Tag: Misc

Shakespeare sacking no surprise

Imagine my annoyance on Tuesday afternoon when I was finishing off an article on the Premier League sack race and before publishing it Leicester City beat me to the punch, incidentally I had Craig Shakespeare in the silver medal position behind Ronald Koeman.


Shakespeare did well as interim manager but things never looked like working out when he got the job on a permanent basis. As first team coach under Claudio Ranieri, Shakespeare shared in Leicester’s remarkable title triumph of 2016. It also placed him in the perfect position to asses what was going wrong in Ranieri’s second season and after the Italian was fired Shakespeare quickly rectified the problems, stopped the tinkering and reverted to what made Leicester such a success in the first place- it worked as he pulled Leicester clear of trouble and into mid table safety.

But it’s becoming increasingly rare for interim managers promoted from the coaching staff to become successful managers. Liverpool’s boot room system worked brilliantly in the 70s and 80s as they moved from Shankly to Paisley to Fagan and finally Dalglish. More recent successful examples are hard to find- Harry Redknapp was promoted at West Ham after Billy Bonds was fired in the 90s and David O’Leary successfully stepped up at Leeds after George Graham left for Tottenham.

The difficulty of moving from interim to permanent boss is you need a plan to move forward not just the means to fix the old problems, Shakespeare never looked like having that in his locker. Leicester bought good players in the summer but the pieces didn’t seem to fit together- Iheanacho looked too similar to Jamie Vardy, Vincent Iborra wasn’t fit with only Harry Maguire seamlessly fitting into the team by replacing the ageing Robert Huth. Shakespeare was of course unlucky that Adrien Silva signed 13 seconds too late to play for the club until January, he and Iborra will make an intriguing midfield duo for the next manager.

The fixture list didn’t do Shakespeare any favours either, they started at Arsenal a game they deserved to win but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory- a game that turned on substitutions and Shakespeare got his wrong. The early fixtures then gifted them a trip to Old Trafford and home games against Liverpool & Chelsea. After coming through those difficult games with narrow defeats home matches against Bournemouth and West Brom became must win- Leicester drew both and the club’s Chinese owners pulled the plug.

It was ruthless but justified, Leicester still have the attraction of being recent Premier League Champions and have a squad with greater talent than two thirds of the Premier League, yet they are in the bottom 3.

The talent at their disposal and willingness to spend big (Slimani, Silva, Maguire, Iheanacho) should attract a big name to the club- I was aghast that Sam Allardyce was the first name in the frame, a move that would show a stunning lack of imagination and hand them a manager who would simply pull towards a 40 point survival target, mercifully that report appears wide of the mark.

Sean Dyche has got Burnley punching well above their weight and his growing reputation merits consideration for a next level Premier League club like Leicester. Marco Silva would have been a great appointment back in the summer but he’s now off the market. Chris Coleman will inevitably come into consideration after his successful stint with Wales, Coleman has proved he can handle big names (Bale & Ramsey) and successfully mould a team around them. He’s currently considering his future after Wales failed to make the World Cup and may opt to stay in post but he’s another Leicester will surely sound out.

Further afield former Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel has been mentioned, but he has a reputation as a spikey figure who might not fit with the club although there’s no denying he is a high calibre coach. One word of advice for Leicester’s board is steer clear of ex Premier League manager’s looking to get back in- the likes of Alan Pardew and Ian Holloway. Leicester are unlikely to hit the heights of 2016 again but they should be in a position to push for cups and European football, it’ll be interesting to see who they believe will be the man to take them there.

As for Shakespeare he joins that long list of very good coaches who couldn’t quite cut it as a manager. He may get another shot in a hot seat but it’ll likely be at a high end Championship club- Sheffield Wednesday might be a good fit. Otherwise a first team coach position will come along sooner or later, maybe even a position in Gareth Southgate’s backroom staff, he did previously have a seat during Allardyce’s brief stay at St George’s Park, but when it comes to Premier League hot seats most only get one chance and Shakespeare has had his.




Russia 2018- global extravaganza or disaster waiting to happen?

I’d really love to be Gianni Infantino or at least I’d like his job. He gets to run a globally powerful organisation whose credibility is so low that literally anything you do is an improvement on your predecessor (as long as you don’t stick your fingers in the till).

Even better- said organisation’s big event has already been handed out until 2022 so it’s not your fault if it’s a disaster!

Sepp Blatter’s regime handed the 2018 & 2022 World Cup to Russia & Qatar back in 2010 in dubious circumstances, and inadvertently triggered the downfall of their house of cards.

Qatar is another matter 5 years away with a desert sized list of issues attached. But what of 2018 in Russia.


Whilst the decision to award Russia the tournament has aroused suspicion (although no proof of wrong doing has ever been confirmed), it has always seemed less controversial than handing out 2022 to a small nation with no football history an impractical climate, dubious human rights record but masses of cash.

