Robson fits trend toward the talismanic leader

Guy Hodgson considers how modern methods of choosing club managers could affect the search for Terry Venables' successor
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The Independent Online
In 1974, as the Football Association showed Sir Alf Ramsey the door, two footballers sufficiently esteemed that the word distinguished seemed inadequate were raking through the embers of their careers.

Bobby Charlton was in his last season at Preston while Bobby Moore was exuding calm authority at Fulham. Great players, they were about to be neglected by their country. Availability counted for nothing and both were barely considered as the new manager of England. Lancaster Gate turned to the trusted method of choosing a successful club manager: Don Revie.

It was a decision that was understood, if not universally embraced, at the time - and neither Charlton nor Moore did enough in club management to suggest the nation missed much - conforming, as it did, with conventional thought. Top clubs, never mind the national side, hardly ever went for senior players and risked their futures with them.

Manchester United had allowed Charlton to leave for Deepdale even though they had proved the exception to the rule, albeit in the extraordinary circumstances of the aftermath of war, by appointing Matt Busby in 1945. They could have used the services of their most respected player in 1972, when Frank O'Farrell was dismissed, but instead they appointed the tried (in more ways than one as it would prove) in Tommy Docherty.

Twenty years on and the situation has altered to an extent where England may be prepared to depart from convention and appoint a younger, rawer man as successor to Terry Venables. Kevin Keegan (who has said he is not interested), Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and Glenn Hoddle are being put forward as credible candidates despite their relative inexperience as club managers.

Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, was a barometer of that change yesterday, conceding on Radio Five Live that skilful club management does not naturally translate into success at national level. "The jobs are very different," he said. "The ideal man will be English and who played for England."

The mood seems to have switched in favour of a talismanic figure along the lines of Franz Beckenbauer, who became West Germany's coach as soon as he discarded his boots, and guided his country to successive World Cup finals, winning in 1990.

It has at club level, too. The fashion is for younger men like Robson who cannot only decide tactics off the pitch but put them into operation on it, if the need is there. Even Keegan, who at 44 is older, fits the mould, working his miracle on the Tyne without reference to earlier work with lesser clubs than Newcastle United.

"Continuity is the key at international level," Kelly said yesterday while stressing that both Robson and Wilkins had been working under Venables. "Young players have come into the England side and a system has evolved. There is no point chopping and changing every two to four years."

But for every Beckenbauer there is a Michel Platini, who became manager of France without particular success after a glorious playing career. His problem was that he could not replace one vital ingredient, himself.

The last word should belong to Danny Blanchflower, who guided Northern Ireland and Chelsea in the belief that coaches are only as good as their players. "Great teams don't need managers," he said. "Brazil won the World Cup in 1970, playing exhilarating football, with a manager they'd had for three weeks. Now what influence can a man have who's only been with them for that length of time? What about Real Madrid at their greatest? You can't even remember who the manager was."