Ken Jones: Loyalty has often come at a price for England coaches

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According to comments passed in newspapers I consult in the course of my researches, it seems that some of English football's chroniclers almost needed smelling salts last week when it was revealed Sven Goran Eriksson had exercised his unalienable right to consider other job prospects while under contract to the Football Association. Since this involved an old-fashioned sentiment, loyalty, and in the light of history, I found it amusing.

According to comments passed in newspapers I consult in the course of my researches, it seems that some of English football's chroniclers almost needed smelling salts last week when it was revealed Sven Goran Eriksson had exercised his unalienable right to consider other job prospects while under contract to the Football Association. Since this involved an old-fashioned sentiment, loyalty, and in the light of history, I found it amusing.

Over 45 years, a long time in anybody's book, I have witnessed the departure of nine England managers, 10 if you include Joe Mercer who was drafted in briefly to hold the fort when Sir Alf Ramsey, the hero of 1966, was shown the door after failing to qualify England for the 1974 World Cup finals. All but a handful became vilified victims of the arrogant assumption that England remained a great power in the game despite persistent failings in major championships.

Ramsey, the ultimate patriot, could think of no greater honour than managing the England team, putting it above personal gain, but was cruelly dealt with both by his employers - who took revenge for his indifference to them - and sections of the press once it became clear he could no longer satisfy the lust for success.

Ramsey's remark that football managers get too much credit and therefore too much blame should be set in stone. It should also be considered in the context of Eriksson's clumsy flirtations with Chelsea before agreeing to an extension of his contract with the FA at a vastly improved salary.

Even when you allow for a record that bears no comparison with those of Brazil, Germany and Italy, of all the appointments in sport few carry such an overwhelming sense of national responsibility as being manager of the England team. It showed in the reactions of those critics who seriously questioned Eriksson's integrity while pressing the argument that the FA should have taken an opportunity to dispense with the Swede's services and recruited an Englishman, although no obvious candidates sprang to mind.

Allowing for the conveniently ignored fact that no country has won the World Cup under a foreign manager, this set me thinking about the indignities endured by some of Eriksson's predecessors, including Sir Bobby Robson, the only manager other than Ramsey to have taken England beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

No less of a patriot, Robson was jeered off the pitch at Wembley following a loss to the Soviet Union in 1985 and castigated in the following day's newspapers. The reverence Robson enjoys today as manager of Newcastle United in his 71st year rewards his ageless passion for football, but the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico brought calls for his resignation when it seemed likely that England would fail to progress from their group.

Alluding to the location of England's base camp at Saltillo, near Monterrey, one of Robson's fiercest critics described him as "the fool on the hill", demanding the team be brought home to avoid further embarrassment. Another wrote him off as the "Frank Spencer of football". It was cruelly said that Robson's indecision was final. Pacified by the recovery that took England into the quarter-finals, where they were defeated by Argentina, the FA kept him on.

During the World Cup finals four years later, having learned that Graham Taylor had been lined up as his successor, Robson entered into pre-emptive negotiations with PSV Eindhoven. When news of this filtered through his loyalty was quite brutally called into question.

Going back further than the majority of fellow toilers in this trade can adequately remember, Don Revie's appointment as the England manager in 1974 was greeted with great enthusiasm in newspapers and across the airwaves. Less than two years after taking up the post Revie privately admitted that he should have remained with Leeds United.

Whatever loyalty he possessed was shaken by well founded rumours that England's imminent failure to qualify for the 1978 World Cup finals would lead to his dismissal. Secretly, Revie agreed in principle to become the national coach of the United Arab Emirates. While Revie could not be blamed for wanting to secure his future after the way in which Ramsey was dismissed, the announcement of his resignation in a national newspaper, reputedly for a large sum of money, was shameful. "But where was the FA's loyalty to me?" he asked.

Anyone who takes on the task of managing England knows, or should know, he will be at the mercy of forces over which he has no control: critics who, if not openly hostile, might not be qualified or objective; a public, fed on expectation, whose sympathies change as quickly as the weather. When it comes to the England side, patience is not a national virtue.

Eriksson may, or may not, be capable of improving England's modest record. But it is nauseating to hear critics prattle on about moral obligations and the sanctity of contracts. In this mad sporting world loyalty now comes at a price.

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