The date ringed most heavily on 2012 calendars at the Football Association's Wembley headquarters would under normal circumstances be Monday 11 June, when England open their European Championship programme against France in Donetsk. Yet for those enjoined with the welfare of the national team, two unwanted events in the space of 11 winter days demand attention. Three weeks tomorrow, Harry Redknapp, popular favourite to become England's next manager this summer, appears in court on two charges of tax evasion.
The case is expected to last a fortnight, by which time the England captain John Terry will have appeared at West London magistrates' court on a charge of directing racist abuse at Anton Ferdinand, the brother of his England team-mate Rio. Both men strenuously deny the charges, but the very fact the cases have come to court is a planning complication, if not an embarrassment, for the FA.
Were either man to be found guilty they could not expect to have any future with England, but for Terry the complication is likely to stretch for sometime yet, as the expectation is that following next month's initial hearing his actual case will not be heard for many weeks. Since football does not follow wider society's practice of suspending those accused of criminal offences, he will continue to be available for club and country, both benefiting from his remarkable ability to divorce performance on the field from the many controversies that have dogged his career. The FA rightly prefer a policy of innocence until proven guilty, and with Fabio Capello having learnt that phrase by heart and trotted it out regularly before the most recent England games, Terry can expect to be picked while there is no verdict in the court case.
Aside from whether a new captain will be required this summer, selecting a manager has generally been problematic enough without the current uncertainties. This time Club England have already boxed themselves in on two counts, pledging first an English (subsequently British) manager, despite a shortage of outstanding candidates, and stating that the search for a replacement will not begin until after the European Championship.
If the former proposal is unnecessarily restrictive when proven talents such as Guus Hiddink remain available, the latter is simply unrealistic; it is inconceivable that soundings at the very least will not be taken before mid-June. Once England are out of the tournament, however badly they fare, there will be barely six weeks before the new man must name a squad for the opening international of next season, a friendly in the middle of August regarded as important preparation for the forthcoming World Cup campaign.
When it has been known in the past that managers such as Sven Goran Eriksson (2006), Terry Venables (1996), Bobby Robson (1990) and Ron Greenwood (1982) would be leaving after a summer tournament, the successor has invariably been named in advance and with good reason. Glenn Hoddle, who took over from Venables, may have protested that he was not made to feel particularly welcome during Euro 96, but in each case the newcomer had the opportunity to study England's players and performances at close quarters. Steve McClaren was, of course, working under Eriksson throughout, and although Robson was not offered the job until halfway through the 1982 finals, he had been scouting future opponents there; it remains the first and last occasion on which a proper succession had been put in place long before the handover, the visionary Greeenwood having insisted in involving all the country's leading managers with various England sides.
So if Redknapp is still the wanted man after his court case, discussions with Tottenham about compensation would be better done sooner than later and it would be more sensible to have him in Poland and Ukraine as a camp follower than media pundit.
And if not Redknapp, who has regularly taken clubs such as West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham to their highest standing for many years, then who? The field is worryingly thin, as is illustrated by bookmakers making Arsène Wenger their third favourite when he has repeatedly declared no interest in the position.
Listed behind the 7-4 favourite Redknapp is Roy Hodgson, whose fluctuating odds reflect the flavour-of-the-month mentality that tends to surround these appointments. A struggle at Liverpool counted against him, as did a few months of failure at Blackburn many years ago. Yet at West Bromwich Albion he has shown the organisational and personal qualities that underpinned his impressive work with Fulham. With Martin O'Neill now spoken for, Alan Pardew is quoted as fourth favourite, despite having no experience of continental football as player or manager.
Unenviable task it may be, but those calendars need a new entry, and well before 11 June: appoint the England manager.
- More about:
- Guus Hiddink
- Liverpool FC
- Portsmouth FC
- Premier League
- Steve McClaren
- Terry Venables
- Tottenham Hotspur
- West Bromwich Albion