James Lawton: Dead hand of coaching culture pushes Tottenham towards Trapattoni

Click to follow
The Independent Football

So far there has been no great eruption from the League Managers' Association over Tottenham's plan to hire the venerable Italian football man Giovanni Trapattoni. But we shouldn't wear ourselves out wondering why. Where do Spurs go? The Job Centre? The truth is that despite the coaching revolution that has swept English football almost as ferociously as Bolshevism once blazed across the Steppes, the old country is not exactly knee-deep in candidates to replace Glenn Hoddle.

Take away Alan Curbishley, and maybe David Moyes, and disregard the significance of the Uefa Pro Licence Diploma for a while, and what do we see? It is a football land without young contenders of distinction.

Harsh comparisons are triggered by the memory of the hiring choices faced by Spurs 30-odd years ago when the great Bill Nicholson decided it was time to smell the roses. He thought he had the knowledge and the instinct to nominate his own successor, but - some things don't change - the directors decided they knew better. Terry Neill, a fine player and a colourful character but a manager who was in fact perilously close to the chop at Hull City, was appointed.

Nicholson, perhaps influenced by the success of the Joe Mercer-Malcolm Allison and Brian Clough-Peter Taylor partnerships at Manchester City and Derby County respectively, had decided on his own dream team: Danny Blanchflower and Johnny Giles. They didn't have a coaching certificate between them but Nicholson reckoned that Blanchflower, a demi-god at White Hart Lane, would bring brilliant insights and lively public relations, while Giles, after a decade of field generalship helping to shape Leeds United under Don Revie, was superbly qualified to run the team. Later, Giles was rather underwhelmed when he was told that one of Blanchflower's proposals would have been for the ball to be hoisted from the kick-off into the other team's half and for the entire Spurs side, minus the goalkeeper, to charge across the halfway line.

However, Giles had been intrigued by the idea of taking over one of the country's leading teams. Soon afterwards he had success at West Bromwich Albion, where he won promotion at the first attempt and guided them into the First Division élite until wearying of boardroom vanities and ignorance and taking himself off first to Dublin, then Vancouver.

Nicholson had certainly been vindicated in his instinct that Giles, despite his refusal to be told about the game by the schoolteacher-dominated FA coaching hierarchy, could be entrusted with a top team.

The point is that this was a time before the coaching culture exerted its dead hand - before the age of the long ball killed off a whole generation of potentially creative English players. Now the LMA rages against the appointment of Trevor Brooking to a key post at the FA because of his lack of certificates - and as they do so they apparently fail to make the connection between the growth of official credentials and the dwindling of great home-grown football men.

Consider, for a moment, other options that might have been chosen by Nicholson. He could have gathered up his courage and taken a gamble on Allison, who for four years between 1967 and 1970 led City to the title, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in a storm of power and invention. The basis of Allison's success was a trio of superb English players, Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee.

Nicholson might have gone for Clough, the eccentric force who would win two European Cups with Nottingham Forest and show tactical genius in exploiting the chubby, withdrawn winger John Robertson.

Nicholson could have plucked Jimmy Adamson from Burnley. Adamson was thought to have "the team of the Seventies", and if it didn't happen, the young manager had a stature for a while that most of his successors today can only dream about.

Terry Venables would soon take up the baton at Crystal Palace and George Graham's feelings for managership, shaped by the Double win under Bertie Mee and Don Howe at Arsenal, were taking shape. Wherever you looked, there seemed to be the promise of a great career, and it is true that every First Division team had at least one player of authentic creative powers.

Why such fecundity at a time in football when it would have been easier to find a copy of War And Peace at Old Trafford or Anfield, Maine Road or the City Ground than a coaching manual? One reason was that originality flourished. Charles Hughes, the FA's director of coaching, could preach for as long as he liked about the value of POMO - position of maximum opportunity, which meant that you missed out the midfield entirely as you banged the ball into the penalty area - but Busby and Revie preferred to use the likes of Bobby Charlton, Giles and Billy Bremner.

The concept of passing exams in order to manage a great football team would have been laughable then. You learned the game as you experienced it; you drew the best of the manager you played for, and the higher the level at which you played, the more insights you tended to absorb.

Of course, some players are unteachable. They operate on their instincts, and when these dull, along with their physical prowess, so does a passion for the game. Attending a coaching course was not likely to revive it.

Indeed, when you look around today you have to believe the opposite is true. Tottenham used to be one of the great prizes for a young Englishman. Now it is being reserved for an ageing Italian.