The late Ron Greenwood was a man as far ahead of his time as his West Ham midfielder Martin Peters, and when belat-edly appointed national team manager in 1978, he demanded the sort of system the Football Association are still trying to implement almost 30 years later in putting Stuart Pearce in charge of England's Under-21s; a matter that was still being debated with his club yesterday.
Greenwood insisted on employing half a dozen of the country's best young managers and coaches to work with England sides at various age groups, telling the Football Association's International Committee: "It will give us something we've never had before, continuity. You'll be able to assess them properly, their character as well as their ability, and it will mean you won't have to make any more one-off, on-the-spot choices, as you did with Don Revie and then with me."
Two of those chosen, Bobby Robson (the B team manager) and Terry Venables (Under-21), were eventually appointed to the top job; others, such as Don Howe, Dave Sexton and Howard Wilkinson, stayed involved. At other times, however, the structure has been much more muddled and continuity non-existent, with Graham Taylor, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan all bringing in their own people, who then disappeared when the manager did.
The closest anyone subsequently came to putting in place a team for the long term was after Keegan left England in the lurch in October 2000. Wilkinson was still around as technical director, and used Pearce (for one game) and Brian Kidd as coaches before Steve McClaren and Peter Taylor were brought in. Taylor succeeded the unsuccessful David Platt as the Under-21 manager, but now that he has reluctantly stepped down there is another opportunity for closer examination of a leading manager's credentials among testing foreign fields.
As far as that manager's club are concerned, a little give and take will be required; and Premiership clubs, as we know, are better at the latter than the former. It would be a disservice, however, to Pearce, almost too fierce a patriot, to prevent him taking the job on a part-time basis. As he has pointed out, there is even a potential benefit to Manchester City in having him working with the best young English players and studying at first hand the best Continental ones while other Premiership managers have a holiday during international weeks because their training ground is virtually deserted.
Taylor did a fine job, most recently in leading England to the European Under-21 Championship finals in Holland this summer - and received surprisingly little support from inside or outside the FA when a successor to Sven Goran Eriksson was being sought. His disadvantage with the Under-21s was working at a Champion- ship club, thereby seeing less of the England squad players and having more League matches to worry about.
He said in these pages three months ago: "My mum was Dutch and I'd be very proud to take England to the tournament. Nobody would want to give that up. Hopefully, they'll make a quick decision, one way or the other. It would be important for the new man to have as much time as possible with the players."
Quick decisions not being the FA's forte at any level, the timing of his resignation, less than a fortnight before the next match against Spain, makes it look as though he - or his volatile Crystal Palace chairman, Simon Jordan - grew tired of waiting. There has even been disagreement in Soho Square over whether the appointment should be part-time or full-time; in those circumstances the FA may not have wanted to lose Taylor until a successor was in place, but whether they needed three months to find one is a moot point.
One other warning: Taylor leaves the job feeling some concern over the number of young English players not getting a regular game in the Premiership at a time when 66 per cent of Professional Footballers' Association members are from abroad. Players of promise such as Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone and Matt Dawson, and Middlesbrough's Lee Cattermole, are beginning to establish themselves at clubs putting a higher premium on English talent, but Theo Walcott comes into the category of those not playing as often as they should, and - judging by his recent performances for Arsenal - suffering accordingly.Reuse content