How misplaced xenophobia still damages English football

As Harry Redknapp adds hot air to the debate over the Premier League’s welcoming of foreign talent, Huw Davies shouts into the wind...

On Friday, rent-a-gaffer-turned-rent-a-quote Harry Redknapp appeared on BBC 5 Live to speak in defence of English coaches. Whether it was an impassioned plea or a deranged rant depends on which newspaper you read.

There’s no doubting Redknapp’s strength of feeling on the subject, but the 68-year-old presented a muddled argument. In fact, the word ‘argument’ may be too strong, though it’s hard to precisely deduce Redknapp’s reasoning because so many of his sentences tailed off, disappearing into the ether. Still, the thesis statement shone in neon lights across the land: Foreign Managers Are Getting Premier League Jobs Instead Of Englishmen.

“What chance have young English managers got?” asked Redknapp, rhetorically. “What a waste of time the FA coaching badge must be, because it certainly don’t [sic] help you get a job here.

Harry Redknapp

Redknapp has stuck the boot into foreign gaffers

“They [clubs] sack the manager and go and get a foreign manager in. Can you tell me that someone who comes in, because he’s come from Germany or wherever he’s come from – why don’t they give a young manager a chance? They keep going foreign, foreign, foreign.” (Again, his sentences do tail off somewhat.)

When Redknapp alludes to Germany (or wherever) it’s presumably in reference to Huddersfield Town hiring David Wagner, the German-American manager previously of Borussia Dortmund’s second team, whose appointment – alongside Charlton opting for Belgian 37-year-old Karel Fraeye, after Aston Villa drafted in Frenchman Remi Garde – prompted the radio interview.

“Ridiculous… unfair”

If they’re so clever, let them go and manage lower down to see what they can do

- Harry Redknapp

But does Redknapp have a point?

It’s true that a cursory glance at the Premier League, which naturally supplies all the “top jobs” that Redknapp claims are being outsourced overseas, reveals 12 foreign managers compared to eight from Blighty (five Englishmen, two Welshmen and a Scot). British gaffers are in a slight minority.

When asked for a solution, he replied: “Well… foreign owners just keep wanting to employ whoever.” It’s not really an answer, not least as the owner in question was Yorkshireman Dean Hoyle, founder of Card Factory and head honcho at Huddersfield. However, Redknapp did suggest one option for managers arriving into British football from overseas: “If they’re so clever – they’re all supposed to be, and they all come, take top jobs, most of them – let them go and manage lower down to see what they can do. They all walk into decent jobs.”

He was helped on by an obliging BBC host, who – as well as saying Aston Villa should have hired Nigel Pearson – added: “English managers have to do the lower leagues for 10, 15 years to get any credibility, and you get these foreign guys just… it is ridiculous. It’s unfair.” We’re still waiting for the end to that sentence.

En Garde

The former Portsmouth and Tottenham gaffer sighed that “the jury’s out” on Remi Garde at Aston Villa. If so, Garde’s trial must have been the quickest on record

This is a common belief; that there are several talented British managers who just aren’t getting a chance in the higher echelons of the game. Certainly, there are some who have already proved themselves in lower divisions without Premier League clubs noticing: Justin Edinburgh at Newport County and Gillingham, Gary Rowett at Burton Albion and now Birmingham City – that latter appointment in itself representing a rare show of faith – and Gareth Ainsworth at Wycombe Wanderers, to name but three.

However, the difference in having managed a League Two team and a Ligue 1 team should be obvious to Redknapp. The former Portsmouth and Tottenham gaffer sighed that “the jury’s out” on Remi Garde at Aston Villa. If so, Garde’s trial must have been the quickest on record. Somebody should tell the 12 angry men that new evidence has come to light: a draw with league leaders Manchester City in Garde’s first game, after Villa took one point from their previous 10 matches under Tim Sherwood and Kevin MacDonald (that being a 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland, whom the Villans are generously keeping off the bottom of the table).

Remi Garde

Garde's Villa got a good point in his first game, after a sorry run of form

Even Garde’s XI in that debut against Manchester City caused fans, detractors and journalists to observe that his line-up had a distinctly French flavour. Perhaps – or perhaps he simply selected the best players available to him. It clearly worked, and a far deal better than when MacDonald picked Dad’s Army to face Spurs; indeed, Villa threatened only when the exotic likes of Carles Gil and Jordan Ayew came off the bench. It is clear that the national obsession with nationality extends beyond Redknapp’s own views.

