LONDON – In any successful organization, forward planning is essential. The present quickly becomes the future so those at the sharp end of the business would constantly be formulating ideas and strategies for the next step.
The impression is that the Football Association believed England would win Euro 2016 or at least reach the semifinals, and eventually that would have seen Roy Hodgson rightly offered a new contract. It probably also believes in the tooth fairy and that the moon is made of green cheese.
England’s humiliation at the hands of Iceland, which prompted Hodgson to jump before he was pushed, may have been a surprise even by England standards, but its early exit from a major finals is par for the course. The only shock is that it wasn’t after a penalty shootout.
This column had been far from a lone siren voice in doubting the credentials of England and its manager (now ex-manager) as it prepared for Euro 2016. The F.A. seemed to be in a small minority in having confidence England would return from France having made the nation proud because it had never seriously considered the possibility of needing to find a successor to Hodgson.
English football’s ruling body waited until its side’s fate at the European Championship was decided before doing anything.
Nope. Same old, same old.
The F.A. should have thanked Hodgson for his services and shown him the door after England returned from the 2014 World Cup with a goal-less draw against Costa Rica the only entry in its credit section. But it rewarded failure with a new contract for Hodgson and patted itself on the back when England ended the Euro qualifying program with a perfect record. As usual, England was joining Europe’s elite at the Euros. And as usual England lived down to expectations.
When the real thing started three weeks ago Hodgson and England were shown up for what most outside the F.A. had predicted — a manager who, after four years in the job, was still searching for his best XI and formation four games into the finals; a team whose confidence was so brittle it collapsed under the weight of expectations; plus players who were, as usual, a pale shadow of their club form.
F.A. chief executive Martin Glenn, technical director Dan Ashworth and F.A. vice chairman David Gill are the three men charged with deciding Hodgson’s successor. They should have told Hodgson he would not be offered a new contract after the Euros — the F.A. has done this previously with Bobby Robson before Italia ’90 when England reached the semifinals, so it hardly had a negative effect on the team.
Instead of having time to find the best man, the F.A.’s clock is not so much ticking but racing. Candidates who would have been in the frame six months ago are no longer available and finding an outstanding national manager in July will be a mighty challenge for the three men.
By leaving everything until after Euro 2016 the F.A. is pursuing a mission impossible. The initial idea was for Under-21’s manager Gareth Southgate to be appointed on a caretaker basis, but he has ruled himself out of the senior job, preferring to concentrate on the under-age team.
The leading countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Brazil and Argentina always have one of their own in charge of the national team rather than a foreigner, the route England may have to go down yet again. The English management cupboard is almost bare. Sam Allardyce (Sunderland), Eddie Howe (Bournemouth). Alan Pardew (Crystal Palace) and Steve Bruce (Hull) have decent track records at club level, but international football is a different world.
The F.A.’s dream ticket is Arsene Wenger, but would he see managing his adopted country as the ideal way to wind down his career when his contract with Arsenal ends next summer?
That would mean finding someone to keep the seat warm for a year, something else the world’s elite would not consider.
Slaven Bilic, who had a spell in charge of Croatia, has been mentioned, but would he be willing to leave an improving West Ham team which should be rubbing shoulders with the big boys near the top of the Premier League again next season?
Glenn Hoddle, sacked by England in 1999 and who hasn’t managed for 10 years, is being mentioned. No, really.
Laurent Blanc, the former Manchester United defender who has left Paris Saint-Germain, is available which makes him a candidate, yet how ironic that a week after voting to leave the European Union, England’s preferred candidates are foreigners.
The most telling comment came from Greg Dyke, the outgoing F.A. chairman who said: “Martin (Glenn) made clear you go for the best person. The harder question is why anybody would want it. That’s the challenge. They get media pressure that no one else in football gets.”
Among the media coverage this week was a photo of one of Wayne Rooney’s children on the front page of a tabloid with an unfunny joke about the frozen food chain Iceland.
Another newspaper gave these reasons (among others of a similar nature) for England’s failure: “On Monday, Rooney seemed preoccupied with his thinning hair (having spent £30,000 on a transplant). Said to have used a specialist spray to make his thatch look thicker during the match — because yesterday morning it looked very thin. While dating then girlfriend Coleen, he slept with a middle-aged prostitute in a backstreet brothel.” On Jamie Vardy: “Rebekah [his wife] has two children from a previous relationship. Vardy met her in a nightclub when she was working as a party planner.”
Yes, such informed criticism awaits the next manager, too.
Hodgson is a thoroughly decent man, but one who deserved the criticism — thankfully restricted to football — that has been showered upon him though this comes with the position along with a £4 million a year salary. While Iceland had a game plan, a settled team and formation with every player knowing his job, England looked like 11 strangers playing together for the first time.
Pundits, fans and former internationals have had their say, yet it remains an ignominious mystery why England players consistently underperform at tournaments. Harry Kane looked more like Harry Potter at times, Rooney gave the impression he was color blind at times against Iceland, so often did he pass to an opponent.
Few argued with the makeup of Hodgson’s squad, which was full of players who had enjoyed a successful club season.
Then we ask the same question that we do every two years: How can they look so ordinary for England?
Some suggested fatigue, others that they cannot handle the pressure.
Was it a lack of direction from the manager?
Could it be that the players are just not as good as we and they think they are?
Good luck to the F.A. head-hunters as they search for the next manager to take charge of a consistently underachieving country. They will need it.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.