Aside from Holland, Russia is probably the most storied football nation never to host its biggest event. They’ve won the European Championships and have made numerous long runs in tournaments (admittedly all but one as the Soviet Union) and qualified frequently for World Cups. So why the controversy and what are the prospects?

Mixing Politics & Sport

The obvious place to start is with Putin. The Russian President had long been mistrusted in The West and the tensions have been consistently cranked up in recent years over Russia’s involvement in the Syria and the Ukraine crisis’.

But even Blatter can’t be blamed for not predicting what would happen in those parts of the world back in 2010. In the same period the more respected IOC happily awarded Sochi the 2014 Winter Olympics and FIFA will point out it’s a global organisation not just a Western one.

But it’s hard not to compare awarding this World Cup to Russia to the IOC’s controversial awarding of the 2008 Olympics to Beijing. Laughably at the time some claimed China’s hosting the Olympics would encourage them to adopt more progressive human rights policies- presumably said observers also thought South Africa should have been awarded a major tournament in the 1980s to encourage them to abolish apartheid.

The awarding of 2008 to Beijing looked commercially motivated and aside from the Torch relay fiasco eventually showcased a positive view of China, but it hasn’t altered China’s stance on Tibet.

With Russia Blatter’s FIFA probably saw money and unlike the western bidders a compliant media that wouldn’t raise questions about FIFA’s shady financial dealings or complete lack of transparency.


Of course a controversial host doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a bad World Cup. Many fans of a certain age quote Argentina ‘78 as their favourite World Cup, the abiding image of that tournament is the ticker-tape eruption in the Stadia whilst people wax lyrical 40 years on about Kempes, the Dutch hitting the post in the dying minutes of the final and Archie Gemmill.

Yet at the time Argentina was controlled by a military Junta under who thousands were murdered and the tournament itself was dogged by the outright corruption of referees and match officials.

And on the subject of dodgy bidding processes it now appears there may have been skullduggery in the awarding of both Brazil and South Africa the tournament, Russia played by the rules of the bidding- it’s not there fault the rules were absurd.

Trouble on the terraces and in the drug testing labs

Russia’s sporting status sank to a new low before the 2016 Olympics. Scores of Russian athletes were banned from the games after the World anti doping agency (WADA) uncovered a widespread doping program.

Since that scandal erupted the Fancy Bears website based in Russia has launched a counterattack by hacking WADA in an attempt to discredit the organisation. Football has remained largely clear of doping issues but it remains a huge concern in Russian sport- not helped by its most famous sportsperson being given a 2 year ban for failing a drugs test. Admittedly Maria Sharapova has never been part of any Russian sporting program and is US based but it reinforces the image of a nation with a doping problem.

But the biggest worry about Russia 2018 comes from inside the Stadia: the threat of crowd violence and racist chants. Last month in the Champions League under 19s Liverpool reported Spartan Moscow for racial abuse one of their players suffered from the Moscow crowd. It was the latest in a long line of racial slurs visiting players have suffered in Russia. Even more worryingly the 2018 anti racism chief previously claimed the problem didn’t exist in Russia.

The other major crowd problem is hooliganism. The ugly scenes in Marseille during Euro 2016 were bad enough and yet shockingly one Russian MP claimed it was job well done because they beat up some English hooligans in the town and stormed the barriers in the ground after the game- never mind the fact that some of those caught up in the melee were children. All of this would seem to make Russia an unappealing destination for the Greatest Show on Earth.

Will crowd trouble erupt next June?

I don’t expect hooliganism to be a factor at World Cup venues this summer. The main reasons being the high levels of security we’ll be seeing at the grounds and the difficulty in obtaining tickets mean World Cup crowds are all together different from club crowds. Usually that’s a criticism of World Cup ticketing- this time it’s a plus, with crowds likely to be a mix of supporters clubs, school kids, families, Middle class fans and corporate guests.

An example of this came at Euro 2012 when the build up was dominated by worries of crowd trouble and racist chanting in Ukraine, particularly after a Panorama expose featuring Sol Campbell advised fans to stay at home. In the event English fans were neither targeted nor visiting players subjected to racist idiots, with England fans tweeting what a great time they were having. The organisers will be hoping for similar next summer, it remains to be seen if they practice the zero tolerance to racism they’ve promised- but at least FIFA is no longer run by a man who thinks you combat racism by shaking hands at the final whistle.

So what are the positives?

Part of the mystique of World Cup’s is holding them in far away places most travelling fans and those watching from home have never visited and know little about. Joey Barton recently claimed Brazil can’t win the World Cup in Russia because of the cold climate, actually Joey June in Russia is quite hot (much warmer than the UK or South Africa) around World Cup time. OK Joey Barton doesn’t represent a scientific sample of the public, but it is an illustration of how staggeringly ignorant most are of Russia with their understanding of the country based on Putin, The Cold War and Dr Zhivago. It’s the equivalent of someone’s understanding of America being restricted to Trump, Watergate & John Wayne. As someone who’s visited Russia frequently in recent years I can say Russia has plenty to offer and those heading there next summer will find plenty of none football related things to see and do. Whilst those watching from the living room will also learn more about this largely unknown land.

