Sven might have been dubbed the “Iceman” for his seemingly cold approach to pressure but it can’t be denied that he had a good CV when he took the manager’s job in 2001. Or did he? His record at club level suggests that Sven’s a winner. As early as 1972 he won the Swedish cup with IFK Gothenburg.
He was coach of Gothenburg until 1982 and in that time IFK won the Swedish League twice and held the UEFA cup in 1982. Sven then went on to prove that his successes with IFK weren’t just a flash in the pan by achieving fantastic results whilst coaching teams such as SL Benfica, Roma Fiorontina and SS Lazio. But we’ve got a different way of playing the beautiful game over here.
The Premiership’s one of the fastest leagues around. Well yes it is, but Sven proved he could successfully manage an English club when he took over at Manchester City. He led them to their highest league table position ever and threw in two victories over the hated Manchester United into the bargain. If this wasn’t enough, he also achieved all the targets laid down by City’s owner, including a place in Europe. Admittedly these last triumphs came after he left the job as England’s manager but they still go a long way to prove that Sven’s a good club manager. There’s the key word, club.
We all know it’s a totally different game at international level. You don’t have nearly as many players to draw upon for a start. Then there’s the unremitting attention from the press. Certain managers like Sir Alex have to deal with the media at a similar level, but at the end of the day he’s only got to keep the United fans happy and while it may seem like there’s a whole nation of red glory hunters out there, that’s not actually the case. So Sven comes into the job with no previous international success and the hopes of an entire country resting on his shoulders.
At first this didn’t appear to daunt either Sven or the team. His first game as manager was a three nil win over Spain. This was only a friendly, but to the first non-Englishman ever to be appointed to the post of manager it must have felt like a proper international game. Talk about going in at the deep end. Under Sven’s leadership, we went on to qualify for two world cups and the 2004 Euro Championships, something that seems a distant and nostalgic dream when you think back to the desolation that marked this summer. Before the world cup in 2006 Sven announced his intention to quit the manager’s job and so after the heart break of that last shootout we had to face the task of looking for a new manager.
During his time in the top job, Sven wasn’t without his critics. Many saw his calmness as indifference. No, leaping around in the technical area certainly wasn’t Sven’s thing. Aside from this lack of passion there was the plain fact that he just wasn’t English! Such obstinate pride is a big part of what’s made our country great. Two world wars and one world cup after all, but national stubbornness also landed us with Steve McClaren. Or maybe, the FA just wanted someone they could control.
Unlike Sven, McClaren was better known as a man in the shadows rather than as a team coach. McClaren played in the 80s and early 90s mainly for Hull. After leaving the game in 1992 due to an injury, he became the assistant manager at Derby County and then at Manchester United. Up until this point, McClaren had hardly been a household name. After all, even the United chairman got his name wrong. McClaren’s flair for tactics and his extensive use of things like sports psychologists must have impressed people in the FA because in 2000 he was made a coach in the national side. In 2002 he became the manager of Middlesbrough. Boro prospered under McClaren, reaching seventh in the premiership and achieving a place in Europe for two consecutive years. If only he’d stayed at Boro.
After Sven’s departure, McClaren was short listed for the manager’s job. For a time it looked like we’d have a second foreign manager in the form of Luiz Felipe Scolari. After it became obvious that the big man didn’t want the job due to media attention, the FA gave the job to McClaren. Well England isn’t Boro Steve. McClaren had his supporters though. Fair enough, they weren’t many and some weren’t even English but it still counts I guess. One influential voice in support of McClaren’s new job was Scotsman Sir Alex Ferguson, because the Scots really wish us well in every sporting endeavour don’t they? Maybe even Andy Murray cheered on hearing the news, before putting on his Croatian shirt, of course.
He did have some English backing though: Sir Trevor Brooking. Well, as an FA official he could hardly do otherwise. McClaren’s first act as manager was to drop many of our most experienced players such as David James and David Beckham. The decision to drop Beckham didn’t make sense to me then and it still doesn’t now. Why fail to include the bloke who either scored or set up half the goals for England in the last world cup? McClaren did leave the door open for Beckham’s return though, with this apparent clairvoyant streak you have to wonder did he know we weren’t going to make it to the Euro’s?
The “new direction” in which McClaren wanted to take the team appeared to be working out fine. We won our first three qualifying games and put in some good performances. Then it all went wrong. Following five games with only one goal, the door that McClaren had left ajar nearly came off its hinges as Beckham was brought back.
Beckham performed his usual magic – both as a quality player and a talisman for the country as a whole. For a while everything looked good, the players were doing well and we only needed a draw in our final game against Croatia to qualify. Due largely to McClaren’s bazaar team selection we lost the game 3 – 2. It will always be a mystery to me why Mcclaren brought on another striker when all we had to do was keep the score level at 2-2. From our history he should know that England do enough to get through and no more. That’s part of the magic of following our country to know that they’ll never make it easy for you. Sven would never have taken such a risk.
After the Croatian match, there would have been more chance of Newcastle United signing Ronaldo than McClaren staying on as manager. Again the FA looked for a home grown manager but when no one could be found we went abroad and found Fabio Capello.
Capello has a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and has implemented many changes in both the structure and attitude of the team. Things like only calling the players by their second name might seem trivial but maybe such firmness is what we need rather than the matey atmosphere of McClaren. No more “J T” and the like.
We’ve got the potential. At club level our players are superb, but something seems to go wrong for some of them when they wear the three lions. Capello will meet with club managers both prior to and after international games, in an attempt to strengthen the sometimes frosty bond between club and country. Capello’s target is to get the players to show the same flair they do for their clubs as for their country.
My personal belief is that Capello will be a force for the good, although how long he’ll stay with us is I think a crucial point. Capello has a get out clause in his contract that could mean he’ll leave after the world cup. What we need in England is continuity. It’s all very well for Capello to “discipline” the players but what’s the good if he’s not here to carry on the good work?
Apart from the defeat against France we’ve done pretty well so far, although most of the games haven’t exactly been played against top opponents. The USA? They don’t even understand real football. With the world cup qualifiers just around the corner there’s so much still to do and we won’t really find out if he’s the man for the job until our first qualifying game on 6th September. We’re a proud Island nation and it can’t be long until we take up our rightful place as one of the footballing greats.