‘I’d like an unpoisoned chalice’

With all the nonsense that has transpired in the ongoing Súarez-Evra circus, Fabio Capello’s “resignation” from the England manager’s post seems to almost been shunned out of the media spotlight (I use quotations here since sources are now claiming that in fact the Italian was asked to resign, as opposed to doing so himself). Harry Redknapp has very much been the name on everyone’s lips, but his currently flourishing Spurs adventure is the stumbling block, as far as taking control of the Three Lions is concerned.

This brings up an interesting debate, and one that I was really keen to explore. Should a manager, especially an Englishman be almost duty-bound in some respects to answer the call of the national team? In other words: is managing the national team a more immediate responsibility for a manager, than anything similar with a club side? And if so – is it actually worth the trouble?

Players always say that there is no bigger honour for a professional footballer than pulling on the national team’s kit, and walking out on the international stage (unless you are Stephen Ireland, of course). I wonder if managers feel the same way. For some reason, it seems difficult to imagine Arsene Wenger, for example, leaving his post at Arsenal to take over at the French national setup.  Harry Redknapp has always said that that the England manager’s role is the “ultimate role for an Englishman” – so why any trepidation in explicitly expressing your interest in the first place? I suppose it is a matter of respecting Spurs and their fans, but if it is the “ultimate”, they should understand after some initial grief – after all, a vast majority of them would be England fans as well.

But the fans won’t understand, the reason being that it that for a high proportion of football supporters, club is bigger than country. And why shouldn’t it be – throughout the season, ones major footballing highs and lows are due to club football, not through the international friendlies against Andorra. Fans hold an almost tribal association with their club teams; I am not so sure the same is true for the England national team.

Thing is though –and this brings us to the second part of this discussion – I am not entirely certain that Redknapp truly, genuinely means what he says. He is known as someone who really loves his football – so would he really enjoy the transition from managing 40-50 games a season, to a maximum of ten meaningful international fixtures per calendar year? And we haven’t even touched upon the “poisoned chalice” aspect of the England job yet. Can you think of too many managers who have left club football to take the national job, only to come out at the other end with an enhanced reputation? Terry Venables after Euro ‘96 is the only one that springs to mind. It is not to say that the job is cursed; perhaps though, the expectations from the team are too high. As LBC 97.3 was discussing last Saturday – maybe it is the public and the media that are to blame. Maybe the England team just isn’t that good. But that is an argument for another time.

I fear for Harry, if he does end up taking this job, for precisely the reason that I touched upon just now. When Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren came in, not too much was really expected of them. Capello too, besides his great record in club competition was a bit of an unknown quantity at international level. And still they were demonised. Don Revie, Glen Hoddle and Kevin Keegan were brought in under similar circumstances to Redknapp (potentially, anyway). All three were doing very well at club level, especially the latter two who, like Harry, were lauded for the attractive, attacking play of their club sides. So much was expected from them, and when these expectations weren’t met (and well, in Hoddle’s case, for far more outlandish reasons), they were victimised and found it very difficult to resume their careers in management with the same panache and credibility as before. It would be a massive shame for Harry to leave a potentially title-winning Spurs side, only to end up like that. Of course, everything could turn out contrary to the above if Redknapp does become the England manager, and more importantly, a successful one. We will have to wait and see.

Why then, does anyone become the manager of the national team? I genuinely think that it is because it is seen as a nominally bigger title than some club jobs, not something that necessarily bears a more favourable cost-to-benefit ratio. I’ll end on a slightly controversial note, but one I reckon that a lot of people might agree with me on: club football is more immediately important than international football for many managers and fans, and the England job especially is not one that is worth leaving your club for.