In football terms the biggest match hosted in Russia to date was the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United & Chelsea, despite fears of a catastrophe the handling of the game and both sets of fans went off without a hitch.


More recently Manchester United’s Europa League tie with Rostov saw the town of Rostov treat the arrival of United’s superstar squad like a Royal visit; not that it stopped Jose whinging about the state of the pitch. Away from Moscow & St Petersburg in the Russian interior teams are likely to find a similar welcome from the local population.

World Cup’s like Olympics needs to leave a legacy- the infrastructure projects this World Cup has brought about will undeniably make life better in parts of the country that desperately need it.

Host nation bounce?

This summers Confederations Cup went off without a hitch in terms of infrastructure (if not FIFA’s inspired decision to use VAR). But the performance of the home team didn’t suggest a run the World Cup semifinals is on. Russia failed to get out of the group, only managing to beat New Zealand. Guus Hiddink’s stylish side characterised by Andrei Arshavin is long gone, Russia’s current side appear only marginally better than their awful Euro 2016- their lack of options summed up by the inclusion in the first 11 of Yuri Zhirkov (yes the one who played for Chelsea about 7 years ago) although they do possess a potential match winer in Alan Dzagoev. They will be favoured by the draw seeding but it’s hard to see them progressing beyond the last 16 and carrying their nations hopes to the later stages, something that usually boosts a tournament.


Ultimately this World Cup has plenty of red flags (no pun intended) but past tournaments have shown our worst fears are rarely met as countries pull out all the stops to show their nation in a positive light, let’s hope the Russian organisers and public take up this once in a lifetime opportunity.


England fans should get behind Southgate…for now

Two sluggish 1 nil wins and England made it to the World Cup to a chorus of apathy and disapproval. In the media scrum that followed everyone had their say and sadly that meant a ‘speak your brains’ phone in on Five Live. Depressingly someone called in to say sack Southgate and replace him with Harry Redknapp or Carlo Ancelotti apparently because Ancelotti speaks better English than ‘That other Italian they had.’ A word of advice for anyone who feels like phoning in live on air- know the names of the people you’re taking about!

No Instant Fix

Quite a few people have suggested the newly out of work Ancelotti, but I wouldn’t agree on the grounds that when England went foreign in the past it was to get the best out of a highly gifted generation of players so you could understand the FA seeking out the best first team manager available. Now the aim is to bring through the youngsters, set a template for the junior sides to come into in years to come and improve on the awful tournament performances of 2014 & 2016.  With the emphasis on bringing through the players and coaches parachuting in a high price overseas manager isn’t a fit.

As for Redknapp he should have got the job in 2012, but let’s be clear in 2017 he’d be a disaster. He was fired from his last successful job in 2012 and since then made a disastrous mess of QPR and more recently Birmingham due to overspending on veteran players. If ‘arry got the England job his first move would be to recall John Terry, Peter Crouch & Michael Carrick- anyone who doubts that should look back at his comments last season that Terry was the answer for every Premier League side struggling at the back, he then offered Terry a truckload of cash to join Birmingham. If the focus is on bringing through youngsters it would be like appointing Mario Andretti to run a speed awareness course. And thats before we get to the due diligence required to check into any skeletons in his closet.

Ultimately changing the manager won’t fix the problems and England need a manager who is bought into their long term plan.


The next man in

When The FA appointed Gareth Southgate the cupboard was bare, one year on the candidates for the England job are there but all have questions to answer and missions to complete at club level first;

Brendan Rodgers has long been established as a good coach and provided a standard of play at Liverpool not seen since the late 80s (admittedly helped by having Luis Suarez in the side). After things went pear shaped at Anfield but he’s enhanced his reputation with Celtic, where the job he’s done should be measured in improved performances rather than domestic silverware, it’s also been long rumoured Rodgers coverts the England job.

The elephant in the room with Rodgers is he isn’t English, could the man from Northern Ireland manage England? Many have pointed out that with every other coach at St Georges Park having to be English the program could be undermined by having an Ulsterman at the top of the tree. Of course Rodgers isn’t comparable with Fabio Capello, he has come through the ranks in England and clearly there isn’t a cultural problem.  The other issue with Rodgers is his goal of making Celtic a credible european force is only partially completed- they have improved but need a run (more likely in the Europa League) after Christmas to complete what he started. And then there’s his tendency to turn into David Brent.

Sean Dyche has done a great job at Burnley taking them to 2 promotions and looks like securing a third straight season in the Premier League. The problem with Dyche is he really needs to do it with a bigger club first, his ideal next step would either be given greater resources at Burnley or move on to one to next level premier league club (West Ham, Everton or Newcastle all spring to mind) before considering a move to international football. There’s also his tendency to come out of with stone age comments in press conferences- comparing English managers to own brand supermarket jeans isn’t a good look.

