Relying on Israel for a favour was one thing, expecting Andorra to help out quite another. Guus Hiddink's Russia may have slipped up in those extraordinary last few minutes in Tel Aviv last Saturday but they were hardly going to do so again in the tiny Andorran national stadium four days later. So England, in the end, had only themselves to blame for failing to make the European Championship finals, and one of the few welcome developments subsequently has been that some of those responsible – players, coaches and administrators – were prepared to accept their share of that blame.
Best of all, as a new generation of supporters are introduced to the soul-searching that follows failure to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 14 years, is the attention that will now be given to the longer-term development of English players.
Brian Barwick, the Football Association's chief executive, may be tied up with the short-term business of finding someone who actually wants to be England's next manager, at the same time as conducting a "root-and-branch inquiry into the England senior team set-up" (whatever that means). But he and other members of the FA board do seem prepared at last to make use of the real football knowledge at Soho Square in the form of Sir Trevor Brooking, the director of development, who cannot only advise on suitable candidates – indeed, is much better qualified to do so than Barwick – but will also continue to look beyond the immediate future. When the vastly experienced Jimmy Armfield was asked by the FA to act as a head-hunter in 1993, and again three years later, he identified Terry Venables, then Glenn Hoddle, two of the more successful England managers in recent years.
In contrast, if a camel is a horse designed by a committee, Steve McClaren will go down as the classic example of a manager appointed by one. Many would like to see Brooking in the Armfield role this time, but according to one source he has in the past been "marginalised and ridiculed". The same source, at Wembley for England's friendly against Germany, found himself sitting in front of a brains trust of German football, including former managers Franz Beckenbauer, Rudi Völler and Jürgen Klinsmann. The FA board members assembled before the media to announce the way forward after McClaren's dismissal last Thursday were just a little less impressive in comparision.
That said, there did for once appear to be an air of genuine contrition about them. The ubiquitous Sir David Richards, desperate 18 months ago to have an Englishman appointed as head coach, said: "I can't sit here and hold my head up high. I accept I've failed, in England's failure." Barwick said: "We've got to look in the mirror to a certain degree," and stressed, encouragingly, Brooking's role: "We'll be listening very carefully to Trevor's view on how we have to increasingly engage youngsters in improving technical skills. We can probably produce the industrious footballer, the play-the-heart-out footballer but just occasionally the technical skills aren't there." Occasionally? Brooking wrote more than 25 years ago: "There is no short answer to the problem of lack of skill in English football."
Tasked with finding one in an interview with The Independent on Sunday last April, he identified an overemphasis on competitive football and results, and a lack of good coaches in the younger age-groups, leading to what he called "damaged goods" by the mid-teens, adding: "I speak to coaches like Arsène Wenger and Rafa Benitez, and our 13-year-olds technically are not of comparable standard to other parts of the world."
They never were, and the results could be seen by a crowd of almost 90,000 and a television audience in excess of 14 million when Croatia played England in midweek. As Croatia's manager, Slaven Bilic, put it in a message that could usefully be hung over the entrance hall of Soho Square: "Guys, wake up."
With all the emphasis on McClaren's future that night, there was less analysis than usual about the game, depressing as it would have been. At least the manager and players seemed prepared to take a look in the mirror as well, checking something other than their hairstyles. "It's collective responsibility, not just Steve McClaren," said John Terry, one of the absent central defenders. It would be nice to think that Rio Ferdinand was also looking at himself after two yellow cards that left Joleon Lescott and Sol Campbell in the firing line at Wembley, where McClaren said: "It is poor to concede three goals, I would not have believed that. Everybody in that dressing-room would say we all feel we've let the whole nation down."
The departing head coach was also honest enough to admit: "You have a 12-game campaign and end up where you deserve to be. So we haven't been good enough." Other managers would have made more of a shocking run of injuries, and apart from stomping out after a 30-second press conference following the game away to Andorra, he conducted himself with dignity, although, at Wembley, with that umbrella, he left himself exposed not to the heavens but to the epitaph "wally with the brolly".
Like Graham "Turnip" Taylor, McClaren will have to live down that jibe when he returns to football, which he intends doing sooner rather than later. "If you look at history and successful people, sometime they've failed," he said. "This is the first time I've been sacked. You can wallow in pity and lie on a beach but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to look forward to the next challenge. I've had disappointments before and failures, this is huge, but I'll recover and bounce back." Disappointingly, he would not offer any views on the wider issues facing English football, or any advice to whoever follows him.
It would be nice to think that the successor benefits from lowered expectations, which would chime in with having fallen to 12th in the world rankings, below Greece, and probably suffering in today's World Cup draw as a result. Great expectations lead to great disappointment, with the sole exception of one tournament more than 40 years ago.
