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.