Martin Hardy: Cup's recent roll of honour flags up English managers' failings

The Weekend Dossier

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Perhaps, in this time of austerity and harsh realities, we should by now have begun to look at the FA Cup in a different light. Perhaps romance and football and such a magnificent trophy have given way to grim truths.

Long before the penny had dropped that we had either forgotten how to create genuine, quality managers, or we had forgotten to give them the opportunity to grow into such figures, red warning lights were flashing all over the old competition.

It is a statistic oft-trotted out that Harry Redknapp was the first Englishman to lift the FA Cup in 2008 since Joe Royle had managed the same feat 13 years earlier. In fact, they are the only two English men to have lifted the FA Cup in 20 attempts. That may not mean quite as much if it was not added to the decade that preceded such a barren run.

In the 80s, when fashion and music made so little sense, our domestic managers did. Ron Atkinson went up the famous steps a winner twice, as did Keith Burkinshaw. Howard Kendall lifted the FA Cup once, as did John Sillett, George Curtis and later Bobby Gould.

Back then, Englishmen knew how to win our biggest domestic competition, and these were managers, with all due respect, who could not get near the England manager's job. Then it was the domain of Bobby Robson, later Sir. Our national managers were healthy, our national game was healthy.

A World Cup quarter-final appearance, cruelly decided by a handled goal, came in 1986 and four years later, before a domestic malaise began, England, led by an Englishman, lost a World Cup semi-final on penalties. These are times worth remembering. Terry Venables would lift the FA Cup in 1991 and then follow Robson in leading England to semi-final penalty heartache, but since then the cupboard has dried.

Sir Alex Ferguson pointed an almost accusatory finger at the media last week. "You've got him the job," he said in reference to a considered cosy relationship with the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp.

That however, is an oversimplification. Redknapp is on the brink of being crowned champion because there are no challengers.

Alan Pardew has done well at Newcastle this season but freely admits the position has come too early in his career, especially given he is currently rebuilding his reputation. Sam Allardyce was relieved of his duties despite doing well at Blackburn, essentially on a whim by owners (the Venky's) who have subsequently shown a lack of understanding of the English game. Martin O'Neill (British rather than English) is a matter of months into a project at Sunderland, having similarly been out of the game for 15 months. Alan Curbishley is a favourite for the position at Wolves after waiting for another managerial opportunity following his resignation at West Ham three-and-a-half years ago.

His biggest rival for the position at Molineux, Steve Bruce, was released from his duties at Sunderland after 13th and 10th placed finishes. Roy Hodsgon's star seemed to fade during a fairly traumatic and brief stint at Liverpool.

When Steve McClaren was handed what turned out to be a poisoned chalice of the England position in 2006, he saw off competition from O'Neill, Allardyce and Curbishley.

The FA Cup has given warning for two decades that things are not right.

"For whatever reason, there has been a loss of English managers," said Royle. "More and more chairman think English managers are from the old school. It is great Harry is number one choice for the England job. It's a big shot in the arm for the English coaches.

"This is not meant disrespectfully but the biggest slap in the face was Andre Villas-Boas going to Chelsea so young when there were so many English managers around.

"English managers have to fight harder now. As soon as they struggle like Neil Warnock, people say they are struggling because of the level they've moved up to. People forget what he took over to get the club there. Jose Mourinho couldn't have managed to the same effect if he had QPR or Blackpool's budget. Perhaps a young English manager is going to have to go abroad to earn his stripes."

There are 16 football clubs still dreaming of FA Cup glory today, only four of which are led by Englishmen. Redknapp, significantly is still in there, leading a Spurs side that has momentum and a good draw against Stevenage. He has momentum through varying reasons; his side's form, the latter and certainly most productive stage of his career and the freedom of having successfully emerged from a long, legal process.

Where Redknapp also scores well is in his style of play. The demands on domestic managers do not end at results, as Allardyce found out when challenging for the England job, and when faced with owners from a different continent. There is a stylistic demand that he, rightly or wrongly, was perceived not to stand up to.

As a nation we do not just want our manager English and successful, they must play attractive, passing football as well. Given that five of the top six teams (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool (Hodgson got six months)) clearly do not seem interested in promoting a manager from within the country they play in, that is extremely difficult. Only Tottenham have turned to a domestic manager in recent seasons, and significantly, they were down on their luck and fighting a relegation battle less than 10 games into the campaign.

Perhaps the dark horse in all of this is Nigel Pearson, who takes Leicester to Norwich today. Pearson is a respected coach, intelligent and does not suffer fools, but he needs a prolonged spell at one club to move up people's thoughts.

The other two English managers left in the FA Cup, Blackpool's Ian Holloway and Stevenage's Gary Smith, are a country mile away from emerging as realistic contenders. It is why Redknapp, no stranger to the odds, is so short a bet. The top end of English football has turned its back on its own. The FA Cup, still maligned by some, has given warning for two decades that something in the system is not right. This year, with the exception of Redknapp, is further testimony to that fact.

Five Asides

1. There is one area where we proudly lead the world

If any credit can emerge in this country over the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand-John Terry racism rows, it is that we have a diligence unrivalled throughout Europe in such a sensitive issue. More allegations of racist chanting followed Manchester City's victory in Porto on Thursday. Expect much dragging of feet from the club involved and the game's governing body.

