Thinking outside the box key to success of English managers

Posted by - February 9, 2011 - Premier League, Ranting and Raving

Is a small island mentality restricting our coaches?

The following blog was written before the sacking of Steve McClaren from Wolfsburg. Its points, however, are still valid.

Thinking outside the box the key to success of English managers

He was the tabloid-labelled ‘Wally with the Brolly’. After an ignominious exit from England, Steve McClaren was a national villain, at the helm for England’s first qualification failure since the days of Graham Taylor. And yet he bucked the trend, managing to secure a job at FC Twente, winning the Dutch title before moving to Wolfsburg in Germany.

It is one of the biggest inequalities in European football. Until Roberto di Matteo was removed from post, the Premier League had three Italian managers, one Spanish and two French. Steve McClaren, as unbelievable and unlikely as it once may have seemed, is flying the flag for English managers abroad.

So why the shortfall? Why do so few English managers get jobs in mainland Europe?

Many will simply state that foreign clubs do not approve of the tactics and methods utilised by English coaches and that is, at least in some part, a valid statement. On the continent, the emphasis is on skill and technique, whereas the English set-up creates a fast-moving game. Whereas their technique does not necessarily require intensive fitness training, the energy levels required in England are greater.

In addition to this, we are certainly tactically different. Whilst it is clearly an extreme example, we only need to look at the difference between Wenger’s Arsenal and Pulis’ (admittedly Welsh not English) Stoke. Our foreign counterparts prefer a measured build-up, whereas we are more prepared to resort to a direct approach, particularly when the going gets tough. Whilst this is a stereotypical view, is it not forgivable that continental teams would favour a ‘continental’ approach?

An additional thought is that English managers are simply not up to the task. It is not the systems that are the problem, merely the personnel. Again this view has its evidence. There are only four English managers in the Premier League. Even in the Championship ten managers are not English.

Clubs are increasingly choosing the passion instigated by Scottish managers or the flair of foreign coaches. If we cannot trust English managers, can we really expect others to trust them?

But there is an alternative view, and this is the crux of the issue. Do they even want to?

It would not be unfair to say that we have something of a small-island mentality in this country (and I am under-exaggerating that to avoid criticism). The idea of moving abroad to learn a trade or improve skills, knowledge and experience simply is not an appealing prospect. Critics of those statements need only look to comments made by Harry Redknapp about foreign players:

“They don’t like golf. Some of them don’t even drink”

Is that a mindset that would be suited to managing successfully abroad? We are, perhaps even subconsciously, averse to immersing ourselves in continental culture (and pizza and red wine doesn’t count). Our football managers are, perhaps even subconsciously, averse to immersing themselves in continental culture (and signing Kalinic and Salgado doesn’t count).

Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have gained management success in varying countries and cultures. Wenger is fluent in three languages, with a working knowledge of Italian, Spanish and Japanese. Mourinho speaks five languages fluently. Unfortunately the research is not googleable (a new word surely), but I would hazard a guess that between them Holloway, Bruce and Allardyce have a working knowledge of English and little else.

English managers have locked themselves in a comfort zone, in a self-created position where they are often closed to continental theories, loathed to test themselves elsewhere. It is the epitome of the laziness of change. Why go abroad and push yourself when as soon as you are out of a job you can sit on the sofa on Goals on Sunday and make significant money out of moaning that managers are mistreated, and how they don’t get a top four job because their name isn’t Allardiani or Brucio?

Mourinho has won titles in three countries. Wenger the same. Variety has to be the spice of life.

There is nothing wrong with managing in England and England alone. But there is an issue when you react to things landing at your feet as oppose to proactively seeking improvement. Take the infamous quotes from Sam Allardyce:

“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Inter or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time. It’s not where I’m suited to, it’s just where I’ve been for most of the time.”

Allardyce has only ever taken, and presumably applied for, English jobs. The only things he has won are a League of Ireland title, a Third Division title and the First Division play-offs.

Don’t expect that Inter and Real phone call any time soon.

It is only just that I use the blueprint, Steve McClaren, to epitomise the point:

“I don’t think British managers can compete for the top jobs at the present moment because they haven’t got the experience of winning titles or playing in the Champions League. Why not go abroad? When foreign managers come to England, they often come with experience of winning things abroad.”

If he can gain redemption abroad, than anyone can. Mais Je ne me fais pas d’illusions.

  • eiaohjaierh

    There are 5 English Premier League managers. Redknapp, Allardyce, Bruce, Holloway and Mccarthy. Still…some valid points made.

  • Daniel Storey

    Pedantic I know, but as McCarthy represented R O I loads of times i discounted him. As Yorkshire as a ferret though, I agree.

  • Boohoo

    Hmmmm. Best man (or woman) for the job for the job, I would hope. But in reality… In Australia we also have a bit of a cultural cringe about managers. Hence we are more likely to give a foreign carpetbagger a plum job rather than develop local coaching talent. Result: little local talent comes through. In a way, having a foreigner makes it easier. If he flops you can banish him, vilify him, make him a legendary hate figure behind his back after he’s gone. If he’s successful you’re a hero for having recruited him. If he has mediocre results then he has ‘brought a new culture of football’ to the club and after a few years of middle-tableness you swap him for another journeyman Czech/Dutchman/East German. On the other hand, backing a home-made manager requires far bigger cojones.

  • Neil

    “There are 5 English Premier League managers. Redknapp, Allardyce, Bruce, Holloway and Mccarthy.”

    Emmmm… No!! Replace Allardyce with Pardew perhaps!

    I would have to disagree with quite a bit of this article though. Although there are so few managers who are English by birth, most managers in the League have a playing history in the english game. If you were to include Di Matteo with West Brom, I would say there are fourteen managers who have either played for or managed in England prior to receiving their new jobs.

    Out of the six that either never played or managed in England prior to their arrival you have Alex Ferguson and Wenger, who know the english game like the back of their hands, Steve Kean, who has been an assistant at three english clubs before this (I’m not going to count the fact that he played on loan at Swansea), Alex McLeish, who is far from being a foreign import, and then finally, Mancini (I’m not counting his time with Leicester as a proper experience of the English game) and Ancelotti.

    Also, I remember that quote you attributed to Harry Redknapp and you have completely taken it out of context. Harry was actually complementing the foreign players because they look after themselves and don’t worry about what to do in their spare time, where as some British players seem more concerned with golf and going out for pints.

    And finally, Steve McLaren got sacked last week, and considering the solid squad he had at Wolfsburg, he has massively underachieved. With Twente, he won the league with a side who had been knocking on the door for a few years, and it was far from a shock title.

  • Daniel Storey

    Neil, I think your missing the point. It’s not about British managers having no experience in the Premier League.

    This article is about English managers, and English managers only, not getting the top jobs within an English league, and this being due to them not testing themselves abroad.

    If the Man Yoo, Arsenal, Chelsea job came up tomorrow, or next week or next year, it would be unlikely that an English manager would get it.

    And the point is, successful coaches breed successful international sides. If we want an ENglish manager to be successful with our national side then they have to be managing at the highest level.

    And im sorry to be critical but you are completely wrong about redknapp. The quote was actually part of an interview answer where he talked about the difficulties of bonding with foreign players: “With the foreigners it is more difficult. Most of them don’t even bother with the golf, they don’t want to go racing. They don’t even drink”

    The last English manager to win the English top division was Howard Wilkinson. How long before that is repeated?

    Your criticism of Steve McClaren is fine, and is entirely valid. But doesn’t that accentuate the point? He is the ONLY example I had!