The Hoddle Sacking: The Succession: `Horrible job' may prove hard to fill

Some leading contenders have already pleaded not to be considered for the England vacancy. Phil Shaw assesses the names left in the hat
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The Independent Online
VISITORS TO the Football Association headquarters are struck by the number of trophies on display for a nation whose only serious silverware remains the World Cup in 1966. One of the exhibits is presumably the poisoned chalice of the England managership - but, after the sour taste left by Glenn Hoddle's reign, who will drink from it now?

Howard Wilkinson will take temporary control against France next week, but Bryan Robson ruled himself out yesterday, while Manchester United made a pre-emptive strike against any move for Alex Ferguson.

Assuming that remains the situation, the FA could be left to choose between the old guard, Bobby Robson or Terry Venables; a relatively unproven generation led by Peter Reid and John Gregory; and two coaches with little or no top-level playing experience, Wilkinson and Roy Hodgson.

When the post became available after Graham Taylor's demise five years ago, Hoddle was among those who reflected on the pressures. "Managing England should be the best job in the world, but it has become a horrible job," he said. "Perhaps we should be looking for a divorcee with no kids."

Wilkinson commented simultaneously that he valued his family too much to leave Leeds for England, warning that anyone who took the job had to "fight the system and the press from day one".

A skin as thick as a rhino's hide must therefore be added to the qualifications needed by Hoddle's long-term successor. Bobby Robson has already declared his readiness to return, while Venables is still rated highly by those players who remain from his Euro 96 semi-finalists. But at almost 66 and 56 respectively, it is hard to see either in any other than an interim role, perhaps grooming his eventual replacement.

Therein lies a problem if the FA sticks to its practice of appointing Englishmen only - 12 of the 20 Premiership managers could be instantly discounted. Jim Smith and Ron Atkinson would probably be regarded as too old (and, anyway, Big Ron reckons he would only consider it on a player- manager basis), Dave Jones and Danny Wilson as too young. Harry Redknapp has not achieved enough and Bryan Robson feels he is not ready, which leaves just Brian Kidd and Gregory.

As one who has just begun his career as a No 1 at Blackburn, Kidd is a non-starter, while the impressive Gregory is surely one for further down the line; this time last year he had not even left Wycombe for Aston Villa. Though some arm-twisting may yet be done on Bryan Robson, it is questionable whether his record at Middlesbrough (two promotions and one relegation on a big transfer budget) merits the effort.

Reid, of First Division leaders Sunderland, has the requisite playing background, having been the ball-winning foil to Hoddle in the 1986 World Cup. He has managed a club to fifth in the Premiership, no mean feat given what has since befallen Manchester City. And he is also a straight-talking Scouser, more of a "calm down" man than a karma man, if possibly too proletarian for some FA tastes. Non-football opinion put the skids under Hoddle; how would it react to clips of Reid in expletive overdrive from the TV documentary Premier Passions?

Kevin Keegan, chief operating officer at Fulham, might be the people's choice, as Brian Clough was in the 1970s. But the evidence of Newcastle was that Keegan does not possess Clough's tactical understanding, even if he has belatedly acknowledged the need for better defensive organisation. Moreover, the image of his emotional outburst against Ferguson during the title run-in of '96 bodes ill for the pressure cooker atmosphere surrounding the England job.

As for Wilkinson, he took Leeds from promotion to the championship in three seasons, but is also remembered for selling Eric Cantona cheaply and buying Tomas Brolin and Lee Sharpe expensively. As the FA's director of coaching, Wilkinson also has the advantage of being in situ.

With the Under-18s he has worked with Michael Owen, among others who will be part of the future England set-up. Against that, his tendency to ramble and philosophise in press conferences would risk antagonising the media as Taylor and Hoddle did.

Hodgson can boast an even more apposite CV. He is acquainted with the rigours of the international game, having led Switzerland to USA 94, and did reasonably well at Internazionale. He is also available.

Again, though, the FA must balance pluses and minuses. At Blackburn, who sacked him before Christmas, some players thought Hodgson too cerebral. Remembering the communication chasm between the England players and Taylor, a former lower-division full-back, the fact that Hodgson never played League football would count against him.

Were the search to be broadened to include non-English candidates, and the FA set its sights as high as possible, Ferguson and Arsene Wenger would be high on the hit-list. Apart from his trophy-laden tenure at Old Trafford, Ferguson gained experience at international level when he took Scotland to the '86 World Cup after Jock Stein's death.

The 57-year-old United manager has intimated a desire to retire in the next few years. Yet the "part-time" nature of the England job might appeal to him as a final challenge. His hard-nosed handling of the media would also preclude the kind of crises into which Hoddle and Taylor stumbled.

Meanwhile, Wenger's Double with Arsenal makes him the obvious foreign candidate, albeit one whose background is exclusively in club football.

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