The Last Word: If Harry can't get England out of jail, we may as well throw away the key
It is the six noughts, not the Three Lions, which will be tempting Hiddink & Co
Many years ago, before Sven and his harem, Steve and his brolly and Fabio and his captain – before Glenn and his reincarnation and Kevin and his cubicle even – a former columnist on this newspaper proposed the idea that the manager of England be allowed to undertake the role as an inmate of Wormwood Scrubs.
It was written in jest, but, as ever, many a true word seemed to arise. By the end of the article, the journalist had arrived at the viewpoint that it wasn't only feasible but preferable. Actually, when all the outside influences, distractions and intrusions were considered, he couldn't see how the role could be done properly from anywhere else.
How apt that all sounded last week as Harry Redknapp came within one verdict of occupying the said slammer and Capello at last located enough wriggle room to escape his padded cell in Wembley. Then, when everything was apparently sorted and the FA sent us to our beds with reassurance, we awoke to discover the temporary man in charge had admitted to racially abusing a fellow player but, alas, wasn't allowed to pick as his captain a player who doesn't admit to racially abusing a fellow player. Get me the governor of Wormwood Scrubs.
But then, even he would say "not likely". It would drag down The Scrubs' good name to be associated with such an embarrassment; indeed fellow prisoners would probably go to the European Court of Human Rights to protect their image rights. Who would want to be linked with such a toxic position? The answer is, of course, Redknapp. And that is why the FA needs him more than they could ever have imagined. The 64-year-old is part of a dying generation who still view the England job as an honour, as the pinnacle, as the one they can't turn down.
Of course it will be about the money, too, but I very much doubt that, even if they fall short of his expectations by a few quid, Redknapp – or his dog – will resist. There is a mystique seducing him from his teens, when Sir Alf Ramsey became as popular as the Queen, when his boys bestrode the Planet like Gods, when good ol' football men were granted immortality. That's why 'Arry can say it's worth all the 'assle.
But then consider it from a younger man's perspective. In his teens, he would have seen good ol' football men like Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson parodied, before Graham Taylor stumbled on stage to raise the curtain of football management's most enduring pantomime. In the time it takes to don a turnip, offend the disabled, chuck out a few chat-up lines and put up an umbrella, it went from being the top job, to being only the top-paid job as the FA triggered into panic mode. Believe it, it is the six noughts, and not the Three Lions which will be so tempting to Guus Hiddink and the other mercenaries. Plainly, for them it's the Acker that makes it worth the 'assle.
But for anyone who is young and ambitious, England would be a crazy move in their career. The club versus country debate has come so far and the balance has tipped so dramatically that any candidate should think, and think very carefully. What do they want and where do they want to go?
Sir Alf, himself, would struggle to inspire this crop of England players to make it any further than the quarter-finals in the forthcoming European Championship, or indeed, the 2014 World Cup. Everybody seems to know the deep-rooted reasons why and accepts English players aren't as technical. But in the emotional act of defeat, all of this is forgotten. So the poor manager is put on the chopping board while the system groans on in the background. It's Groundhog Day, with a complete change of cast, and still we await the happy ending. For the managers involved as much as the country.
The England experience does something to a man, crushes his mojo, shreds his CV, repudiates his credentials. Hoddle ultimately failed at Wolves, Keegan ultimately failed at Newcastle, Eriksson ultimately failed at Leicester, McClaren ultimately failed at Nottingham Forest – these were the top talent but just look where they have ended up. England has turned into the gaffertorial graveyard for future ambition. Flop there, (as you must), flop everywhere (as you will). The players are beginning to get it.
Their one great chance of overseas glory lies in the Champions' League, playing for the likes of United, City or Chelsea – not England. More and more of them will realise this, recognise the benefits of early international retirement reaped by the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and plot their way through the bigger picture accordingly.
There is already a trend in this direction and it is a trend which will only pick up pace as the clubs become yet more dominant. In contrast, international football is experiencing a slow death; only in England it's appearing on fast-forward. How the FA require Redknapp to reinstate the lustre to the role, how they need one of the old guard, for whom it means so much, to show the young guard exactly why it should mean so much.
Yet with every passing farce the list of prospective candidates shrinks and not necessarily just because the list of suitable candidates shrinks.
It won't be long before there are bright young things out there and they pick Tottenham before England, place Stamford Bridge above Wembley, value Abu Dhabi over the FA. Maybe all it will take is for Redknapp to walk away from his impending reign in ignominy. Because, quite frankly, if 'Arry can't blag it, nobody can.
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