England Expects

By , Posted on 4th February 2012 - Posted in: News

In its two decades of existence it remains a startling fact that we still await the first Englishman to lead a team to the Premier League title. As season number twenty begins its familiar, quickening march to completion there are few signs that this drought is coming to an end. Tottenham Hotspur fans may disagree of course, but the smart money remains on one of the two Manchester clubs taking this season’s honour. Besides, by the time you read this Harry Redknapp may be doing time at Her Majesty’s pleasure and I’m not sure how well he can manage the club from a prison cell.

Come next May if it’s United who prevail, then Scotsman Sir Alex Ferguson will claim a remarkable thirteenth title, and if it’s City, then Italian Roberto Mancini will take his first.

We have to go back to the final season of the old First Division, season 1991-92, when Leeds United swept to the title under the leadership of Yorkshireman Howard Wilkinson to find the last top flight English-powered success. Such a thing didn’t seem too remarkable at the time. In the twenty years preceding the formation of the Premier League the title was won fourteen times by seven different Englishmen (Don Revie, Brian Clough, Bob Paisley, Ron Saunders, Joe Fagan, Howard Kendall, and Wilkinson).

The domination of the last twenty years by a single non-English manager notwithstanding, what’s happened since those old First Division days, and Redknapp aside, where are today’s English pretenders? The only two Englishmen to have got anywhere near mounting a title challenge in the Premiership era are Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United and Roy Evans at Liverpool, but you have to go back fifteen or so years to recall them.

The most obvious answer to the conundrum appears to lie somewhere in the rush our clubs have engaged in to embrace all things continental. It’s not only on the playing fields where we’ve seen the radical influx of foreign stars. As the 1990s progressed the perceived wisdom of English football’s movers and shakers was that a lack of continental management was holding back our top clubs. The ban on English teams entering European club competition in the wake of the Heysel disaster in 1985 had clearly left us adrift of Europe’s cutting edge, an edge that was located in Italy and spearheaded by a magnificent AC Milan team.

English football was never going to entice too many top Italian managers over to these shores but we did lure coaches from France, Spain, Holland and parts of Scandinavia, Even the national side has been managed by a Swede and is of course currently guided by an Italian.

To the clear detriment of talented young English managers many clubs still see some kind of cachet in hiring a European manager, particularly so the top clubs. The crop of talented English coaches that seemed to burst through in the early 1990s has largely been and gone (Peter Reid, Alan Curbishley, John Gregory, Sam Allardyce, Steve Bruce et al) without ever having had the chance to take the reins of a big club. A new breed of young English managers is out there but they tend to hit a glass ceiling, either in the championship or at lower ranking Premier League clubs.

Of course, what goes around comes around but my guess is that we’ll have to wait a while longer yet before one of our top clubs takes a chance and plumps once more for home grown values. For the time being, it appears we must pin our hopes on Harry Redknapp and the members of the Southwark Crown Court jury.

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