Wednesday, 17 October 2007

England Managers-by Brian Glanville. Book Review.

Brian Glanville's view of each England manager from Walter Winterbottom to Steve MacClaren.

This was a enjoyable book by a man with over half a century of experience writing about the game. In it you will get Glanville's measure of the various men who have held this difficult and quite strange job.

Briefly stated he argues that:

Walter Winterbottom held the job when the F.A. could almost be regarded as a branch of the civil service and that you could almost view Winterbottom as a bureaucrat- secure in his job despite mediocre results. Also that he suffered the loss of key players in the Munich aircrash, was compromised by in-fighting at the F.A. and was still, at least formally, expected to produce results despite the existence of the F.A. selection committee.

Sir Alf Ramsey was clearly successful as a manger- but as a man he was always keen to distance himself from his working class background in Dagenham- and who ended his days unhappily in a modest house in Ipswich.

Don Revie- was thin skinned, deeply superstitious, possibly a cheat and whose main motivation seemed to be money.

Ron Greenwood's biggest influence on the national team probably came in the sixties when his West Ham team produced Hurst, Peters and Moore who would be key players in the team that won the World Cup. By the time he becomes England manager he is past his prime.

Bobby Robson is a manager who rode his luck only to find it failing him at key moments (Maradona's handball and penalty defeat by Germany). He also had a troubled relationship with the press- as did....

Graham Taylor, a poor manager who was out of his depth.

(In defence of these two managers the eighties and ninties saw a loutish, ill mannered style of football journalism establish itself. If you study it I'm pretty sure that you can trace the origins of the "footy" fans' habit of booing England players-like Lampard, Heskey and Hargreaves- back to this style of half witted journalism.)

Terry Venables, who unlike Ramsey never seemed embarrassed about his Dagenham roots, got the job too late. A bright, creative man but he was distracted by questionable business dealings.

Glen Hoodle undermined his own abilities with his awkward relationship with the players. (Strangely Glanville feels that the problem with Hoddle's use of a faith healer was that the players were too conservative to accept it-rather than the more orthodox view that it is rather odd for the England manager to be using a faith healer)

Kevin Keegan at times had the ability to transcend his limitations- but ultimately proved to be feeble and was prone to being over emotional.

Eriksson handled the pressure well and was unfortunate with injuries to key players at key moments. He was also totally irresponsible in his behaviour of the pitch and was the beneficiary of a ridiculous contract.

Steve MacClaren- Wretched- a man who scribbles notes on the sidelines while the team play awfully on the pitch.

This book was written before MacClaren's England beat Russia 3-0- a game shaped in part by the selection of Heskey- which I'm sure only happened because of injuries and suspensions. Since then MacClaren's fortunes have been on the rise and he now has a chance to save his job, his reputation and maybe his career. Glanville points out the role that luck plays in the job- and maybe a few more strokes of luck, like the one that saw the Heskey selection, might mean that England manage to get to the later stages of the Euro 08 finals despite the fact that job did once seem to be a little way beyond MacClaren's abilities.

I do have a couple of reservations about this book. Glanville is a journalist and his skill is writing pithy and engaging assessments of managers, players and matches for newspapers and this is how this book reads- a series of succinct insights- often very accurately made- but made at the expense of any overarching narrative. At times I found it difficult to follow the line of his arguments obscured as it was by a list of rapidly made observations made about players, matches and opposition managers. I felt that the book could have probably been edited a little bitter.