Eddie Howe- An easier fit for the FA than Dyche, Eddie Howe has achieved a lot with Bournemouth and his sides no play nice football. But he currently needs to fight his way out of a relegation fight and like Dyche may need a higher profile and better resourced club job first, he also failed to get a tune out of Jack Wilshere and has struggled with big signings. All that being said if the job came up tomorrow Howe would be favourite.

Paul Clement- Clearly a world class coach from his time with Real Madrid, Clement made a big impact on arriving at Swansea and kept a relegation threatened side in the Premier League. Clement’s sides play possession based football and he clearly has a lot to offer. The negative is like Howe he’s in a relegation battle right now and not only needs to win that, he has to progress Swansea up the Premier League table to prove he has the management nouse to match his coaching chops.


I’m not saying Southgate is a better manager than any of these fellas, what I think is important is they need more time in club football to hone their craft and if the aim is for 2020 and 2022 it’s better to wait and see if they can progress the way we hope rather than throwing them in at the deep end. And we should remember that Southgate didn’t want the job, his preference was to gain more experience with the under 21s and have a go at the U21 Euros of 2017 before being ready to go for the senior job, unfortunately Sam Allardyce walked into a bar with some undercover reporters and that was that.

The Pros and Cons of Gareth

Nobody should make an argument for Southgate being a top class manager, there’s no evidence of that. He’s at best a work in progress manager who’s had to step in and learn on the job. The style has been none existent but Southgate is a studious man who has successfully avoided the pitfall of experimenting in qualifiers- which ultimately did for Steve McClaren.

Southgate’s best work appears to have been behind the scenes with the players clearly bought into his program and working to make improvements in grassroots football. He’s also promoted youngsters, shown a tactical flexibility that Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Erikkson lacked, steering clear of 4-4-2 and using a safe 4-2-3-1 for qualifying and experimenting with 3-4-3 in friendlies. He speaks well, is promoting youngsters and isn’t going to do something stupid and embarrass his employers (unlike the last bloke).

But the style or lack of it is England’s biggest problem and there’s been little on display over the last 12 months, notably in the last 6 games (Scotland, France, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia & Lithuania). Part of that is down to the lack of central midfield options (what he would’t give for a Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard or even Jenas.) But he hasn’t shown much sign of crafting a solution around that weakness- perhaps the switch to 3-4-3 will be the best way of doing that. And although England haven’t conceded many goals in qualifying (3 and 2 of those were direct free kicks)  we’ve yet to see if Southgate can forge a tight defensive plan.

One coach Southgate unfortunately reminds me of is former England Rugby Union Head Coach Stuart Lancaster. The parallels are obvious, Lancaster came from the RFU backroom after doing well with the junior levels and got the big job on the basis of a successful stint as interim manager. Lancaster jettisoned the veterans and brought through the young players but couldn’t quite blend them into a winning team and ultimately failed at the Rugby World Cup, his successor Eddie Jones has since made the same team into a ruthless winning machine. Of course Lancaster made some enormous selection blunders (Sam Burgess, dropping Mike Ford) and there’s no sign of Southgate doing that thus far.

Another major issue with Lancaster was his players were clearly not ready for tournament rugby at the World Cup with many overwhelmed by the experience. And that’s probably Southgate’s strongest card. As a veterans of 4 tournaments under 4 different managers as a player Southgate should have a better feel of what will and won’t work in the pressure cooker of tournament football, indeed he’s already adopting some of Terry Venables ideas.

There’s also one area in which Southgate’s side have shown tangible signs of improvement- mental toughness. England’s mental fragility has been their biggest problem at recent tournaments. Southgate was quick to point out his side didn’t drop to their knees when 2-1 down at Hampden Park instead they kept their cool and equalised. There was more of the same when Slovakia got an early goal at Wembley. Will they do that in a tournament? We’ll have to wait and see but for now England fans need to stick by their manager and hope he knows what he’s doing, and no more talk of ‘arry.






Destination Russia

So it’s official- England will be at the 2018 World Cup finals. The next question is who will make the squad. Using the tabloids favourite cliche of airport terminology to illustrate who gets in the squad (or as they say who makes the plane) here’s a quick guide to who’s in, out and maybe

Boarding Pass for Moscow Domodedovo:

If you’re here then barring injury or a dramatic loss of form you will go to the World Cup with England;

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Jack Butland

Fullbacks: Kyle Walker

Centre backs: Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, John Stones

Central midfielders: Eric Dier

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Dele Alli, Adam Lallana,

Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy



Sat in the Terminal 5 Departure Lounge:

If you’re here you’re close to going- maybe one good appearance from boarding the plane or perhaps in a 50/50 battle with another player for your place- nobody wants to be 24th man for England- somebody on this list will be;


Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Fraser Forster, Tom Heaton

Fullbacks: Nathaniel Clyne, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand, Luke Shaw

Centre backs: Michael Keane, Chris Smalling, Harry Maguire

Central midfielders: Nathaniel Chalobah, Jake Livermore, Fabian Delph, Harry Winks, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jesse Lingard, Ross Barkley

Forwards: Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe

Rushing for the Heathrow Express:

If you’re here you might go but you’ve got a lot of work to do. Maybe you’re a young player trying to break through or you’re settling at a new club or returning from injury- it’s a long time until the manager names his 23- at this point in the build up to Euro 2016 Marcus Rashford was still in the Man Utd youth team!

