LONDON — Some time in the next few weeks there will be a puff of white smoke from the Football Association’s headquarters in Soho Square and a new England manager will be announced. From that moment the life of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s successor will never be the same.
He will lose his privacy, every game he attends will be publicized, if he is seen going for a meal with his wife there is every chance details will appear in a newspaper, while a casual remark to anyone could find its way onto the front or back pages.
Welcome to Team England Martin O’Neill, Alan Curbishley, Stuart Pearce, Sam Allardyce, Guus Hiddink, et al.
The “best job in the world” as every new England manager calls it will soon become demanding beyond his wildest dreams.
Just about everything has to be sacrificed in the cause of leading England — and to keep on the right side of everyone all you have to do is to win the European Championship or World Cup, not lose a game and have the team play well in every match.
Off the field the new England manager must live the life of a tee-total monk, because being photographed with a pint of beer or glass of wine can inspire a caption that could put you one drink from Alcoholics Anonymous.
In these days of mobile telephone cameras, there is no escape for any personality in the public eye. A few years ago a photographer was relatively easy to spot but now a passerby can snap the England manager (or whoever) going shopping, in a restaurant with his wife or, heaven forbid, with someone else’s wife.
When Brian Barwick, the Football Association’s chief executive, had an informal chat with Curbishley at the house of the Charlton manager’s brother, a photograph of the pair appeared on the front page of a Sunday newspaper last weekend.
Was Barwick followed?
Was the newspaper tipped off by “an insider” that the meeting was taking place?
Interestingly, the photograph was of the pair as Barwick left the house — did a neighbor see a chance of making an unexpected few quid?
Curbishley was far from happy that he had “been caught.”
Intriguingly, he said: “Maybe it’s a taster.”
In other words, he was given an early lesson in what it is like to be the England manager. He had not even told his wife he was going to meet Barwick, but someone, somewhere knew — with newspapers generous to those who provide such tips, privacy becomes nearly impossible.
Graham Taylor, the ex-England manager, tells a story of when he was in the former Soviet Union and was awakened by a knock on his hotel door in the middle of the night. There stood an extremely attractive lady of the night who asked: “Mr —?” mentioning the name of a well-known English football writer.
“I said ‘No. No,’ recalled Taylor. “I wondered I if had been set up. I looked down the corridor half expecting to see a photographer jump out.”
High profile footballers and managers are a license to print money for any girl who can make them an offer they could not refuse.
Even a young, single player who does what most young, single guys do can find his exploits sold to a newspaper by the girl, unaware that what she is doing is little different from the lady of the night Taylor encountered.
Most of the leading candidates to succeed Eriksson have never experienced the fish bowl existence of the England manager — Curbishley, Pearce (Manchester City) and Allardyce (Bolton) are not with the biggest four or five clubs in the Premiership, so they have been able to go to the supermarket or bowling alley without finding what they bought or how many points they scored in a newspaper.
The F.A. hopes to have the new man in place before the 2006 World Cup finals, though, Eriksson has made no secret that he does not want his successor in Germany. The World Cup is a big enough circus without a new act on board.
Who will eventually get the nod?
I don’t think even the F.A. knows at the moment. There is no obvious, outstanding candidate though this correspondent believes PSV’s Dutch coach Hiddink, who has done well at World Cups with the Netherlands and South Korea, ticks the most boxes.
With many believing England should not have another foreign manager, Hiddink’s birthplace may go against him.
O’Neill has European experience with Celtic, though he took a year off from football last summer to care for his wife who is ill.
Curbishley, Pearce and Allardyce have all done well with their clubs but international management is a huge step up from the Premiership.
In the meantime, Barwick is continuing to meet candidates, no doubt looking over his shoulder but not for the reasons the chief executive of a national concern usually does.
RIO FERDINAND deserved his slap across the wrist by UEFA after criticizing it for not taking action when it had no jurisdiction in the matter.
The Manchester United defender was told to “do some homework” as European football’s ruling body hit back over his criticisms that European football’s ruling body does not take racism seriously.
Ferdinand is not alone in not knowing the boundaries of the various football authorities, but like managers and journalists who have made similar outbursts, there is no excuse for his ignorance.
The England international spoke out earlier this week after the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on UEFA to give referees the power to stop matches in which players are being subjected to racist abuse.
Euro MPs also urged UEFA to consider throwing teams out of tournaments if supporters do not curb their behavior.
Why only UEFA?
Why not FIFA and all national associations?
“For too long now, European football authorities have not taken the problem of racism in the game seriously,” said Ferdinand, who cited the recent example of the monkey chants directed at Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o during a Spanish League match at Real Zaragoza.
The Cameroon international started to walk off the pitch in protest but was persuaded to play on by the referee and teammates.
Zaragoza were subsequently fined £6,400 by the Spanish Football Federation which Ferdinand condemned as hopelessly inadequate.
“It is time for UEFA to stop paying lip-service to the problem. The fines handed out after the Spain-England game last year (when Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips were racially abused) were a joke. UEFA should look at imposing huge fines or deducting points within tournaments or competitions.
“If UEFA are really serious about kicking racism into touch they should adopt some of the penalties called for in the (EP) resolution and get on with punishing those who defame the game we all love with their backward, racist views.”
The weakness in Ferdinand’s argument, worthy though his sentiments are, is that UEFA has no control over what happens in domestic league football.
If there is racist behavior in a Spanish League game, only the Spanish Football Federation can punish the offender(s). That is not rocket science, yet too many people seem to believe if it happens in Europe then UEFA must be able to act.
The Spain-England match was a friendly and, therefore, only FIFA could take any action, which it chose not to.