Where have all the English managers gone?
What now? When Sam Allardyce and the FA “mutually agreed” to end his reign as England manager prematurely at the end of September, two months into a two-year deal, that was the only question that the national team’s supporters could ask.
As soon as footage emerged of the former Bolton, West Ham and Sunderland manager telling undercover Telegraph reporters that it was possible to circumvent third-party ownership rules – rules imposed by his employers – Big Sam’s departure seemed imminent.
Just 67 days earlier, Allardyce had headed a shortlist of one to succeed Roy Hodgson following his and England’s Euro 2016 exit; after his departure, Gareth Southgate was named interim boss and then handed the reins on a permanent basis in November. At the time of writing, there are only four English managers in the Premier League: Allardyce at Crystal Palace, Paul Clement at Swansea, Eddie Howe at Bournemouth and Sean Dyche at Burnley.
The situation has been brewing for two decades now. Between 1946 and 1996, only Walter Winterbottom – an FA man who had no previous experience as a manager – and Graham Taylor took on the England job without having won major honours. Since then, however, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Steve McClaren, Roy Hodgson and, briefly, Allardyce have all tried out the Three Lions hot seat with relatively modest CVs.
So how did it come to this? Have football’s inventors forgotten how to coach? Where have all the English managers gone?
- Gordon Milne, Besiktas 1992/93: The former Liverpool midfielder had won three successive Turkish titles, but his men bowed out to Gothenburg in the last 32.
- Howard Wilkinson, Leeds 1992/93: A replayed victory over Stuttgart (who illegally fielded a fourth foreign player) brought Rangers in the last 16. Leeds lost
“Sixteen?!” It’s impossible not to hear the shock in Frank Wormuth’s voice when FFT tells the German FA’s head of coach education how many Premier League clubs are being run by a non-English manager.
English coaches were once at the vanguard. William Garbutt all but introduced football to the Italians. Such was Fred Pentland’s popularity at Athletic Bilbao, the Spanish for ‘gaffer’ is ‘Mister’. And Vic Buckingham is credited with crystallising Total Football at Ajax in the late 1950s.
The success stories continued. From 1977 to 1982, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough and Tony Barton ensured that the European Cup was lifted by an English manager in six consecutive seasons. Shortly afterwards, Terry Venables became Barcelona’s manager and Howard Kendall took over at Athletic. Yet no English coach has won the European Cup since Liverpool’s Joe Fagan in 1984.
Too much of English management became about pure motivation or dressing-room provocation. At elite level, modern players need the carrot as opposed to the stick, and that arguably comes more naturally to tactile foreign coaches than their domestic counterparts.
“First you must respect the human being, then the professional,” said the Argentine Mauricio Pochettino shortly after taking charge at Spurs in 2014. “A good relationship comes naturally when they know how we behave and how we want to work.”
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was forced into coaching a lot earlier than most, his playing career cut short at 29 due to injury
It’s only logical that as the Premier League attracts more foreign players, managerial appointments from abroad increase in tandem.
“Foreign coaches definitely add to the Premier League’s evolution,” Burnley boss Sean Dyche tells FFT. “Fans and owners have a thirst for a foreign coach. That does, though, restrict opportunities for English and British managers. That’s the crux of the argument: how can you show you’re a good English manager if the opportunities aren’t there?”
Dyche believes there’s a big distinction between perception and fact. “The biggest head-scratcher for English managers,” he says, “is seeing a fan outside the training ground on Sky Sports News talking about the new boss and saying, ‘I’ve heard he’s a very good tactician’. When I was 16 most people played 3-5-2. Then it was 4-2-3-1, which is five yards away from a 4-4-1-1, which is five yards away from a 4-4-2. It’s like the fashion industry: there are so many things packaged differently.”
To get ahead, it’s vital that those in the next generation of English coaches start early. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was forced into coaching a lot earlier than most, his playing career cut short at 29 due to injury. Does that instil a greater hunger to achieve?
“That’s invaluable experience,” Liverpool defender-turned-Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher tells FFT. “People go on about getting 10,000 hours of practice to become skilled in whatever field – well, Eddie and others are getting that in early. The likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, who didn’t have big playing careers, get all that in the bank. If you finish playing at 35, they have got 10 years’ experience on you.
“Maybe they also have a hunger that top players lack. They’ve got the brain. I did my B Licence but, to be honest, the longer I’m out of it, the less chance I’ll use it. I love doing what I’m doing. Why stick your neck out and take the risk of getting sacked six months down the line?”
Wealth vs innovation?
- Ray Harford, Blackburn 1995/96: King Kenny’s successor brought no success: only last place in a group with Spartak Moscow, Legia Warsaw and Rosenborg
- Bobby Robson, Porto 1995/96; PSV 1998/99; Newcastle 2002/03: The only Englishman to manage in the European Cup more than once did not reach the last eight
A media career will appeal to some, but many feel they are squeezed out by the natural progression of foreign club owners seeking a foreign coach to manage squads that predominantly feature foreign players.
“You have some jealous foreign owners who like to be the kingpin riding over the hill on their white horse,” one English manager with decades of experience in the top flight and Football League tells FFT. “Once, I was sacked over budgetary issues, only for the owner to then go and blow millions on one player just a few months later.
“There’s no reason why someone who hasn’t managed in the top flight isn’t good enough to do so. If Eddie Howe, for example, had Manchester City’s budget, scouting network and recruitment setup, I’m pretty sure he would be up there at the top of the table.”
The Premier League’s astronomical wealth could be another barrier to English coaches getting top jobs. “The Premier League has so much money,” says Wormuth, head of the DFB’s coach education programme, “so the expectations are way higher there than in Germany.”
The Germans don’t share England’s problem. Of the Bundesliga’s 18 managers, 12 are homegrown – 13 if you’re including Eintracht Frankfurt’s Croatian boss, Niko Kovac, who's lived his whole life in Germany, where he was born, but chose to play for his parents’ country. It’s the same situation in La Liga, where Barcelona’s Luis Enrique heads a list of 13 Spanish coaches. Why are they both so different to England?
“There’s confidence in our coach education system, but that took time,” says Wormuth. “I started here in 2007, and before that our reputation within Germany wasn’t very good, no matter what people thought abroad. So we restructured the programme and now we have a more modern model that others can then replicate.
“Those in charge can see that there are young coaches who can be successful at the highest level, and are worth taking a risk on. We have 29-year-old Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim, while Thomas Tuchel [now at Dortmund] was 35 at Mainz.”
Next page: Why even Germany's top brass aren't happy