The Hardest Job In Sport – England Manager

As the saying goes: it takes all sorts to make a world, but it seems that the world of football management and more particularly the England manager’s job, has more than it’s fair share of ‘sorts’ if the press are to be believed.

Walter Winterbottom was given the job of England’s first manager in 1947. Before his appointment players, coaches and trainers were selected on a single game basis by the FA’s International Selection Committee. Back in 1947 Walter’s slightly comical music hall name went almost without comment in the press; just imagine the fun the popular press would have with a name like that today.

65 years and 17 managers on from Walter’s appointment not only do the press take every opportunity to have a little fun, but their ‘no holds barred’ approach to the private lives, physical appearance, personal beliefs and any other foible a new appointment might possess borders, some might say crosses, the acceptable line. It certainly reflects the changing nature of the British media generally, but there’s something about the England manager’s job that brings out the very worst in them. So just what is it that causes this reaction in the British media to the England manager? A post that many feel is as important at that of the Prime Minister.

Graham Taylor’s less than successful reign as England manager led to him being openly pilloried in the tabloids. The attacks were led by The Sun newspaper who published the headline “Swedes 2 Turnips 1” with a photograph of Taylor’s head superimposed on a turnip when England lost to Sweden in the Euro ’92 tournament. Forever afterwards Taylor was known in the press as “Graham Turnip” or “Turnip Taylor” and when he resigned The Sun published the same turnip image with the headline, “That’s yer allotment”. Taylor still feels aggrieved over his treatment:

“If somebody puts a turnip on your head it gives an impression to people of a certain intellect that they can treat you like anything. And there were a couple of incidents where that’s happened, by people who’ve had too much to drink, want to eff and blind, spit at you or throw beer over you, because the Sun newspaper’s given the impression they can do that to this fella. Don’t tell me that’s just a joke.”

When Glenn Hoddle appointed faith healer, Eileen Drewery, as part of the official England staff; it was bound to attract less than favourable media attention. Hoddle reportedly pressured England players to see her even though many of them doubted her validity. Even so this alone would not have caused his downfall but when Hoddle commented on his belief that disabled people deserved their disabilities the public were outraged with over 90% of respondents to a BBC poll calling for his dismissal.

“You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.”

Of course the media, particularly the tabloids, will often campaign for a failing England manager to go – after all bad England managers sell newspapers. But many question their right to go beyond the manager’s job performance and into other, more personal, aspects of their lives.

Sven-Göran Eriksson, the first foreign manager of the team was appointed in 2001. Sven certainly had an eye for the ladies, and of course when this came to the attention of the tabloids the media had a field day. It came to light that Sven was seeing other women, including Ulrika Jonsson and FA secretary Faria Alam, whilst continuing his on-going relationship with Nancy Dell’Olio. The press seized the opportunity with both hands and printed Sven love-rat stories for months.

Sven survived several scandals whilst in the job, but when he was named as one of a number of celebrities targeted by a tabloid sting, ‘The fake Sheikh’, it proved the final straw for the FA. Eriksson was lucky to stay on in the role until the end of the 2006 World Cup, with fans chanting “Sack the Swede” throughout, but was said to be relieved when his tenure was finally over.

Of course the England manager’s job has always been a tough one and even without the jibes of a negative press, something of a poison chalice. Only winning will do for a British public who blame each and every defeat on whichever manager is holding the nation’s hopes and dreams in his hands at the time.

The responsibility for all on-the-field elements of the England team, including selecting the national team squad, captains, tactics, substitutes, penalty takers, must be a heavy one for any manager. And with this, other management duties, interviews and articles, there’s so much opportunity to open up even the most professional manager to criticism from both the press and public.

When Fabio Capello appointed four Italians (Franco Baldini as general manager, Italo Galbiati as assistant coach, Franco Tancredi as goalkeeping coach, and Massimo Neri as fitness coach) in 2008 he came in for widespread criticism. This was only slightly reduced when he appointed Englishman Stuart Pearce, the England under 21’s coach, as an England coach as retribution for his bad judgement. At the time Capello stated: “From the start I made it clear that I wanted an English coach as part of my coaching team.”

With so much to go wrong and so much riding on each tiny decision no wonder some managers fall by the wayside. Kevin Keegan said that he found the England manager’s job soulless, claiming it to be better suited to foreign managers: “I don’t regret the England manager job, but I didn’t enjoy it.” He said after resigning.

It seems the criticism never stops for the manager of the national squad; each decision a potential downfall, each act, on or off the pitch, likely to lead to a headline in the tabloids. With the recent appointment of Roy Hodgson as the new England Manager, The Sun mocked his speech impediment with a “Bwing on the Euwos!” front page headline.

Hodgson, a keen reader whose ideal dinner party guests would be the American novelists John Updike and Philip Roth, was upset by the pointless and unnecessary criticism. The FA called the headline “unacceptable” and more than 100 people complained to the Press Complaints Commission.

The England Manager, one of the toughest and most reported on jobs in the world – a job where each decision, indiscretion, belief, even the way you speak are up for grabs. A job where everyone loves you when you’re winning and calls for your blood when you’re losing. Just why would anyone want to do it, could it be the fame, the money, love of the game? As Mike Bassett, England’s fictitious football manager once said: “How am I supposed to f*****g know.”