The feeling England woke up to on the 28th of June was very similar to the feeling felt on the 4th of October last year. The nation woke to the sobering truth of failure, the failure of our much-loved national teams being dumped out of another major tournament. I am of course alluding to England’s embarrassing performance in its home Rugby World Cup last year and to England’s pathetic loss to Iceland in this year football European Championships. On both occasions the respective bosses of both teams saw fit to leave their role and for a new page to be turned. In the case of the RFU, who experienced this process late last year, they signed the best they could get in Eddie Jones. The fiery Aussie who has experienced success internationally with Australia and South Africa and who has now led England to their first Grand Slam since 2003 and a whitewash tour of Australia. The FA are currently in this process of finding the next man to lead the nation’s football team and it is within the RFU that they will find the answer.
From the onset, the RFU made it no secret that international experience was at the top of their list of requirements. The RFU’s previous two choices were not versed in management at international level with both Stuart Lancaster and Martin Johnson coming from relatively inexperienced backgrounds and in both cases, this proved to be a failure. The RFU recognised that if success was going to be imminent, then their choice would have had to managed at the highest level. By doing this, the RFU ruled out all English coaches, barring Sir Clive Woodward, from the job almost guaranteeing a foreign coach.
Eddie Jones and Jake White became early favourites, with the former being awarded the job only a month after England was dumped from its home World Cup. Many of football’s so called ‘experts’ have been outspoken in their opinions regarding a foreign coach including Ian Wright. To call for the next England manager to be English would be naïve for a variety of reasons. Firstly, English managers have been largely unsuccessful for quite some time, at both club and international level. The best performing English manager in the Premier League last year was Tony Pulis who led West Brom to 14th. The last English manager to reach a European Cup final was the man who just left, Roy Hodgson, who took Fulham to the Europa League final in 2010. Besides those who have managed England before, no English manager holds international experience to an adequate level. According to the press, a serious contender for the job is the current Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce, the man known for calling Barcelona’s Tika Taka football “bollocks”. A look at Allardyce’s record does not even fill the most passionate England fan with any hope when you see the biggest achievement of his managerial career is the promotion of Bolton to the Premier League. With a budget that is rivalled by no other Football Association, surely the FA should be looking towards the RFU’s methodology and hunting down and attracting proven international managers. The FA can afford to be bold and chase down big targets in their hunt for a replacement. The RFU wanted Eddie Jones and they got him. The FA should target some of the world’s best managers and without doubt, they would tempt at least one.
Another leaf that the FA need to take from the RFU is the change in mentality to its national side. Many of the England side that underperformed in the Rugby World Cup rightfully face questions over their place in the side. Captain Chris Robshaw seceded his role whilst the likes of Ben Youngs, James Haskell and Dan Cole had pundits and fans alike calling for their international careers to come to an end. Jones came in and with almost a carbon copy of Stuart Lancaster’s side took a Grand Slam and whitewash of Australia in Australia. If we take James Haskell as a prime example, the Wasps flanker fell very much out of favour after the World Cup. A catalogue of errors and high penalty count saw the blindside come under much criticism from the games experts and his selection in Eddie Jones’ first team against Scotland raised many eyebrows. Yet Haskell under Jones seems to be a new player, culminating in player of the series against Australia last month. This turn of fortune is not luck, but the effective man-management and approach of Eddie Jones. Jones has approached this side with confidence and belief in his players, handing over control to his men and relying on their experience and desire to shine through. Whether this be handing the captaincy to England’s “bad boy” Dylan Hartley or putting Danny Care in charge of the team’s beer whip, Jones has rejuvenated a flat squad to one with ample self-belief and a new-found desire to pull on the rose and perform for their country. The FA has to be looking at someone who can provide the same approach. After the Iceland game, the England players looked devastated but not distraught. The desire to win did not seem to be there and it felt as if each player wanted to be back at their clubs looking towards next season rather than fighting for their country. This culminated with Roy Hodgson’s conference the day after his resignation, when he quite aptly told the journalists “I’m not quite sure what I am doing here”. Hodgson’s ability to motivate and inspire never came across and mixing this with his inability to find England’s most effective XI, success was never going to follow. The FA need to find a replacement who can motivate a team to play and find a new found rejuvenation to inspire the players to perform. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere are in similar positions to James Haskell right now, all be it they return to their £100,000 + a week contracts. The right coach could have these players performing to the ability we have seen them produce at club level if they can promote self-belief and confidence within the squad. David Gill needs to phone Ian Ritchie at the RFU and ask him what Jones said in his interview that convinced them to take him on. Or even bring in Ritchie and Jones to the selection process. These are guys who have recently hit the nail on the head when it came to finding a national team boss, and it would be absurd if we ignored them.
As I write this article, the odds on Sam Allardyce have dropped to 10/11 to become the next England boss. The man who by the skin of his teeth had Sunderland avoid relegation last season. The FA need to open its eyes and challenge themselves for a change. They cannot settle for mediocracy again like they did with McLaren, Hodgson, Goran-Erickson and Hodle. Instead, they need to show why they are the richest FA in the world, and why England can attract the biggest names in the world. Approach the likes of Wenger, Low and Del Bosque not Allardyce, Pardew and Hoodle. England can do better than that, and if we punt for a second-rate manager then we have to resign ourselves to mediocracy for the foreseeable future.