Gary Neville’s sacking at Valencia is just the latest proof of the appalling state of English coaching. The whole footballing culture within England and its media must change.
In the two decades following ‘King Kev’’s infamous meltdown on live television, only two English bosses have even managed third position in the EPL: Roy Evans at Liverpool and a 70-year-old Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle in 2003.
These are damning statistics. It should therefore come as no surprise that the performance of home-grown managers on the continent is equally abysmal. Gary Neville’s dreadful four-month spell as coach of Valencia, where he took nine weeks to win a league game and left the club just six points above the relegation zone, is now completely the norm for English ‘gaffers’.
Since World War II, the only home-grown coaches to have won a championship in one of Europe’s four other major leagues of France, Italy, Spain and Germany are Bill Berry (Lille, 1946), Jesse Carver (Juventus, 1950) and Terry Venables (Barcelona, 1985). The only international silverware arrived half-a-century ago with Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup success on home soil.
The aforementioned Robson is the last Englishman to win a major continental title – leading a Ronaldo-inspired Barcelona to the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997. You have to go back to 1984 to find an English winner of either the European Cup or UEFA Cup in the form of Joe Fagan (Liverpool) and Keith Burkinshaw (Tottenham), respectively.
The state of English coaching at the highest level is quite frankly embarrassing. The FA and Premier League should be ashamed. There are currently only three English managers in the EPL; two of these at sides who are fighting relegation (Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce). Neville’s dismissal by Valencia means there are now no English coaches in La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga. Even two of the last four England managers have been foreign.
Compare this to other elite European nations. Italy and Spain boast 20 coaches in the top five leagues (and are set to win four of these this season), France provides 19 and Germany supplies 12. Italian, Spanish and German trainers have won 16 Champions League titles in total since the competition was rebranded in 1992. Italian coaches alone have claimed 26 major league championships in the same time period. English managers have none in all of these categories.
The likes of Sam Allardyce have regularly complained about a lack of opportunity for home-grown managers. The Sunderland boss recently called for the introduction of a “Rooney Rule” to ensure a British manager is always interviewed for a Premier League job.
“The problem for me is we are denying British coaches positions,” he sniped in January.
“The Rooney Rule would be a fantastic idea because there are so many coaches out there who are highly qualified, have a great amount of experience and are not even getting the opportunity to do the job in their own country.”
‘The Rooney Rule’ was introduced in the United States to ensure non-white candidates were interviewed for NFL jobs. It was spearheaded by Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who felt African-Americans were not getting fair opportunities beyond playing the game.
However, English football managers are not being bypassed for interview. The truth of the matter is that they are just not good enough. Whether the country wants to accept it or not, these inadequacies at the highest level are not down to a lack of opportunity but are a by-product of the parochial footballing culture in the nation.
There are numerous traits that make a successful coach – from man-management skills and media savviness to the ability to judge and train players. But the most important quality of all is a good footballing brain. Without footballing intellect, it is impossible to become a top manager.
Neville could be considered an exception in this respect. But the English nation as a whole, to put it bluntly, lacks footballing intellect when compared to its rivals.
The main reason for this is the notoriously inward-looking British press which would have you believe that the only football being played in the world is in the Premier League, the “best league in the world.”
Aside from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – with the odd story thrown in on Barcelona and Real Madrid – the majority of the mainstream media offers next to no detailed coverage on any football outside of the British Isles.
As Malcolm X taught us many years ago, the media “controls the minds of the masses” – so it is only natural that much of the English public lives in a bubble where foreign football culture is snubbed and sniggered at.
Young aspiring players and coaches in England, also often handicapped by the language barrier, are not granted the footballing education required for them to compete with their foreign counterparts, certainly intellectually. They are often subjected to tired clichés and decades-old stereotypes by journalists and pundits. Italy still plays ‘Catenaccio,’ ‘Germans can never be written off,’ ‘Argentines dive.’
here are, of course, many intelligent and knowledgeable football experts in England but mainstream reporting is often clouded in a wilful ignorance of the world game. There are too many parochial flag-wavers in influential positions, especially within the press, and this is an opinion that is widely held throughout the continent.
“Spain neither respects nor trusts the British football media, viewing outlets as tabloids dedicated to reporting unfounded rumors about the personal lives of players and the women in their lives,” says Goal‘s Barcelona correspondent Ignasi Oliva.
“They don’t understand why there are no sports papers and why the information is so heavily weighted to reports that have nothing to do with sport.
“In that respect, it is worth recalling the words of the Spanish poet and one of the leading figures in the country’s literary movement in the early 20th Century, Antonio Machado, who said: ‘Spain, wrapped in her rags, scorns the ignorant.'”
The whole ethos from top to bottom needs to change if England is to start producing cultured managers who can succeed at top clubs at home and abroad.
The media, including Gary Neville, when he returns to his old job, needs to play a huge role in this. It must take a bigger interest in foreign leagues. When a Premier League side makes a new signing from abroad, it is completely unacceptable for national pundits to remark: “nobody knows anything about him” – as they did when Francesco Guidolin was appointed as Swansea manager.
When a foreign team owned by a billionaire is drawn in the Champions League knockouts, it should not be considered a “bye” simply because journalists are too ignorant to know anything about them. This was the case last year when a Monaco team boasting stars such as Anthony Martial and Yannick Carrasco was fatefully written off against Arsenal. “To those in the English media who say our league is s**t, it proves there’s perhaps s**t elsewhere as well,” Lille boss Rene Girard famously said after Monaco’s 3-1 win in London.
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