The announcement that the new manager of the England football team was Roy Hodgson drew surprise in some quarters. The heavily backed favourite Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Redknapp had not even been interviewed.
The decision seemed to resemble the furore that surrounded Brian Clough back in the 1970s and 80s when it seemed everyone in the country thought he should get the job, except the FA.
The Hodgson appointment thought could prove a success. He is an intelligent man with a proven track record. The appointment also may lower expectations amongst the general populace as to what should be expected from the England team. For once going into a major championships, anything the team manages to achieve is likely to be seen as a bonus.
Hodgson though has quite a job on. The England football manager’s job is highly sort after but a pretty thankless task. The role is made nigh on impossible by the football authorities and the way the game operates in England these days.
One big problem is the development of English players qualified to play for the national team. Given that so many Premiership teams are made up of foreign players the chances of a youngster coming through now at the highest level are at a premium.
Going back a few years a young player coming in could be introduced over a few seasons, before finally nailing down a regular position in a Premier league side. Now, a young player may have a season or a bit more to get into the side and nail down a place. The window has got much smaller, with the competition particularly from the foreign imports fierce.
Then there are those that make it at a lower level, only to be picked up by one of the big four teams and dumped into the reserves for a few years. These players are not able to develop as they should with regular first team football. There have been several examples over recent seasons of this practice. The most recent probably being Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. An outstanding prospect for Southampton, last summer he moved to Arsenal.
Yes, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is an outstanding coach with a record second to none at bringing on young players. But what Oxlade Chamberlain needed on leaving Southampton was regular football at Premiership level. Instead, he has made occasional appearances for the Arsenal team, mostly warming the substitutes bench for the season. Had he gone to a lesser team like Aston Villa, Stoke or Wigan the development that would have helped the player and ultimately England would have been assured. His wage packet though would have been less.
A good example of how such young talent can be wasted is Shaun Wright Phillips. A truly exciting talent when he first burst on the scene a few years ago. He was unstoppable in the early days when Manchester City were a Championship team. Chelsea were the biggest club on the block in those days. Jose Mourinho snapped up Wright Phillips in, putting him on a big wage and into the reserves.
For a number of seasons Wright Phillips dwindled in the reserves, losing confidence and becoming a shadow of his former self. He should have been a regular for his clubs side and England. Wright Phillips eventually left Chelsea, returning to Manchester City before going to QPR.
A contrast to the path taken by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wright Philipps is that of Victor Moses. An exciting talent at Crystal Palace, he eventually moved to Wigan for whom he has been outstanding for the past two seasons, playing regularly and inspiring the team. This regular football has helped the player develop. Now ofcourse the big clubs have come calling, so who knows where he goes next?
So Hodgson will have to deal with a situation where he has just not got the English talent available to put in his side that past England managers have had. Indeed, the manager of the England team is now beginning to know what it must be like to manage the Scottish, Welsh or Irish football teams.
Hodgson is not helped either with the fixture arrangements. Over recent years the fixture list has made no sense for the England manager or Premiership clubs. The new season starts in August and within a couple of weeks there is often a meaningless international friendly that fouls up the Premiership clubs just as the season is beginning to get going.
Then there is the stop, start approach to the season in the early months as every few weeks there is a blank Saturday to allow the international managers the time to prepare properly with the players. This time is something sort by international managers for years and which has no doubt helped them.
But then this year the Premiership season drags on into middle May leaving Hodgson less than a month to prepare his players for the European Championships – where is the sense in this?
What those who run English football need to decide is are they serious about the England football team. If they are then something needs to be done about the development of English players and the fixture mess.
England need to look at what Spain and Germany have done over recent years to change the set up of football in those countries. The results have been obvious to behold.
Alternatively, maybe England should simply withdraw from international football altogether. Accept that it is club football that counts and it is the clubs that hold all the power. This option though seems unlikely to be pursued on commercial if no other basis.
The approach at the moment is a half-way house, trying to keep an international team going whilst not upsetting the clubs. The neo-liberal approach to the football market makes developing young English football talent ever more difficult. A bit of protectionism maybe is needed if the English football team is ever to succeed.
The half way house approach ofcourse maybe the only way to proceed, keeping a presence at international level while prioritising club football. This is ok, just so long as every time an international tournament comes up England don’t expect to win it.
If the half way house approach is to work then there needs to be a lowering of expectations and maybe that is why Roy Hodgson, rather than Harry Redknapp got the England job.