Leading Article: England are in need of a new football manager

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The Independent Online
AT ABOUT a quarter to nine on Wednesday evening, the open season on Graham Taylor began in earnest. As the manager of the England football team, he holds one of the most precarious positions in British public life. With his side having just lost 2-0 to Norway (population 4 million), and in danger of failing to qualify for next year's World Cup finals, Mr Taylor was only too aware that a tabloid mauling was about to ensue. 'Norse Manure' was the general message of yesterday morning's tabloid newspapers.

The most disheartening aspect of the match in Oslo was not the result - if anything, England got off lightly - but the performance. While the Norwegians mixed neat passing movements with powerful running, England's only tactic when they had the ball appeared to be to launch it as far as possible - so possession was inevitably lost. For all their admirable play, Norway can hardly be portrayed as a team of brilliant individuals. Three play in the English league, and none is considered outstanding.

Yet England's style should surprise no one. As a club manager, Mr Taylor developed a series of functional teams that succeeded in the domestic environment without ever playing attractive, stylish football. His greatest asset was his image. With his scoutmaster smile and willingness to pontificate, he was thought to handle the media well. It was these qualities, rather than footballing ones, that seem to have attracted the grey men of the Football Association's international committee when they chose a new England manager in 1990. Neither players nor fans were consulted.

In choosing Mr Taylor they plumped for the unimaginative option, a man whose most important quality was that he would not rock the boat. His England teams have mirrored his club ones: difficult to beat but largely uninspiring (the recent draw with the Netherlands being a glorious exception).

Wednesday night's failure, coming after so many other feeble performances, suggests that a fresh approach is needed when it comes to selecting the next England manager. It is time to stop picking solely from the ranks of experienced club managers. The similarities between the jobs of managing at club level and international level are, by and large, illusory: one works with the same set of players every day and must concentrate on making moderate talents a little better; the other sees his charges only intermittently but, when he does, must weld a group of gifted individuals into a team.

The experiences of West Germany with Franz Beckenbauer, and France with Michel Platini, suggest what is needed at international level is an intelligent leader who has the confidence of his players. English football has thrown up few figures of such stature but it may be that Kevin Keegan or Glenn Hoddle, for all their inexperience at club management, could perform a similar function for England. (Their inexperience may even be an asset.) World Cup success will, inevitably, not be guaranteed by such a bold break with the past. But anything that results in an improvement on Wednesday's woeful display will be as welcome as it is belated.

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