James Lawton: Why does it always end in tears?

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The Independent Online

As Sven Goran Eriksson is turned on a spit of public ridicule, the old question inevitably bites again. Why does managing England, whether it is done by a consummate football man like Sir Alf Ramsey, or long- ball merchants like the misplaced Graham Taylor and Eriksson himself, always end in tears? Soon enough the old arguments will be beating about our ears. The job is impossible. There is too much manic scrutiny by the red-top tabloids. Too many unrealistic expectations. Powerhouse club managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are, as far as England's international hopes are concerned, nothing less than saboteurs.

As Sven Goran Eriksson is turned on a spit of public ridicule, the old question inevitably bites again. Why does managing England, whether it is done by a consummate football man like Sir Alf Ramsey, or long- ball merchants like the misplaced Graham Taylor and Eriksson himself, always end in tears? Soon enough the old arguments will be beating about our ears. The job is impossible. There is too much manic scrutiny by the red-top tabloids. Too many unrealistic expectations. Powerhouse club managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are, as far as England's international hopes are concerned, nothing less than saboteurs.

All of these theories of sharply varying weight should be parcelled up and sent away like dirty washing. They are not explanations but excuses. English international football, since Ramsey delivered a world-beating campaign, is not a story of insuperable odds. It is simply a failure to understand the priorities of competition at the highest level.

No doubt Eriksson will write his own chapter of this unedifying story if he falls, as he should have some weeks ago not because of his latest romantic adventure but because he was plainly not up to the job in England's desperately inadequate Euro 2004 campaign in Portugal. We should, however, take his version with the same scepticism as most of the others.

Eriksson has engineered his own difficulties not in the bedroom but out on the field, a reality that has been underlined, if it was necessary, by Trevor Brooking's critical report on the latest failure. Glenn Hoddle went because his crackpot view of this life and its aftermath was aired publicly once too often. Kevin Keegan had the grace to admit that the international game had passed him by. Don Revie, one of the greatest club managers in the history of English football, was done in by a combination of old insecurities when exposed to the buffoonery of Football Association councillors and the shortfall of talent that shocked him to the core when he moved from the fortress he built so relentlessly at Leeds United. Terry Venables, who along with Sir Bobby Robson and Ron Greenwood occupied a level of instinct and knowledge unseen since the days of the great Ramsey, suffered character assasination of a virulent kind.

And through it all is one enduring theme. It is the amateurism of the Football Association. This is the overwhelming element which has forever clouded the horizon of England's international football.

It has never been more evident than in the highest and lowest points of the story since Ramsey took over from the hopelessly hamstrung Walter Winterbottom in the early 60s. Ramsey was never loved within the Football Association because his success in 1966 was accompanied by an ill-concealed contempt for most of the values and the operating technique of an organisation run by a combination of backwoodsmen's self-regard and the philosophy of the schoolteachers' staff room.

Today, in the embarrassment of the Eriksson situation, we see the past easily enough beyond the veneer of modernism and fancy titles. The FA is still an age away from the realities long ago engaged by the front-rank of football nations.

Before it emerged that Eriksson's own priority after the misadventures of Portugal was a tryst with a junior member of the FA's staff - scarcely a sackable offence in itself - the case against him and his grotesquely inflated salary was huge. Now the FA is investigating the possibility that he was less than frank in a matter which he might argue reasonably was private. Indeed, the indications are that this might be the breaking point in a relationship which was already so deeply flawed that his escape from the implications of failure which so quickly overtook most of his fellow coaches who failed to match the commitment and organisation of Otto Rehhagel's Greece was quite staggering to the rest of the European game.

It gives us the ludicrous probability that Eriksson will fall not because of the manifest inadequacies of his work as coach - and his shockingly feckless negotiations with Chelsea behind the backs of his employers - but because he sought to draw a veil over his private life.

How is it that the FA can imagine that the inconsistencies of this situation have passed unnoticed in the real world beyond their Soho Square headquarters? How is it that they do not understand the distaste that was inevitable when Eriksson's reward for betrayal was a £1m a year rise? It is simply that the real world remains as inaccesible to their thinking as it was when they drove Ramsey away to his premature retirement in his modest house in Ipswich - and, while the Germans and the French elevated their greatest football men, Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini, utterly ignored the experience and the meaning of their equivalent, Bobby Moore.

An organisation capable of such an oversight is plainly susceptible to a thousand lesser misjudgements. There is not time or space to list them all but we can, in the interests of the moment, dwell a little on the history of their relationship with Eriksson, a man they now plainly see as an investment both hugely overpriced and embarrassing.

He came as a sophisticated, albeit expensively funded, winner of the great prize of Italian football, the scudetto, but he will go, surely sooner now than later, as a man who has completely failed to justify that image and that promise. His lack of true leadership, plain enough when Gary Neville and his mates were whipping up the absurd possibility that they might strike on behalf of their transparently guilty team-mate Rio Ferdinand, was never more pronounced than in the two most important games England played under his leadership.

In both the World Cup and European Championship quarter-finals against Brazil and Portugal Eriksson's concept of coaching was brutally exposed. There was no wit, no passion, no attempt to come to terms with the imperatives of matches which anyone could see were not being lost but surrendered. Twice Luiz Felipe Scolari was made to look a giant of conviction and judgement. The Brazilian's presence and influence was as palpable as that of most of his players. Eriksson? He was invisible at the vital moments and later he blinked in apparent disbelief when he was invited to discuss where he might have gone wrong?

"What did I do wrong?" he asked rhetorically. It is wearisome, but no doubt necessary, to return to the inventory of a misguided and catastrophically undynamic campaign. He allowed his campaign quarters to be turned into a family holiday camp. He brought in a crony fitness coach at the end of an exhausting season and had the players on seven-mile runs. He was so unsure about how to play Switzerland in a group game that he was swayed by his players. He sat inert as Scolari replaced the iconic Luis Figo - and David Beckham plodded to the end of another undistinguished contribution to a major tournament. Take your pick, and there is enough reason to say that Eriksson's time had passed.

Now, as such a clear-cut issue is clouded by legalities and the irrelevance of his libido, we hear of a final absurdity. We are told that any future appointment will be put before Beckham and his players' committee. If we want to know why the current chaos exists, where is a better insight? The players will be consulted! Already they are part of the coach's tactical deliberations. Now they are granted a say in the choice of the man who is supposed to be their leader. Is this in the eyes of the FA a proper response to chronic underachievement? Does it give an inkling of hope for a new era of conviction? It is a story - and a history - without a hint of redemption or the possibility of an ending without tears.

Ultimately, Ramsey was hated at the FA. He had no time for the amateurs. He was a football man who knew his job and who would suffer no interference. He played only his own game and for this he was first respected and then adored by his players. He set a superb standard of behaviour on and off the field. But in the end his story too was dampened by tears. At the time they were mostly of sorrow. Now, when you consider all that has happened since that solitary visit to football glory, they are surely of rage.

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