2. West Ham's bid must not succeed – for their own sake

How much longer must the Olympic Stadium farce drag on? For the sake of West Ham, West Ham must fail. Football fans will not watch football with a running track between them and the pitch, not in the long term. Just ask Juventus, who have moved to a stadium with a capacity of 41,000, slightly bigger than Upton Park, after making such an error way back in 1990 (Stadio Delle Alpi, right).

3. Some young players do get a chance, but fail to take it

It is a correct assertion that young English players do not get enough opportunities at the big clubs. They do not help themselves, of course, in their desire to move to such outfits so early in their careers (think Andy Carroll, Adam Johnson and James Milner) but the opportunity has come this season for Theo Walcott amid the demise of Arsenal. That it feels like he has not taken it and we are still waiting for his star to emerge six seasons after his debut there says much.

4. Wrong emphasis but the right result for Under-16s

Hidden away at Under-16 level this week has been a victory for England over Spain. It offers hope but there remains a lack of emphasis on technique in this country (at all levels) that curtails any excessive optimism.

5. Whitley Bay have been keeping North-east end up

Sunderland fly the flag for North-east teams in round five of the FA Cup today but that particular region has endured slim pickings since the new Wembley opened. Not one of their big three has gone close. One success story has emerged, that of non-league Whitley Bay, who are challenging for a fourth successive appearance in the FA Vase final (versus West Auckland today in round five), having won the competition on their previous three visits.

Martin Hardy's verdict on the weekend football...

Chelsea v Birmingham

Odds: Home 2-7; Draw 9-2, Away 17-2.

Kick-off: Today, 12.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1, 10.35pm)

Team news: John Terry is unlikely to be risked for Chelsea as he makes a return from a knee injury, while Ashley Cole is also absent. Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou will return in midweek. For Birmingham, Adam Rooney could spearhead the side in the absence of Marlon King (groin) and Nikola Zigic (knee), while Guirane N'Daw is also missing.

Everton v Blackpool

Odds: Home 4-9; Draw 10-3, Away 13-2.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV 1, 10.35pm)

Team news: Everton are without Cup-tied Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic (hernia) while Landon Donovan (illness) is a doubt, but Seamus Coleman (thigh) returns. For Blackpool, highly rated striker Matt Phillips is a doubt after missing the midweek win at Doncaster, with on-loan Nouha Dicko standing by to deputise.

Millwall v Bolton

Odds: Home 9-5; Draw 12-5, Away 7-5.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV 1 ,10.35pm)

Team news: Kenny Jackett's Millwall have no fresh injury concerns, with long-term absentees Tamika Mkandawire, Jimmy Abdou and Therry Racon still out. Bolton are without Kevin Davies (knee) and Tyrone Mears (leg), while Marvin Sordell is Cup-tied. Tim Ream and Ryo Miyaichi are likely to make first starts for the club.

Norwich v Leicester

Odds: Home 5-6; Draw 13-5, Away 16-5.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV 1, 10.35pm)

Team news: Tottenham have allowed Norwich to field on-loan Kyle Naughton, but Zak Whitbread and Daniel Ayala are both out. Leicester remain without Sol Bamba and Jon Pantsil as they recover from the African Cup of Nations, but on-loan forward Nathan Delfouneso is available following the elimination of his parent club Aston Villa.

Sunderland v Arsenal

Odds: Home 9-5; Draw 9-4, Away 6-4.

Kick-off: Today, 5.15pm (ITV 1; Highlights ITV 1, 10.35pm)

Team news: Lee Cattermole returns to contention for Sunderland following an absence with a hamstring injury, but Nicklas Bendtner is ineligible against his parent club. Per Mertesacker (ankle) and Laurent Koscielny (knee) both miss out for Arsenal, but Gervinho returns from international duty. Thierry Henry has returned to parent club New York.

Crawley v Stoke

Odds: Home 13-5; Draw 9-4, Away 11-10.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 12pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1, 10.45pm)

Team news: Rene Gilmartin challenges Michel Kuipers for Crawley's goalkeeping shirt after joining from Watford, while Scott Shearer (knee), Karl Hawley and Billy Clarke (Cup-tied) are out. Stoke could recall defender Matthew Upson, but Robert Huth is suspended, while midfielder Dean Whitehead will undergo a late fitness check.

Stevenage v Tottenham

Odds: Home 9-1; Draw 9-2, Away 2-7.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 2pm (ITV 1; Highlights ITV 1, 10.45pm)

Team news: Stevenage have no new concerns, with manager Gary Smith likely to name the same line-up that won at Sheffield Wednesday in midweek. Chuks Aneke is unavailable. Tottenham are again without Rafael van der Vaart (calf), with Younes Kaboul (knee) also struggling. Ryan Nelsen could make his first start for the London side.

Liverpool v Brighton

Odds: Home 1-4; Draw 9-2, Away 11-1.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1, 10.45pm)

Team news: Maxi Rodriguez could return from a foot injury for Kenny Dalglish's side, while Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson may also feature. For Brighton, Will Buckley should be available but Gary Dicker (fibula), Tommy Elphick (Achilles) and Matthew Sparrow (suspension) miss out.