The job is impossible. Frankly, anyone who even considers it should worry over being in the early stages of madness
Thursday 01 February 1996
This erroneous and quite arrogant assumption of prominence in the world game, and the pressure it creates, is the main reason why there has been no rush of substantial candidates for a job with the now preferred designation of national coach.
Who of sound mind would want to take on a task that pays less than the best appointments in the Premier League for braving a level of expectation out of all proportion to the technical deficiencies evident in club football and what now passes in popular newspapers for investigative reporting and the hair-trigger abuse of headline writers? "I just don't go for all that crap about it being the job nobody with real pride could turn down," said a manager who figures in the list of runners posted by some members of my profession. "Look what has happened to all those who had a go at it."
It is a troubled tale. Wearied by the interference of regionally biased selectors, and having failed to take England beyond the quarter-finals in four attempts, Walter Winterbottom, who was also director of coaching, resigned following the 1962 World Cup in Chile.
Alf Ramsey, the hero of 1966, later came under fierce criticism and was fired after failing to qualify England for the 1974 finals in West Germany. Realising quickly that he had seriously overestimated the available talent - "At Leeds I wasn't restricted to England players" - Don Revie legged it to the Arab Emirates in 1977 for four times the money. Even Ron Greenwood, who restored dignity to the role when persuaded out of semi-retirement, came in for monstrous vilification. A year after succeeding him, Bobby Robson, who aged visibly in the job, was jeered off at Wembley. "It was the worst sound I'd ever heard, and knowing that my father was at the game made me feel all the more rotten," Robson said.
When it looked as though England would exit early from the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico, a headline branded Robson the "Fool on the Hill", an allusion to the team's steeply appointed quarters near Monterrey. Robson would almost get England to the 1990 World Cup final, but not before his head was demanded for a bleak showing in the 1988 European Championship. Few of the players could regard themselves comfortably in the mirror but he took the flak. "Managers get too much of the credit and too much of the blame," Ramsey once said.
Realising that no effort was being made to extend his contract and that Graham Taylor had already been approached by the men who are presently agonising over Venables' successor, Robson went off to win the championships of the Netherlands and Portugal. Unable to progress beyond the functional football that had raised his reputation, Taylor proved to be a bad international manager. What he did not deserve was the orchestrated abuse that reached into his family life and portrayed him as a turnip.
More recently, even if it was personal problems that persuaded Venables to back off, he could not count on unanimous support from the Football Association, and some critics have found fault with his selection and tactics.
Ever the optimist, Venables does not agree with them, but a view held personally is that the job is impossible. Frankly, anyone of note who even considers it should worry over being in the early stages of madness. It is not just expectations but the fact that fewer players than ever are up to the more subtle requirements of international football. Brian Clough once advanced the typically glib and probably mischievous notion that no sympathy could be had for the England manager if he was incapable of producing a successful team from a pool of more than 2,000 players at work in the old Football League.
By eliminating footballers from the other home countries, the Republic of Ireland, those from outside these islands, many who were past their best and a majority not up to standard, it was easy to dismiss Clough's assertion as a nonsense.
Things have not improved. If there is a leading light out there who fancies the job my advice would be to take a long look at history.
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