His claim that foreign managers aren’t prepared to slum it in lower divisions just isn’t true. Fraeye and Wagner show that much

And yet his claim that foreign managers aren’t prepared to slum it in lower divisions just isn’t true. Fraeye and Wagner show that much. Then there’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Burton, Ricardo Moniz at Notts County, Carlos Carvalhal at Sheffield Wednesday and Aitor Karanka at Middlesbrough, the former Spain international having decided to swap the Bernabeu for the Riverside. If you want to labour the point, of today’s Premier League managers Roberto Martinez managed in League One and the Championship with Swansea City, while Jurgen Klopp, Manuel Pellegrini and Claudio Ranieri all began their time in the hot seat beneath the first tier abroad.

Compare this to the very English Frank Lampard Jr, Harry Redknapp’s own nephew, who said in 2012 that he wants to manage Chelsea but on one condition: “I know it might sound a bit big-headed or selfish, but I wouldn’t want to go through ‘showing myself’ with a lower club.” At least he knows how it sounds.

Aitor Karanka

Karanka left behind the Bernabeu for Boro

Perhaps most impressively, Redknapp complained that foreign managers should start their British careers with teams in divisions below the Premier League – while talking about a pair taking over at Championship sides, remember – only to then ask what Remi Garde can give Aston Villa that Tim Sherwood couldn’t. Tim Sherwood, who has been in charge at two major Premier League clubs despite having no managerial experience.

Swings and roundabouts

Recent history is littered with Brits getting top-flight opportunities without managerial experience, sometimes with no qualifications either

Do English coaches right now really have to work for a decade in the lower divisions? Or is it a case, as with so many things in football, of being in the right place at the right time – as with anyone joining from across the waves? Steve McClaren, now at Newcastle, had his first taste of management in the Premier League with Middlesbrough. Mark Hughes’s first job in charge of a club was with top-flight Blackburn Rovers. Garry Monk is still in his, at Swansea.

Recent history is littered with Brits getting top-flight opportunities without managerial experience, sometimes with no qualifications either: Gareth Southgate, Stuart Pearce, Steve Clarke, David O’Leary, Peter Reid, Gary Megson, Gordon Strachan, Roy Evans, Les Reed… often, just being part of the club at the time is enough. Just look at Terry Connor at Wolves or, again, Sherwood. Overseas coaches, meanwhile, have to prove themselves at other clubs first, often very big ones, even if it isn’t in the Football League.

Redknapp added, despairingly, that after replacing Sherwood with Garde, Villa will, at the end of the year, “probably go and get another foreign manager or something”. He is clearly including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as “foreign”. He must be, or he’d know that Garde is Villa’s second manager from outside the British Isles in their previous 11 appointments (the other being Gerard Houllier, who had six years of experience managing a Premier League side). Garde is only their third ever, in fact. Villa did, in 1990, bring in the English game’s first foreign manager of a top-flight team, the Slovakian Josef Venglos (whose story you can find in FFT 256). Maybe Redknapp is still upset about that.

The crux is this: it’s fun to question ill-formed opinions, but it’s necessary as well. Even as it embraces more players, managers and especially fans from overseas, English football has yet to completely shake off Little Englander views among prominent figures within the game. If that’s the case, so be it – but at least get the facts right.

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1 comment


All you've done here is pick apart Harry Redknapp's confused ramblings, which is not exactly difficult. You have failed to address the bigger issue. England's leading clubs very, very rarely appoint English managers. Leading Spanish, French, Italian and German teams go homegrown much more often. You may think that's okay, ie the Premier League is a global league attracting the best talent and providing the best entertainment. But there's no doubt this has a knock-on effect on the national team. For both managers and players, England are fishing in a relatively smaller pool of talent than their competitors - particularly when it comes to elite level experience. Of course there are much bigger problems in the world than England's failure to reach a semi-final in the past 20 years, but you shouldn't label people pointing out this pretty basic fact as 'xenophobic'.