...you look back and find out you were exactly right. I wrote this opinion piece in the weeks before Steve 'The Wally With The Brolly' was appointed as manager of the England football team.
Give O’Neill England Job (12/4/06)
As the FA continues their dallying over the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson’s successor as England manager you can’t help but wonder why the only obvious candidate has not been appointed, and does not even appear to be a front-runner for the job.
Martin O’Neill is a first rate manager. That’s a fact and it’s not a secret either. He has a fantastic record and is widely renowned as the best man-manager in the business. This quality is ideal for a national team that’s main difficulties are often getting a team to gel and keeping players happy. O’Neill would not be afraid to shake things up either. There are too many England players that are far too comfortable, knowing that they are certain of a start every game. Players such as Michael Owen, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand need telling that there are players ready to come in and take their place if their form is not up to scratch, and O’Neill would do that.
This is not to say that there are not other contenders, but appointing any of them would be a big mistake. Stuart Pearce seems to be the fans’ choice but he is obviously not ready. I firmly believe he is a future England manager but not now. The mistake of handing him the reins would be the same as the Keegan one - that they got the right man at the wrong time. He has enough on his plate at City at the moment where there are the beginnings of mumblings of discontent over recent poor results. Despite a very promising start City are actually no better off now than they were before Pearce took over.
Another name that has been bandied around is Sam Allardyce. Unlike Pearce though, he will never be good enough to do the job. Allardyce’s reputation is for squeezing the best out of ageing foreigners and the occasional success story of reforming a troubled character. Neither of these qualities would be much use in the England hotseat, and both the fans and the media would soon be sick of his long-ball, roughing up the opposition tactics. Allardyce would not be a popular choice with anybody apart from himself, his biggest fan.
The next of the English candidates is Alan Curbishley, and I believe that if he was to be appointed England would tread water rather than move forward. This not to say that it would be a disastrous move, but it would not be a very wise one. Curbishley has done wonders at Charlton and he should be commended for it, but he is yet to prove himself in European competition and England need someone who has managed at a top level with top players.
Finally, there is who appears to be the favourite to land the job, Steve McClaren. A man with a decent enough pedigree, many successful years as Sir Alex’s assistant at Manchester United before a solid career at Middlesbrough, as well as him already being involved in the England set-up, make him a firm favourite for the FA. But what has he actually achieved? At United he was merely assistant manager, and back then when Ferguson was in his prime he could probably have been as successful without an assistant. And at Middlesbrough, well, wasn’t it just weeks ago a fan felt inclined to throw his season ticket at McClaren? However, he has shown willingness to bring through young talent such as Taylor, Morrison, Parnaby, Downing and Cattermole, and this will stand him in good stead. I would not be at all surprised if the FA appointed McClaren as he already has his foot in the door.
Hiddink and Scolari are the only non-British men to be linked with the job, but I don’t think the FA will be appointing another foreigner any time soon. Eriksson has shown us perfectly why a non-Brit cannot do the job effectively. He is too uninvolved and not passionate enough. This may just be an Eriksson thing but it is likely other foreigners would have the same shortcomings. Hiddink recently accepted the job as Russia’s national team manager, which leaves Scolari as the sole foreign contender, and probably rank outsider.
So that leaves O’Neill standing alone as the only remaining candidate with no major obvious reason why he should not get the job. He may take a while to acclimatise to being back in the game but with straightforward qualification for the European Championships in 2008 virtually assured, he will have two years before his first major challenge. Another measure of O’Neill’s managerial prowess is to look at who else is interested in him. Newcastle, still a massive club despite another poor season, are showing more interest in him than England are at present, and Fulham are widely reported to be lining him up as a replacement for Chris Coleman. When Alex Ferguson was threatening to retire O’Neill was a banker to take over as Manchester United manager, arguably the biggest job in football. That says it all.
England will not win this year’s World Cup with the cautious, uninspiring Eriksson in charge, but with Martin O’Neill at the helm for the next one, we would have a great chance in 2010.
OK, so since then Fabio Capello has done a bloody good job of showing a foreigner can manage the England team, but at the time there was no way the FA was going to look outside of Britain for their man.