Unfortunately, in terms of a successor, it appears to be the case that every English failure, and the consequent derision aimed at the manager, makes the position less attractive. Hence the problem, more than ever, of availablity. Wenger and Jose Mourinho used to be asked most weeks after an England defeat whether they fancied the challenge, and never showed any interest. Wenger believes England should be managed by an Englishman; were Mourinho keen, he would not have taken his children out of a London school halfway through this term when there was every chance of a vacancy occurring. Hiddink has a contract lucrative enough to make Sven Goran Eriksson envious and, like Luiz Felipe Scolari, has a date in Switzerland and Austria next summer.
If Martin O'Neill really is determined to stay with Aston Villa, as opposed to playing hard to get, then candidates actually interested in the job come down realistically to the Italians Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi, Germany's Califonian Klinsmann and, on the home front, looking a tad unsophisticated in such company, Poplar's Harry Redknapp. Not for the first time, the football world, used to English arrogance, looks on with schadenfreude and the Germans, since they invented the word, do it best. "The problem for England is too many foreigners," runs the verdict in the bierkeller. "They're called opponents."
Fab four make the running
Who wants the England manager's job now that Steve McClaren has gone? Apparently the genuine contenders come down to the following quartet, but don't put your mortgage on any of them...
Fabio Capello (bookmakers' odds: 2-1 favourite)
Formidable with Milan, Roma, Real Madrid and Juventus, winning nine domestic league titles and one European Cup, albeit making the teams latterly successful rather than exciting. The 61-year-old with the suspiciously black hair is untried at international level and has poor English. "A very exciting challenge," he said of the job – in Italian.
Jürgen Klinsmann (16-1)
Was the former Spurs striker much more than a figurehead in revitalising Germany at the World Cup while assistant and successor Joachim Löw did the work? A German TV documentary suggested as much. Prepared to quit California for return to London but would want a whole team of helpers and complete control.
Marcello Lippi (33-1)
"One impressive man," says his friend Sir Alex Ferguson. Similar to Capello in terms of club experience but with the added advantage of having coached Italy to a World Cup win. Looks overpriced in the betting as so many contenders pull out.
Harry Redknapp (8-1)
A proud Englishman with a good club record at West Ham and Portsmouth. Manages to come up with an endless stream of good foreign players, plus the odd duffer, but has had only one season of European football. Reputation at FA may have been unfairly tarnished by association with Panorama programme.
Today's world cup draw
England will not be among the top seeds for today's 2010 World Cup qualifying draw in Durban because of their failure to reach Euro 2008.
The defeat against Croatia has seen them drop to 12th in the world rankings – leap-frogged by Greece. This means they are not in the top nine European countries, they are in the group of second seeds and could face a top team such as Italy, France or Germany in a potentially hazardous qualifying group.
Scotland have dropped one place to 14th, meaning they will also be among the group of second seeds. Northern Ireland are up four places to 32nd, while the Republic of Ireland drop three places to 35th which means both will be in the third pot of seeds. Wales stay in 58th place, placing them in the fourth set of seeds alongside the likes of Hungary, Belarus and Cyprus.
The European countries face a different qualifying format than for previous World Cups, with 53 teams split into nine groups, eight of six teams and one of five.
The nine seeded teams will be Italy, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Portugal, Holland, Croatia and Greece.
The nine group winners will automatically qualify with the best eight runners-up playing off for the last four tickets to South Africa.
Raw lions for 2010
1 Ben Foster
The Manchester United goalkeeper has been hampered by injuries so far but has all the qualities to make it.
2 Micah Richards
Centre-half for Manchester City but can be an England regular at right-back. Should recover from recent setbacks caused by lack of experience.
6 Steven Taylor
Newcastle centre-back can be the new John Terry if he trains on, moving ahead of the injury-prone Ledley King.
5 Rio Ferdinand
Manchester United defender might just be a mature 29-year-old, captaincy material for club and country.
3 Leighton Baines
Moved from Wigan to a bigger club in Everton to further international ambitions and is unlucky to be no more than fourth choice at present for England, behind even Nicky Shorey. Deserves promotion.
7 Gabriel Agbonlahor
The Aston Villa flyer has the pace and goalscoring ability and he is able to play wide or through the middle.
4 Mark Noble
The tigerish West Ham midfielder is an enthusiast who will win the ball and become more assured at using it.
8 Joe Cole
Younger than both Steven Gerrard and his Chelsea team-mate Frank Lampard, Cole can emerge as a proper midfield playmaker.
11 Ashley Young
Agbonlahor's fellow Villa wide boy must stay in the squad from now on to build on a promising debut in Austria.
10 Theo Walcott
Intelligent lad who will develop under Arsène Wenger at the Emirates Stadium and win over the doubters.
9 Wayne Rooney
The Manchester United striker will be 24 with 50-plus caps, approaching his prime. We hope.Reuse content