England gambled on Eddie Jones - FA need to do likewise
Fifteen years, seven FA chiefs and four England managers later - what’s changed?
The gamble on Eddie Jones has certainly paid off for the English RFU. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho
The pronouncements have echoed down the years. Tournament on tournament, underachievement after depressing underachievement. This time they have insisted. This time we’ll get it right.
Yet all the while the revolving door for Football Association executives has whirled even faster than that for those they have employed at huge expense to manage the national side. Those doing the hiring have rarely outlasted those at the receiving end of the firing, let alone been held to account for their decisions.
The two positions have often been locked in a doomed death spiral - some incumbents have left amid lurid tabloid scandal, others as a result of bitter internal power struggles. But whether clad in tracksuit or blazer, rarely has either side left under anything other than a dark cloud.
When Adam Crozier, the thrusting advertising chief who moved the FA to Soho Square and attempted to drag it into a new era before quitting amid a familiar battle with the professional game, appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2001 he made a plea for continuity.
“We have to be careful not to be so short-term in our thinking, which has led to us having six managers in 10 years,” said Crozier, who was lost to football but ended up not doing too badly for himself at the Royal Mail and then ITV. “That is why we are in this position, because we have not had consistency and continuity.”
Fifteen years, seven FA chiefs and four England managers later the malaise remains much the same even as the returns from major tournaments dwindle to almost nothing.
History will record Roy Hodgson’s England were eliminated from the World Cup in Brazil before their malaria tablets ran out and sent packing in France by an Iceland team who left them looking paler than their shirts.
And if the decision on naming the next England manager has come quicker to Martin Glenn, the former top man at United Biscuits who took over as the FA chief executive last year, than he would have liked, there is little doubt it will define his tenure - all the more so because the outgoing FA chairman, Greg Dyke, is playing no part in the process.
For all that the FA has made belated progress in recent years on the wider areas of its remit that for too long were shamefully neglected as Wembley sapped time and money, Glenn is savvy enough to know he will stand or fall on this call.
Looking ill at ease alongside Hodgson at the press conference to announce the manager’s departure, Glenn hamfistedly declared he was “not a football expert”. The quote will follow him around but the sentiment was the right one.
What he meant was he was not about to swap his suit for a tracksuit with MG on the chest and would take soundings from recent players and greybeards within the game before making a call along with the FA vice-chairman, David Gill, and the technical director, Dan Ashworth.
Some would like to see more clarity still. Amid a febrile atmosphere in the wake of England’s Rugby World Cup disaster, the RFU chief executive, Ian Ritchie, appointed a panel of former players, coaches and executives to report to him on the lessons to be learned from the tournament before he took sole responsibility for appointing Eddie Jones. In effect he gambled on making the right call and Glenn should arguably do the same.
Glenn has taken the decision to double down on the structure put in place before his arrival, with St George’s Park as the hub of England’s age-specific sides and Ashworth given a huge amount of leeway in implementing a philosophy that can be replicated throughout the structure.
Historically the appointment of a new England manager has been surrounded by high farce.
Brian Barwick declared, to widespread incredulity, that Steve McClaren had always been the FA’s first choice despite a very public knockback from Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Sam Allardyce, much to his chagrin, was among those overlooked. Eighteen months later, Barwick was back to declare “Fabio is a winner”. Wrong again, Brian. In 2012, Capello left under a cloud amid the fallout from the toxic John Terry affair months before the European Championship. Hodgson was then chosen by a Club England panel over Harry Redknapp amid a whirl of speculation and allowed to blithely continue despite failure in Brazil.
Glenn knows a successful England is vital to a successful FA. Wembley has remained remarkably full over the past two years, partly because of some impressive marketing and partly because England fans are, contrary to reputation, a pretty loyal bunch. But that is not to say that will remain the case. Meanwhile the FA is desperately trying to renew the Club Wembley debentures that are vital to its bottom line.
If the FA does plump for Sam Allardyce it will be reversing the trend to reach for the equal and opposite candidate to the one before, veering wildly from overseas to homegrown, from experienced old hand to promising young buck and back again.
Ultimately Glenn will look to sell whatever choice is made from a fairly uninspiring list as one that fits the wider agenda of St George’s Park, youth development, England’s DNA and all that. He will also know that, if the next cab off the rank is to succeed, he will have to leverage the improved working relationship he appears to have established with the Premier League to the maximum benefit of the national side and buck a two-decade trend in diminishing returns in which England have consistently undershot even increasingly rock-bottom expectations.
As Rio Ferdinand noted presciently in his autobiography: “History may judge Hodgson’s most lasting achievement was to lower expectations of the national team to a more modest and manageable level. Then again, modesty isn’t really the point of international football.”