What's in a name, or in this case the proper title for the boss of a national football team? Shakespeare would no doubt trot out his old line about a rose smelling so sweet by any other name – but then thanks, Will, why not pour yourself another flagon of mead and give us some peace while we sort out the latest English coaching controversy? It need not take more than a decade or two.
The question is prompted by a relic of Italian football terminology. It is that not one of the men who led the Azzurri to four World Cup victories and six appearances in the final – and one European Championship win and two finals – was ever referred to as team manager or head coach.
No, they answered, from the immortal, double-World Cup winner of the Thirties, Vittorio Pozzo, to today's Roberto Donadoni, to commissario tecnico. Flitting between the tragicomic possibilities for English football of the game in Israel, which were especially vivid when the Russians hit the post in the last minute, and the Italian ability to withstand the Scottish uprising at Hampden Park, you couldn't help but reflect that even the imposing title technical commissioner doesn't quite define the challenges separating a man handed the Italian job and the stream of broken football men who have tried to walk in the footsteps of Sir Alf Ramsey.
When you look at it from this perspective you see more clearly that for "technical commissioner" you could read guardian of football, protector of certain basic values about how the game should be played.
Played, that is, not administered, because when you trawl back through the history of Italian football you see one constant. It is not integrity across the board. Even the Old Maestro Pozzo was accused, rightly or wrongly, of adapting the aggressive philosophy of Mussolini, and certainly his teams could play with ferocious cynicism – they even wore an intimidating all-black uniform in one World Cup game.
In 1982 in Spain, Italy won from under the shadow of a bribery scandal. Last year in Germany they conquered the world despite the greatest crisis of all, the revelation of widespread corruption at the highest levels of the domestic game – and, of course, last weekend Italy triumphed against a backcloth of rioting and fatal violence at home.
No, the unvarying factor which explains why the history of Italian football on the international stage looms so hugely against that of England's concerns not an undying fidelity to sports morality but sports technique.
Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini, Gianni Rivera ... you can go all the way back to the inspiration of those first World Cup triumphs, the peerless Giuseppe Meazza, and what you see is the superior uniformity of the product. It is bred on the school fields and in the soul, as it used to be one distant day in England, when great players emerged with their instincts and not the leaden jargon of a coaching bureaucracy.
Donadoni's Italians, unlike Steve McClaren's English, do not have to play a different kind of football when they pull on the shirts of their country. They are bred to it. The technique comes soon after the cradle. It is natural to play in coherent, triangular patterns. Ball control, and thus an easy ability to dominate the pattern of the game, is a starting point.
This, when you consider the lack of true creativity in England's team despite the presence of such talented players as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and David Beckham over recent years, is something that sooner or later has to be fed into the debate about who should be head coach of the team. It is not to say that his identity is irrelevant. Far from it, because if you said that you would put down the success of Ramsey in 1966 to mere happenstance. No, it certainly wasn't that. It was the intelligent application of one basic truth: that, generally speaking, the talent of English football could not succeed on the world stage without some careful adaptation ... and hand-picked players of proven character who understood, in their bones, the concept of making a team.
The point has been made often enough that the years of Sven Goran Eriksson were ultimately wasted because he didn't develop a team but indulged a number of celebrities. He allowed Gerrard and Lampard and Beckham a security in an England shirt that Ramsey would never have granted even Bobby Charlton or Bobby Moore or Alan Ball.
Similarly, Eriksson's successor McClaren has been slow to lay down a clear pattern of play and personnel; he experimented with three at the back in a game in Croatia that for the rest of the campaign threatened to stand out as a classic example of coaching calamity.
That McClaren's overall performance has been poor is beyond debate and there are compelling reasons to believe that his appointment was a compromise spawned by the sheer ineptitude of the hiring process that followed the departure of Eriksson. Yet however it goes about it, the Football Association must be granted one allowance. It is that in the current culture of English football, when the finest touch and ability in the Premier League almost invariably carries an import stamp, the problems of the England team when facing the highest class of opposition can at best be alleviated, and not solved, by the most able of coaches.
Would Martin O'Neill, say, have made more of an assured fist of the qualifying campaign which should, according to all logic, eventually finish with success at Wembley tomorrow night? The instinct here is strong that he would have done so, but honesty insists that there could have been no guarantee.
Ramsey got the job done because he could turn a cold eye on the realities of the game. He learnt immense lessons under the guidance of the brilliant Tottenham manager Arthur Rowe, author of push and run – which was maybe English football's closest brush with the European game until the arrival of Arsène Wenger at Highbury. Ramsey was a loner of fierce pride who hurt terribly when Hungary undressed England at Wembley in 1953. So, for a little while, along with winning the World Cup, he broke a cultural pattern.
Now, of course, and even as English football swims in television wealth, we are as far away from the appointment of a technical commissioner as ever. With due respect to McClaren and whoever takes his place, the need is for the second coming of a miracle man.
Prodigious Giller hits heady heights of No 75 with taste of forgotten times
At various times in his prodigiously prolific career Norman Giller collaborated with Jimmy Greaves and Eric Morecambe and once wrote quotes for Frank Bruno. He was also chief football writer of the Daily Express, a scriptwriter and deviser of television series and it says everything for his stamina that he was doing a lot of these things at the same time.
Now, after a successful bout with cancer, he is publishing his 75th book – The Footballing Fifties (JR Books, £16. 99).
At least that is what the flyleaf says. Another count puts the total at 77. Presumably two more have been produced since The Footballing Fifties was sent to the printer. If so they were accomplished in between spells of playing jazz piano and acting as chief consultant to music agency soots.jazz.com.
If all this makes you feel a trifle weary, you should pour yourself a Scotch and taste a little of football in another lifetime and on another planet. Greaves, arguably the greatest finisher in the history of English or any other kind of football, reflects wryly in The Footballing Fifties: "It was an exciting world unrecognisable from today's Stamford Bridge of Abramovich and the £100,000 a week wages. Frank Lampard pays out more to the bloke who cleans his Bentley than I got in my wage packet, but I'm not complaining. I reckon we got more fun and satisfaction from our football than any of today's so-called superstars."
Also, some much deserved literary mileage. Greaves has published more books than F Scott Fitzgerald, 17 in all. It just makes you think what the fabled Scotty might have achieved if Norman Giller had been his ghostwriter.
Federer breaks into different orbit
Was it just a few months ago when we were speculating on the imminent demise of Roger Federer when he was pushed so hard by Rafael Nadal in the defence of his Wimbledon crown? But then genius always operates on its own time scale.
After mopping up the Tennis Masters Cup for the fourth time in five years, and becoming the first player to win more than $10m (£4.9m) in one season, he said he had completed his "breakthrough" year.
Tennis, which at the moment hardly deserves such a hero, can only speculate on what the second half of Federer's sporting life will bring. Perhaps it will be his first French title. Then it would be written in stone. The game would never have seen his like.Reuse content