English football headless after manager’s exit

In a day of shocks for England’s football team, the manager resigned while his probable successor was cleared of tax fraud. But what kind of manager do England really want?

It could be the setup for a classic sports film: on the verge of a major tournament, a once great football side lies in tatters. The charismatic captain is in disgrace, the celebrated coach has quit; the team are rudderless. Then in steps a plucky new manager, and against all the odds...

But a romantic comeback is far from guaranteed. Euro 2012 looms, and 46 years have passed since England last won a major trophy. Fabio Capello has resigned as England’s manager after John Terry was stripped of his captaincy. But who can play the saviour?

By a quirk of fate, Capello’s most likely successor hit the headlines just hours before his resignation. As crisis talks floundered Harry Redknapp, straight-talking boss of flourishing Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, came to the end of his trial for tax evasion. The verdict: not guilty.

The path is clear for Redknapp to take charge of England – but will he want to? England managers are constantly having their private lives exposed and their tactical decisions undermined by a fickle, prying media. Unsurprisingly, Redknapp has described the job as a ‘poisoned chalice.’

There are other contenders for the job. The leaders of the Football Association are considering them – and as long as they are, their discussions will be echoed across the country.

The debate is partly about what kind of football England should play. There is a popular sense that the team should represent the traditional values – courage, grit, commitment – on which the English pride themselves.

As a player, few embodied these qualities more than the coach who has taken temporary charge. Stuart Pearce’s animal roar after scoring a penalty against Spain provided one of the iconic images of a ‘blood and thunder’ English footballer.

At the other end of the spectrum are football intellectuals like Arsenal’s French manager Arsène Wenger, whose sophisticated and technical style is more associated with continental teams.

Lions or unicorns?

Old English romantics argue that the players need a lion to lead them: a fierce general who shares his men’s passion and their cause. A good brain helps, but above all a leader is a figurehead, and there is no substitute for heart.

Such a warrior would bring passion, say more progressive types, but he will just be roaring into the wind. A modern leader needs to be sharp and cool-headed, able to see a step further than his opponents. That might not get hearts racing; but in the modern world skill and professionalism are what really count.

You Decide

  1. Is passion or intelligence a more important quality in a leader?
  2. Do countries really have ‘national characteristics’ – or is this just stereotyping?


  1. Write and deliver an inspiring half time speech to a football team who are one-nil down.
  2. Research a great leader in history and write a list of the qualities that made them great.

Some People Say...

“Leadership comes from the heart, not the head.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What difference does a manager make anyway?
One fascinating recent study by a football-obsessed economist suggested that most managers have only a small impact. Top players matters more – in clubs this requires more money, in countries a high population and strong football organisations. Still, there are a few managers – unknown heroes as well as famous faces – who consistently improve teams’ results.
Does this whole debate matter beyond football?
The argument over what makes a good leader applies in many areas of life. In politics, ‘technocrats’ with hard expertise are often contrasted with charismatic leaders who people naturally warm to. Another recent study suggested that people are more likely to vote for a leader who they find attractive – despite believing that they are influenced only by policies.

Word Watch

Fabio Capello
Fabio Capello is one of the most successful coaches in the world. He has won trophies with a number of sides in Italy and Spain, including a spectacular Champions League victory with Milan. Statistically he was also the most successful of England’s recent managers – but he led England a poor world cup, and had shaky relationships with the press.
Harry Redknapp
Harry Redknapp gained his fame by leading a series of struggling clubs to respectable positions, but his big break came when he took over at Tottenham in 2008. He has led them to their first Champions League and made them one of England’s best clubs, but this has coincided with a five-year inquiry into his taxes. On Wednesday, he was cleared.
Tax evasion
Tax evasion involves deliberately misleading the government to avoid paying taxes. It is treated as robbery of public money and can carry serious prison sentences – unlike tax avoidance, which relies on exploiting legal loopholes.
Football Association
149 years ago, the FA gathered for the first time in a London pub to agree the official rules of football. Today the FA still governs English football, including running the international team and organising competitions such as the FA Cup.


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