Goalkeepers: Freddie Woodman

Fullbacks: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Aaron Cresswell, Ryan Sessegnon, Ben Chilwell

Centre backs: Jamaal Lascelles, Alfie Mawson

Central midfielders: James Ward-Prowse, Danny Drinkwater, Tom Davies, Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Theo Walcott, Nathan Redmond, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Demarai Gray

Forwards: Tammy Abraham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dominic Solanke

Boarding the flight to Maui:

If you’re here you ain’t going to the World Cup (this time at least) perhaps you went before on those brief trips to Brazil or South Africa or you’re still young and may spend Christmas 2022 in Qatar. OK the vast majority of English footballers won’t be representing their country next summer in Russia. But if you’re like stars here you are a highly paid well known (and maybe even liked) footballer and Hawaii is lovely in June.

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster

Fullbacks: Glenn Johnson, Leighton Baines, Mason Holgate

Centre backs: Ben Mee, Rob Holding, Callum Chambers

Central midfielders: Lewis Cook, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Jonjo Shelvey, Tom Carroll

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Marc Albrighton, Ademola Lookman, Josh Onamah, Andros Townsend, Scott Sinclair

Forwards: Andy Carroll, Jay Rodriguez, Andre Gray. Saido Berahino


World Cup Qualifying Part 2: All Around The World

Away from Europe qualifying is reaching its climax across the globe, so in brief who’s on their way to Russia?

Whose made it?

Brazil, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia & Iran

South America update:

With Brazil home and hosed Uruguay are the only other team who can guarantee a place this round with an away win at Venezuela. Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Chile are playing musical chairs with Colombia & Peru currently sat in the automatic qualifying places and Argentina in the playoff place whilst Confederation Champions Chile are currently set to miss out. Chile host Peru in the game of the week but this will go down to the final run off games next week but surely Messi won’t miss out will he?


Asia Update:

The groups are finished and the 4 qualifiers confirmed, Now it’s down to the playoff between Australia and war torn Syria, with the Socceroos overwhelming favourites. Their reward will be a playoff with the 4th placed Concaaf side speaking of which…

Concaaf Update:

Costs Rica will join Mexico in the finals if they beat lowly Honduras this week. The real story here is the US who’ve endured a torrid campaign and currently sit in the playoff spot a point behind Panama who visit the States this week. The Americans need the win  and should have enough to push Panama down to the playoffs.

Oceania Update:

New Zealand trounced the Soloman Islands are now await the 5th place side from South America. Clearly the All Whites would prefer to play Peru to Argentina. But New Zealand go in on good form and won’t be the pushover some have predicated.

Africa Update:

The final round of African groups are only 6 games long meaning with 2 games to go a lot can change and nobody is secure yet. Tunisia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt are all current group favourites. Group D remains the curious one with the romantics favourite Burkina Faso currently top on goal difference from the Cape Verde Islands whilst Senegal and South Africa have to replay their game from earlier this year after some suspicious refereeing.

World Cup Qualifying Round 9: The draw takes shape

World Cup qualifying Part 2: Rest of the World







England’s winner and losers Premier League Week 2


Phil Jones

Who’d have thought it, Phil Jones has been excellent this season. Fitting neatly into Mourinho’s land of the giants Jones has benefited from his manager’s unwillingness to trust new boy Victor Lindelof. He’s kept 2 clean sheets almost got a goal and has yet to do anything clumsy or stupid. Yet.


Harry Maguire

Maguire was the one defender who looked competent in Leicester’s opener with Arsenal. Against Brighton he was masterful, defending solidly, pushing forward, spraying around some nice passes and scoring. If there’s such a thing as a £17m bargain Maguire is it.


Jack Butland

Exceptional against Arsenal, Butland will surely be between the sticks against Malta when he may require a chair.

Nat Chalobah

Quiet last week, Southgate would probably have called him up to make a point about the need to play every week rather than sit on a champions league bench. No need for such politics based on his commanding display at Bournemouth. Except for that ‘Leave it’ incident, that was sh$te.

AFC Bournemouth v Watford  - Premier League

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Gave the best performance of his fledgling Everton career at the Etihad. He has pace, provided an outlet an played Rooney in for Everton’s goal. Significantly he was picked to start over Alex Sandro.

