team for 14 years now.

I'm sure that Kevin Keegan would like to be in my shoes right now. The amazing thing I've found about international management is that, in spite of all the hassle, there's a great deal of satisfaction in having the privilege of dealing with the country's best players, especially on the training ground. At present I'm preparing to leave with my usual depleted squad for a training session in advance of Scotland's game in Zagreb. The experience is still fantastic, although I've been doing it with the Scottish team for 14 years now.

It would be dishonest of me to say that I haven't given Kevin more than a passing thought these past few days. For a man who I consider a friend, and for one who so obviously wears his heart on his sleeve - like a Scotsman, in fact - it must have been extremely distressing for him to take such a momentous decision so promptly.

My assumption is that he probably had things in mind in the event of a defeat against Germany. What more could he have done to postpone the inevitable? How could the England manager minimise the risk of failure? It's the same for all of us - ask Mick McCarthy, Mark Hughes and Sammy McIlroy regarding the awesome accountability and I'm sure you'll get the same answer.

It's an experience which can be appreciated only after having been there. The media scrutiny is voracious, the world claustrophobic in the extreme. I'm sure that Kevin, for all his honours as a player and his experience in club management, would have been surprised at how daunting the task was. Keegan is a great motivator, an ebullient personality and a superb football manager. His record at Newcastle and Fulham was excellent, so why do so many people question his tactical awareness?

I hesitate to say so, or to sound smart after the event, but England's fixture schedule did not help. In conversation at the World Cup draw in Tokyo, I said to Kevin and the England delegation that the best start against a major opponent is away from home. The logic is simple: anything gained is a bonus, and if you lose, the situation can be redeemed by winning the return game.

One colleague who took the advice was McCarthy, and look at the brilliant start he has made away from home in the Netherlands and Portugal. It's no coincidence that Scotland have played away against Norway, Finland, Austria, Lithuania and Latvia in our recent first qualifying matches and have not lost. Indeed, this time we started with no fewer than three games on foreign soil.

From outside, the England job looks like mine - a wonderful, impossible task. Impossible because of the increasing conflict between club and country and the influx of foreign players. For our game last night in Zagreb I was short of seven selected players - Lambert, Ferguson, Dailly, Dodds, Matteo, McCann and McNamara - five of whom could be considered first-choice. With no transfer market in international football it is a thankless task, but one which, because I suppose I'm a permanent adolescent about football, I thoroughly enjoy. Yes, it's a paradox: the more problems, the greater the challenge.

I think people were on Kevin's case almost before his first game. His honeymoon was over quickly, why I don't know. The people's choice was soon vilified. Again, I ask why? Lest I'm accused of naïvety, I know that we are judged by results - but this should be related to the resources available and to the quality of the opposition. Too often we in Britain have a disparaging attitude towards the opposition, thinking that countries like Romania, Sweden, Poland and Portugal, recent opponents of England, should be in the walkover category.

Of course, too, the former Russian states now countries in their own right (nine plus Russia in Uefa and five in Asia) continue to grow in stature. Consider the point that England were effectively twice within a two-goal cushion of qualifying in Euro 2000. With the margin for error being so slight, job security is hardly a reason for taking aninternational manager's job.

Howard Wilkinson is in charge now. The only Englishman to win the Premiership is a fine and obvious choice. Wisely, in spite of all his experience and knowledge, he has quickly surrounded himself by bringing in former internationals, Brian Kidd and Stuart Pearce, of high calibre with coaching experience. This is typically good thinking, and I wish him well.

I think the England job is one for an Englishman. Look at the countries who have most recently enjoyed success, then look at the identity of each coach - 1992 European Championship, Denmark, with Richard Moller Neilsen; 1994 World Cup, Brazil, with Carlos Alberto Parreira; 1996 European Championship, Germany, with Bertie Vogts; 1998 World Cup, France, with Aimé Jaquet and Euro 2000, France, with Roger Lemerre - each coach a native of the winning country.

It is very flattering to hear people say that I'd do the job well - maybe they are Scots fans who wish a change. But I am a proud, patriotic Scot, who has a perfect job. Why should I settle for less and accept a drop in salary to around £60,000 a week? Bobby Robson - sorry, Geordie fans - with a younger manager like Alan Curbishley, Peter Taylor or Bryan Robson groomed at his side, would be my advice to the FA. But who am I to be presumptuous and to make such a suggestion?

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