How to end England's 46 years of hurt: Scotland or Northern Ireland might have the answer
When Fabio Capello left his post as England manager, a sudden frenzy of players, journalists and fans began calling for Harry Redknapp to take the job. the Tottenham manager will, in all likelihood, be appointed. It could prove to be the right choice, especially considering his popularity with a group of players who often found Capelli somewhat cold and robotic.
However, for all Redknapp's likeability, attacking philosophy and communication skills, there are major flaws to his managerial style that seem typical of everything wrong with English football. His tactics are simplistic bordering on infantile. Rafael van der Vaart summarised his pre-match team talks as 'You play left or right, work hard, have fun and show the fans your best'. This generally works for Tottenham because they simply have better players than most Premier League teams, with Gareth Bale and Luka Modric forever capable of single moments of brilliance that can win a game instantly. Their poor record against the other teams in the top five this season suggests that against teams of similar ability they are at a disadvantage. They have lost five, drawn two (one a game that Chelsea dominated and should have won) and won one at a goal difference of -12. It is difficult to see how the game against Spain, technically far superior to England, in November might have gone if Redknapp had been in charge. One suspects that a 'go out and have some fun' mentality might have resulted in embarrassment.
In considering Redknapp's flaws and the F.A.'s desire to avoid the language barrier that hampered Capello's reign, there are two stand-out choices from the Premier League. Two of the biggest successes of this season have been Swansea and Norwich, managed by Brendan Rodgers (a Northern Irishman), and Paul Lambert (a Scot) respectively. Neither have been mentioned in the media despite, forgetting petty nationalism, being two outstanding candidates. Both have exceeded expectations with their sophisticated tactics rather than getting someone to run around a bit more or tackle harder. Neil Warnock, a strong believer in the strength of the latter strategy, has lost his job at the other promoted side, QPR, despite having more money than either Rodgers or Lambert. The fact that they both took their managerial approaches from abroad rather than England is key.
Paul Lambert played for Borussia Dortmund and spent four days a week whilst at Celtic travelling to Germany for his coaching course. Rodgers' influence comes predominately from the possession football played in Spain and Holland. They are two very different managers, with Lambert often adapting his team to counteract the strengths of the opposition while Rodgers has been praised for sticking to his attacking, possession strategy even against the top sides. However it is not just a case of telling the players to keep the ball on the floor and play it short, every aspect of the Spanish philosophy is incorporated into Swansea's play. The high, pressing game off the ball is as important as the activity in possession. Barcelona have proven too good for Manchester United twice in the past three Champions League finals, and Swansea almost represent the Spanish game's superiority over England in the lower half of the table. These are approaches that have brought success to Italy, Spain and Germany in the recent past, so why have England been so stubborn about trying them out.
If Rodgers took over for the European Championships it would be difficult for him to implement his tactics in such a short space of time, so his appointment would be with a more long-term view. Lambert however, could have a genuine immediate impact, as he has a track record of getting players to perform above their individual capabilities by fulfilling a specific role in a complete tactical plan. It is not that he suddenly turned Grant Holt into Lionel Messi, it is his ability to fit individual players into a system that works for them as individuals and benefits the entire team.
Harry Redknapp looks a pretty safe bet to become the next England manager, with support from all areas of the football world. He is the epitome of everything the English love in a manager: charismatic, positive and with a simple love for the game. It will be interesting to see whether such an approach will be as successful on the European stage as it has in a league where he is simply the best of a number of managers who share the very same philosophy.