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Tuesday, January 24, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: January 25, 11:27 PM UK
Sven's exit leaves searching questions

Dale Johnson

The FA envisage the departure of Sven Goran Eriksson from the England job will herald a new beginning with a raft of quality England coaches waiting in the wings. But as the search begins to find the man to lead the country through to Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland there is instead a dearth of standout candidates.

Former England boss Bobby Robson won 20 England caps and played at the 1958 World Cup before a glittering management career at home and abroad. Previous incumbent Terry Venables was a respected manager across Europe while both Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan were legends in their playing days.

Now it's Steve McClaren, Sam Allardyce and Peter Taylor.

While England waited for Sven to depart Lazio five years ago it was the promising young duo of Taylor and McClaren, then unknown to the public at large, who were entrusted with the job on a part-time basis.

With Taylor now out of the picture and McClaren having greater worries over the future of Middlesbrough the FA could be forced to look abroad again. There are realistic contenders, none more so than current Australia and PSV coach Guus Hiddink.

The FA realise they will be courting controversy to twice snub homegrown talent and their first choice appears to be McClaren. The Boro boss is Eriksson's right-hand man and he would represent continuity in the coaching set-up. However, it's far from certain that the former Manchester United number two would be a welcome appointment amongst the public.

Boro have been dropping like a stone to the extent that they face a real struggle to stay in the Premiership. Though McClaren has added League Cup success and UEFA Cup football to his CV many are unconvinced that he has to the qualities to get things right at the Riverside, let alone with England.

It's arguable that McClaren has taken on the lead role in partnership with Eriksson in recent times, providing the leadership during matches from the sideline and being the driving force on the training pitch. He is unlikely to deviate too much from the status quo and his brand of football, which weighs heavily on good defensive organisation, may be too dry.

McClaren has long spoken of his desire to lead England but after recently signing a new four-year contract and with grave concerns at domestic level he may have to rebuild his Premiership reputation first.

Though Taylor is now in charge of the England Under-21 side for a second stint his failure in Premiership management with Leicester City and subsequent drop down the divisions has led to his temporary time at the helm - when he handed the captain's armband to David Beckham - to fade from memory.

Although the Foxes finished 13th in 2000/01 the run-in proved to be a disaster. They lost ten of their final 11 games - including an infamous 2-1 home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup, courtesy of Roy Essandoh's dramatic injury time goal.

After a dismal start to 2001/02, with Leicester rooted to the foot of the table, Taylor was sacked. Since then he spent a season with Brighton & Hove Albion before taking over at basement club Hull City. Though he guided the Tigers to two successive promotions and also returned as Under-21 coach his record in the Premiership and subsequent struggle to rebuild his reputation leave him tarnished. He is no more than an outsider.

The FA's problem is that no English manager has managed to make giant strides in the last five years. Of the top clubs Manchester United are still managed by at Scot, Arsenal by a Frenchman, Liverpool now by a Spaniard and Chelsea are in the hands of a Portuguese.

Sam Allardyce is the kind of character the England fans crave after an excruciatingly long period with Eriksson in charge, a man devoid of passion and character who commanded the respect of the players but never the public.

In Allardyce, fans see a coach who is not only demonstrative on the touchline but who also has the reputation of a meticulous planner - a quality shared with Jose Mourinho. But would the Bolton Wanderers boss provide a reversal of roles in relation to the respect of players and supporters?

Allardyce has carved out a reputation as a man able to rehabilitate fallen stars and guide them through their convalescence, but this is not a role he will be able fulfil with England. He's hardly going to call on Paul Gascoigne.

In addition, Allardyce has come in for much stick, somewhat unfairly, for the style of play deployed at the Reebok. Though he favours a direct style of play he does not plug his side with bustling, unskilful, average players in the mould of the Wimbledon of old.

Bolton get the ball forward quickly into wide positions and look to make the most out of set-piece situations. That in itself does not sound repugnant but the robust nature of Bolton's closing down, tacking and general harrying upsets some.

Though English fans love to see a strong challenge it's a side of the game which has been largely confined to past and struggles to survive in the international arena today.

Alan Curbishley is another in the frame but the Charlton Athletic boss seems to lack character. A shortage of experience away from The Valley and in European competition also puts a black mark against his application. Fifteen years in charge of Charlton is not exactly perfect preparation for the England job, however condescending it may sound. Granted, Bolton is hardly Real Madrid but Allardyce's achievements with the Lancashire club are greater.

There has to be a fear that appointing either could lead to a reprisal of Graham Taylor's tenure with the national side, when he had performed well in the English domestic game without ever really achieve anything of note in terms of silverware or on the European stage.

The clamour for Stuart Pearce to take the job will be considerable given his standing with England fans - few forget his celebration after scoring in the Euro 96 penalty shootout against Spain. His no-nonsense style has been carried into management with Manchester City but with just 34 matches he is far too inexperienced.

Pearce would be a vastly popular choice and many will point to Marco Van Basten (Holland) and Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany) being thrown into the international game. But there is no evidence that choosing a talismanic figure over established coaching ability brings tangible results in the modern game.

Pearce has distanced himself from the job, calling the speculation 'embarrassing' and 'ludicrous', but let's not forget Kevin Keegan was also adamant the job was not of interest to him back in 1999.

It all means the FA may have turn to a foreign coach once again. The availability of Irishman Martin O'Neill remains uncertain due to the family issues which forced him to vacate the job at Celtic but he would be popular due to his record in England and Scotland, and also his passion.

'Big Phil' Scolari will leave Portugal after the World Cup and his record with the Euro2004 hosts and his World Cup win with his native Brazil make him an outstanding candidate. However, whether Scorlari is suited to English style is doubtful.

That leaves the outstanding foreign candidate, Guus Hiddink. The PSV Eindhoven and Australia coach's odds have already been slashed in the first few hours of betting.

Hiddink's CV is superb on the international stage, taking Holland and South Korea to fourth place at the World Cup and guiding Australia to their first World Cup finals since 1974 after taking over late in qualifying. And in the domestic game he has had trophy laden spells with PSV, masterminding glory in the European Cup final - plus the semi-finals last season - and four Eredivisie titles.

There is no doubt that Hiddink is far and away the best candidate for the England job. But will the English public accept another foreign coach for the nation which invented the game?

  • Any thoughts? Then you can e-mail Dale Johnson.

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