Raheem Sterling

It wasn’t looking good for Sterling or City when Pep Guardiola sent him on at half time against Everton. His blast over the bar when it looked easier to score pointed to familiar failings but his fine finish for the equaliser suggested he’s learning. Looked sharp and creative as the 10 men searched for a goal.


Joe Hart

Moved to West Ham to reassert his authority, West Ham have conceded 7 goals in 2 games. Hmm.

Daniel Sturridge

Got a start and his big chance, he didn’t play badly but never looked like scoring in the 61 minutes he was on. 12 minutes after taking him off Liverpool got the break through with subs Mo Salah and Dom Solanke prominent in getting the Reds over the line. Sturridge may be waiting until the League Cup for his next chance.

Jesse Lingard 

2 games into the season and Jesse Lingard has played 2 minutes of premier league football.  Worse still Anthony Martial has come off the Manchester United bench twice to score, relegating Lingard to plan C meanwhile United are being persistently linked with a late transfer move for a wide man, uh oh.





Almost England Manager

The impossible job? Managers always say they don’t want to manage England but many have been called and very few turn it down. So which big names almost got the job and what might have been?

  • Brian Clough- 1977

When? -1977 following the shock resignation of his bitter rival Don Revie, Clough was interviewed (amongst a lengthy shortlist) of managers for the England job.brian-clough-obe_27.max-740x444_1

What went wrong?

He flunked the interview. Apparently on arriving at Lancaster Gate Clough patronised an elderly man by suggesting he should take the lift instead of the stairs- said man was on the interview panel! Clough later claimed in his biography he had nothing in common with anyone on the FA Panel bar Sir Matt Busby and it didn’t go well. Clough also claimed the interview was a charade.

It’s not a shock that the controversial manager struggled to find a rapport with the conservative FA Panel, but there were other issues too;

The timing wasn’t great for Clough, he’d taken Nottingham Forest up to the First Division and won it 5 years previous with Derby County but his greatest achievements with Forest hadn’t happened yet.

There was also that infamous 44 day stint at Leeds which long before ‘The Damned United’ was published brought into question his ability to handle star names- just imagine the rows he’d have had with the ever combustible Kevin Keegan! The references from Derby Chairman Sam Longson may also have made for interesting reading given their volatile relationship and bitter parting of the ways. The old school tie and blazers of Lancaster Gate would have been in for a rough ride.

What happened next?

The more diplomatic Ron Greenwood got the job, took England to 2 major tournaments but never won a knock out game. Clough went on to win the league with the previously little known Nottingham Forest in 1978 and then back to back European Cups and 4 league cups, picking up every management award in the process and staying at Forest until his retirement in 1993

What might have been?

In truth it would have ended in tears- The FA was largely run by the dictatorial Sir Harold Thompson who’d been instrumental in sacking Sir Alf and had Revie in his crosshairs before the manager walked. The FA was inflexible, difficult and even then in desperate need of reform so it’s hard to see how it would have worked with a renegade manager. Had he got the job Clough and Revie would likely have finally found something they agreed on- The FA was not fit for purpose.

As Revie privately admitted and Keegan has often said since the England of the ’70s simply lacked the players to succeed. Clough would have needed to survive in the role until the early ’80s to have a chance of success, when the likes of Bryan Robson, Glenn Hoddle & Trevor Francis emerged to complement veterans Keegan and Trevor Brooking. Assuming he’d brought longtime cohort Peter Taylor with him (who notably didn’t join him at Leeds) Clough’s best chance would have come at the 1982 World Cup where he’d probably have done better than Greenwood but anything beyond the semi finals would have been truly miraculous.

  • Jack Charlton

When?– 1977 (again) when the then Middlesborough manager wrote a ‘very nice letter to the FA’ and applied for the job. He never heard back.


What went wrong?

He was probably deemed too inexperienced having only entered management 4 years earlier at ‘Boro, despite taking them to the First Division and a highly respectable 7th placed finish. Notably ‘Big’ Jack’s Centre back partner from the ’66 World Cup Final also applied and didn’t hear back.

He was also probably considered too close to Revie having spent 21 seasons at Leeds playing first with and then for the manager with whom the FA was now engaged in a bitter dispute, one that eventually lead to the FA boycotting Revie’s funeral in 1989.

And then there was the ‘Little Black Book’ incident. Charlton claimed in a 1970 TV interview he kept a little black notebook of all the players who’d committed bad fouls against him and on whom he would seek retribution (on the pitch) given the chance. A tabloid had taken exception to this because things like that never happen in football.

What happened next?

Snubbed by the FA Big Jack returned to club management where he continued to enjoy success with smaller clubs before getting the Republic of Ireland job in 1986. He got Ireland through qualification for the first time in their history making it to the Euro ’88 finals, where he exacted revenge on the FA by beating England 1-0 in the group opener. He went on to manager Ireland to back to back World Cup appearances in 1990 & 94 making it to the quarter finals and last 16 respectively. After losing out in a play off for Euro ’96 Charlton hung up his cap and went fishing.

