Little England need to think big and get the best man for the job

FourFourTwo.com editor Gary Parkinson on the farce and fiasco that has surrounded the English national football team in recent days...

The departure of Fabio Capello was a domino-topple of wrongness.

John Terry'™s heinous (alleged) crime was bad enough; the legal system's preposterous tardiness turned a problem into a half-year soap opera. The FA'™s decision over his captaincy was difficult enough, but reaching it without consulting the manager was tantamount to constructive dismissal of their most well-remunerated employee.

Capello's decision to vent his spleen on Italian TV seemed either unprofessionally immature or a calculated move to render his position untenable by pandering to the prejudices of the xenophobic.

Fittingly for a chain of events started by alleged racism, it's that xenophobia which is the ugliest of all. Whenever the second most important job in the country is vacant, every village's idiot feels the need to proclaim -“ and when the incumbent wasn't from these parts, the cry is "an Englishman, any Englishman". 

There's no problem with the first part. There are strong reasons for a nation to promote its own coaches, but there are stronger reasons to hire the best, even if it means swallowing national pride before it becomes bigotry. You won't have heard many Welsh rugby fans at the 2011 World Cup semi-finals complaining that Warren Gatland was born in New Zealand, not Neath.

Capello led England to two tournaments out of two with extreme efficiency and the highest win percentage since World War II, that psyche-defining epoch by which many on these shores still think the planet is defined. Sven-Göran Eriksson qualified for three successive quarter-finals, a feat unmatched by any England manager (Alf Ramsey's England didn't have to qualify in 1966 and lost their only game at Euro 68).

Contrast that to the last two managers born under the flag. Steve McClaren resigned in shame after failing to reach Euro 2008, while Kevin Keegan -“ having scraped to Euro 2000 on goal difference and crashed out of the finals at the group stage -“ resigned with the lowest win percentage of any England manager in history.

And yet to many here and abroad, it seems these little Englanders would rather the country ignore those clever foreign types and get a good old heart-of-oak in charge. These would be the types who still believe Johnny Foreigner learnt a lesson in the 1950s, when those fancy Magyars lost at Wolves because Stan Cullis had the pitch watered so much that the mud seeped over the top of Ferenc Puskas's boots.

They'd rather lose with a lionheart -“ although lions have never been native to England, and while we're at it St George was apparently a Roman soldier also venerated in Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Egypt, Georgia, Germany, India, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Ossetia, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and the USA.

But in the wider picture, it'™s all part of the usual English yo-yoing between managers. Robson'™s too old, get a young manager! Taylor'™s too introverted, get a people's champion! Venables is too East End, get an apparently polite chap! Hoddle's too introverted, get a people'™s champion! Keegan'™s too passionate, get an ice-man! Eriksson'™s too foreign, get an Englishman! McClaren'™s too player-ruled, get a disciplinarian!

No one is pretending Capello didn't have his faults: the 2010 World Cup was a fiasco, but he seemed to have learnt from it and led a rejuvenated squad to unbeaten qualification. (Mind you, the only game his England had previously lost was after they had qualified with two games to spare, along the way to racking up Europe'™s largest goals-for tally.)

It's also evident that Capello has left most teams, even if successful, feeling somewhat brutalised by his efficiency and crying out for more fun, whatever that means. Real Madrid was the most extreme example: brought in to win the title, he did so and was sacked -“ twice. There seems something distant, dislikable even, about him -“ but again, he was brought in as a reaction to the very approachable English failure Steve McClaren.

It has been noted that there seems a certain disconnect between the FA's anti-racist stance and their seemingly populist preference for an English manager. Laudably, even if as window-dressing, they have refused to rule out a foreign manager. And so they should. Even compared to six years ago, in the death by committee that led to McClaren's cocked-up coronation, there seems a scarcity of correctly-passported coaches.

Harry Redknapp is the obvious front-runner, heralded by his mates in the chip papers; but unlike Capello, he's simply not a winner: one FA Cup triumph at Portsmouth, later rendered very hollow indeed by the financial mess the club was getting itself into. An affable also-ran, best known for his keen work in the import and export trade, Redknapp is a self-professed tactical agnostic. Are we really seeing England return to the age of "Get out there and run about a bit"?

Despite the worry over the imminence of the Euros, and the undoubted inconvenience of the sudden succession crisis, the FA have time to shop around. Stuart Pearce is in temporary charge for the imminent friendly against the Netherlands -“ a game which may just help to show that these continentals can play a bit -“ there's three clear months until the pre-tournament friendlies. 

It should, but doesn't, go without saying that England should get the best man available for the job -“ or rather jobs: avoiding embarrassment in summer, then building for the future. The FA are commendably open to the idea of a short-term manager being replaced after the Euros, when there would be a considerably wider talent pool to choose from and club managers far easier to coax away.

There'™ll be more options in summer, when managers are more freely available. For a start, it seems likely that Jose Mourinho will ride into the Madrid sunset, possibly after his usual second-season title triumph. For now, despite his sabre-rattling threats to leave, there's no way he'll walk away and pass up the chance to usurp Barcelona.

In the meantime, England should hire the man most likely to hit the ground running with the tactical fluidity necessary to get the best out of someone else's team. At the moment, that'™s probably Guus Hiddink, who has made winners out of Australia, South Korea and even Phil Scolari's Chelsea.

That said, there'™s a deep, sour part of me, one I'm not proud of, that'™s tempted to see the FA appoint a hapless English fall-guy caretaker, who'™ll sink without trace. Then we can bounce back in the opposite direction -“ for the good of English football.