The poisoned chalice

Stuart Pearce...a stop-gap manager for England.-AP

Managing England is not an easy task and many managers in the past have learnt it the hard way. With the resignation of Fabio Capello the hot seat is vacant again, but how many will be willing to take the risk, asks Brian Glanville.

So Fabio Capello has gone and England once again must search for a manager. The favourite is Tottenham's Harry Redknapp who on the very day that Capello resigned his post, was acquitted by a court in Southwark, South East London, of cheating the Inland Revenue. As one who has known, liked and appreciated Harry's ingenuity for many years, above all when he was running his old club as a right winger, West Ham, I was glad to see him win his case, though, on the basis of the conflicting evidence offered by prosecution and defender, it was hard to work out what really happened.

That Harry at club level is an extremely shrewd and effective manager is beyond doubt. But he left West Ham after, it was reported, its directorate was perturbed by an endless profusion of transfers. The lonely life of an England manager might well not suit his ebullient style. And what confidence could he have in the FA hierarchy, after the way Capello, however disappointing his regime, was treated? Surely he had an unanswerable point in English law; that a person, John Terry in this case, is innocent until proved guilty. And we will not know the verdict on Terry's alleged racist outburst at Queens Park Rangers until his trial is belatedly held in July after the European Championship finals.

The FA and their Chairman David Bernstein have been strongly criticised in some quarters for delaying their decision to confront Capello for three days after his views were broadcast on Italian TV. But the bleak truth is that the FA haven't had a decent leader since 1962, when Sir Stanley Rous quit, after 28 years as its powerful Secretary, to become the President of FIFA. It was Sir Dave Richards, an elderly top banana at the FA, who reportedly decreed that the clause in Capello's contract, which stated that either he or the FA could terminate it immediately after the 2010 World Cup finals, be deleted. So when England failed so miserably in South Africa, Capello continued earning his GBP6 million a year.

Yet it was Rous himself who kept his protégé Walter Winterbottom, England's first ever national team manager, in office for 16 long years even though they included the two devastating defeats, 6-3 at Wembley, 7-1 in Budapest, by a scintillating Hungarian side. Walter, though he'd played 1st Division football pre-war for Manchester United as a centre half, was essentially a theorist, who didn't talk the same language as his players. Tactically, as the two Hungarian massacres showed, he was bizarrely naive.

Yet such in those days was Rous' formidable power that there was no removing him. Something surely unthinkable in turbulent today.

Yet there was a moment when it might have happened and I myself was a witness to it. In May 1955, when I was a 23-year-old journalist living in Rome and working for its Corriere Dello Sport, Jess Carver, then the successful manager of Roma, told me one day, “I' m meeting Stanley Rous at the Hotel Quirinale; come along with me, it might do you some good.” So come along I did, and asked the towering Rous whether he had had a good journey. “Yes, yes, yes,” he said impatiently. “Who are you?”.

He then in my presence, plainly believing that I was of so little moment that he need not be discreet, offered Carver the job of England manager; “It's about time we brought Walter back into the office,” he said. Winterbottom's other role, which he once told me he deemed more significant, being the Director of Coaching. I kept what I regarded as the secret for years to come. In the event Carver, a rolling stone of a manager, who had charge of so many major Italian clubs, didn't accept the offer.

So when Winterbottom at last bowed out — lamentably passed over as Rous' FA successor, a role he'd have filled so well — it was Alf Ramsey who became England's manager. Though even he was but a second choice, the job initially being offered to Jimmy Adamson, the then Footballer of the Year, Burnley's skipper and Walter's number two in the 1962 Chilean World Cup.

Till Ramsey took the job, the England team was picked not by the manager but by the so called international committee, composed of club directors, though by the end of his reign it was known to journalists that Walter himself was calling the shots. Ramsey openly despised the committee members, which ultimately led to his downfall. But in 1966 he made good his promise that England would win the World Cup.

Since then, one manager has precariously succeeded another. Bobby Robson was excoriated after England's pitiful showing in the 1996 European finals in West Germany though, with a generous measure of luck, he took England to the brink of the 1990 World Cup final in Italy. Subsequently, Terry Venables' England team fired blanks for a long while and was fortunate to reach the 1996 European semifinals at Wembley. Sweden's Goran Eriksson made a dog's breakfast of the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

Worse still was the hopelessly over-promoted Steve McClaren, cruelly nicknamed ‘The Wally with a Brolly'. Who now for the poisoned chalice? Stuart Pearce will fill in. Gung ho, uninspiring!