What might have been?

Like Clough, Charlton was an outspoken manager who’d inevitably have run foul of the FA and Thompson before too long. His tactics with Ireland were hardly progressive but that might have worked well with England in the late ’70s but would not have won trophies.

However we wouldn’t have got beaten by Ireland at Euro ’88 and perhaps some of those suspiciously English sounding players in green would have been wearing the Three Lions. Big Jack was an excellent man manager who ringed the most out of the resources he had but it’s tough to argue he’d have done better than Bobby Robson.

  • Sir Alex Ferguson

When? Since his retirement in 2013 Sir Alex has talked more openly about his brush with the FA claiming fellow Scot Adam Crosier offered him the job in 2001 (following Kevin Keegan’s resignation.)


What went wrong?

According to Ferguson he turned it down. He never showed any desire to leave United and as he’s said ‘He’d never have been allowed into Scotland again,’ a fair point.

He’d never have taken it, simple as that- Ferguson often derided the job as horrible and without the pull of national pride to the post, the absence of day to day working with players wouldn’t have sat well with him, the best the FA could have hoped for would have been an advisory role.

What happened next?

England appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson who took them to 3 straight quarterfinals whilst Ferguson stayed in Manchester won 7 more Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008, retiring after his final title in 2013.

What might have been?

Had he relented and taken the job, the FA of the millennium was a very different beast to the one Clough & Revie encountered. Ferguson would have been guaranteed the jobs for as long as he wanted it, if it had happened in 2001 it would have lasted until Euro 2004 at best.

Eriksson’s results with England in those tournaments were pretty good but Ferguson would probably have done better particularly adapting the team in 2004 after Rooney was injured in the quarter final.

But you have temper expectations with Ferguson’s record in the Champions League- 2 wins and 4 finals from 17 successive attempts, United were perennial quarter finalist but only intermittently better. He also managed Scotland to 4th place in an admittedly very tough group at Mexico ’86 having taken temporary charge following the death of Jock Stein.

One way in which he unquestionably would have moved England forward would have been the construction of St George’s Park.  On arriving at United in 1986 he insisted the clubs priority needed to be building the academy, United having become too dependant on buying players. That lead directly to the class of ’92 and the construction of United’s training facility at Carrington.

St George’s Park was originally envisaged in 2001, coincidentally the time Ferguson was in the FA’s sights. But it took until 2011 for construction to begin with the grand opening finally taking place in 2012 as the FA had perviously prioritised building the new Wembley. Ferguson would never have stood for that and England’s current plan would have been executed a decade earlier, that really would have opened up new possibilities.

  • Luiz Filipe Scolari

When?– Spring 2006, the FA decided they’d part ways with Eriksson after that summer’s World Cup and looked to the man who’d proved Erikksons nemesis in the previous 2 tournaments.


What went wrong?

FA Boss Brian Barwick inadvertantly alerted the press by taking a commercial flight to meet Scolari in Lisbon to agree the deal. The story broke and Scolari discovered a mass of journalists camped outside his house, uncomfortable with the attention he declined to move forward and England started reviewing domestic candidates.

What happened next?

Big Phil’s Portugal inevitably beat England on penalties again, in the quarter finals again! He stayed on with Portugal for another 2 years guiding them to a slightly underwhelming quarter final loss to Germany. Before the tournament he announced he’d be leaving that summer to join Chelsea, many Portugal fans blamed the timing of the announcement for the teams early exit that summer. He endured a tough time at Stamford Bridge and was fired mid season with the Premier League title slipping out of sight. He eventually went back to managing Brazil, making it to the semi finals in 2014 before that walloping 7-1 loss to Germany.

What might have been?

Imaging what might have happened in the absence of Steve McClaren is a particularly low bar of expectation, Scolari would have cleared that by simply qualifying for Euro 2008. He’d have managed that and probably made some progress beyond the group, but England wouldn’t have been equipped to beat the likes of Spain or Holland. He’d have likely stayed until 2010 with a likely similar result to Fabio Capello albeit the players would have liked him more.

  • Jose Mourinho

When?– After Steve McClaren’s unceremonious failure in the Euro 2008 qualifiers the FA sounded out Mourinho who was available following his surprise sacking by Chelsea two months earlier.


What went wrong?

Mourinho was initially interested but preferred a return to club football, when the rumours started to gather pace he received a backlash in his native Portugal and withdrew.

What happened next?

England appointed Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup campaign, the Italian masterminded a brilliant qualification run but suffered a lousy tournament in South Africa. Meanwhile Mourinho took the Inter Milan job in the summer of 2008 and guided them to the treble capped by the Champions League triumph in 2010. From there he went on to win the league in his second season at Real Madrid, second season on his return to Chelsea and is currently favourite to win it in his second season at Manchester United- anyone spot the pattern here?

What might have been?

A whole lot of trouble, when you take Mourinho you take him histrionics and pantomime villainy as part of the deal. The FA may have modernised but it’s hard to see them getting comfortable with all that.

He’d have stayed for 1 campaign- the 2010 World Cup, qualified (probably not as impressively as Capello) and then gone to the finals. Mourinho’s greater grasp of the English language and mentality would have made for a happier base than the infamous Camp Capello. Mourinho would probably have steered England to the top of their group (avoiding Germany) and on to a deeper run in the knock out phase, maybe even the Semi Finals where he usually takes his Champions League sides.

  • Harry Redknapp

When?- In early 2012 ‘arry Redknapp’s Tottenham were title contenders playing the most stylish football in the country, but he was also on trial in a tax fraud case with the Inland Revenue. On February 8th the result Redknapp 1-0 HMRC was confirmed at Southwark Crown Court. Redknapp was on his way back to Tottenham when the news broke that Fabio Capello had quit the England job after the FA went over his head to strip John Terry of the captaincy. Everyone put two and two together.


What went wrong?

Unlike the others on this list the FA never made an approach for Redknapp instead turning to the more conservative Roy Hodgson. Some suggested he was blackballed by Trevor Brooking at the FA over his pushing Billy Bonds out of the West Ham job- neither rumour has ever been proved. Others suggested Redknapp’s colourful persona raised red flags with the FA or the FA didn’t fancy negotiating with Spurs’ Daniel Levy. However everyone agrees that Hodgson’s previous experience managing the Swiss national side was a factor in tipping the balance in his favour.

What happened next?

Redknapp’s Tottenham went into a late season slump end and missed out on the Champions League. Redknapp who appeared to have his head turned by the England speculation was blamed for the fall and fired. He resurfaced at QPR for an unsuccessful spell and briefly tasted international football with Jordan. He recently took charge of Birmingham City.

Hodgson took charge of England for Euro 2012 where a quarter final appearance represented a par score, he then oversaw a disasterous 2014 World Cup campaign and Euro 2016 exit to Iceland

What might have been?

Redknapp would have managed a similar campaign to Hodgson at Euro 2012 as the man parachuted in. He could’t have done any worse at the World Cup but I doubt he’d have got much further, Redknapp undoubtedly favoured veterans and would have certainly based his side around the likes of Terry, Cole, Rooney, Carrick & Crouch- a t’rffic bunch of lads no doubt but players England needed to move on from.

It’s difficult to see his old school management style fitting well with the FA’s new doctrine of Sports Science and attempts to intellectualise management and coaching. He’s also required extensive knee surgery in recent years that have kept him away from the game for extended spells; it would probably mean he’d have only stayed until 2014. All that being said he wouldn’t have got beat by Iceland.

  • Sam Allardyce

When? On 23rd July 2016 Sam Allardyce was appointed England Manager, a full decade after he was passed over for his dream job.


What went wrong?

He had one too many ales and told undercover reporters how they could circumvent the FA’s rules on third party ownership of players, he also made off the cuff remarks about his peers and arranged some speaking engagements for a big fee.

What happened next?

Just 67 days on from his appointment Allardyce left his post by mutual consent. He reappeared later in the year at Crystal Palace guiding them to Premier League survival and maintaining his record of never being relegated. He then surprised everyone by retiring but has since said he’d be interested in a return to international management.

England meanwhile promoted Under 21s manager Gareth Southgate who is currently engaged in England’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

What might have been?

In qualification terms England would be very likely exactly where they are now, although Allardyce won the opening away game of the campaign it was a slightly fortuitous result and he would likely have picked up wins at home and draws on the road.

He raised eyebrows with his post match comments about an out of sorts Wayne Rooney stating it wasn’t his job to tell Wayne where to play. It smacked a lot of the crowbarring into the team of Rooney that cost Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016. Southgate by contrast dropped Rooney without losing the confidence of the player should he return to form.

Allardyce has always been a strong advocate of sports science and the FA stressed this fact on appointing him but how Big Sam would have fit with England’s DNA mission of developing more technically proficient players, God only knows! He famously insisted “This tippy-tappa is a load of bollocks!” which doesn’t give you much confidence he was the man to develop a more possession based style of play.

Whether or not Southgate is that man remains to be seen, he certainly seems more willing to promote youth but we have yet to see if he can translate it into a successful team.

In conclusion some of these managers may well have got better results for England but the managers who got the job were hardly club failures. Between them the managers England have employed since Ramsey have won 21 league titles in major European leagues (Italy 8, Spain 3, England 2, Portugal 5, Holland 3) plus 6 European trophies, 3 FA Cups, 4 Coppa Italia’s and truckload of smaller prizes. Incidentally Joachim Low has only 1 major club trophy to his name.

Having better players to work with would seem the best way to achieve long term success, it’s a pity it took the FA so long to realise that, build St George’s Park and reboot grassroots football. It’s a longer route to success than paying top dollar for a manager but does provide the best chance of success- just ask Joachim.