Editor's note: Let's all have a laugh. Nick wrote this in February.
"I'm sure the England selectors thought if they took me on and gave me the job, I'd want to run the show. They were shrewd, because that's exactly what I would have done." - Brian Clough
"The future for England looks a bit scary to me. No one should kid themselves England are overloaded with fantastic talent coming through. They’re not." - Harry Redknapp
England has a long and storied tradition with the game defined as association football, or as we call it here in the States, soccer. This history formally began on a December evening in 1863, when Ebenezer Cobb Morley convened the first meeting of the Football Association. At this meeting, the original laws of the game were laid out. They were:
- The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards (180 m), the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards (91 m), the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two upright posts, eight yards (7 m) apart, without any tape or bar across them.
- A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach within 10 yards (9.1 m) of the ball until it is kicked off.
- After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal is won.
- A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.
- When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.
- When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal line.
- In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick at the goal only from a point 15 yards (14 m) outside the goal line, opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.
- If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.
- No player shall run with the ball.
- Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.
- A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.
- No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground with his hands under any pretence whatever while it is in play.
- No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.
Thus was the berth of The Beautiful Game, and thus begins the story of England in that beautiful game.
Yesterday, two significant events occurred, the providence and serendipity of which can shake the beliefs of one inclined to believe in free will and reinforce the beliefs of those who deal in fatalism and destiny. The first event to occur was the acquittal of Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp on charges of tax evasion in Southwark. The second was Fabio Capello telling the Football Association at Wembley Park that he was resigning his post as England manager, effective immediately. The stage had been set for for the production the English media had been waiting to produce; wherein a hero figure and vaunted man of destiny, Redknapp, was coaxed and ordained to sit upon a throne seemingly only just below Her Majesty's in stature: manager of of the England team.
Significant in this play, whose curtain is now rising and with the players already in costume, is that it is a sequel. The English media, the Football Association, and the nation itself put on a production similar to this once before, when the England position became vacant in 1977. That play, like this one, involved the monolithic FA, an unpopular outgoing manager, a fan and media favorite, and the possibility for controversy. Playing the part of Fabio Capello was former Leeds manager Don Revie, who had just resigned the England job in disgrace after backdoor meetings with the United Arab Emirates to take over their manager position. Playing the part of the Football Association is the Football Association, just as meddlesome and fickle as ever. Finally, playing the part of the fan favorite, the prodigal son, is legendary manager Harry Redknapp, who takes over the role held back in 1977 by Brian Clough.
Brian Clough: The Greatest English Manager to Never Manage England, The Last Man to Win Back to Back European Titles, The Pride of Middlesborough, Mr. "I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one." The parallels have been expounded upon before, but allow me to gild the lilywhite. Both Redknapp and Clough were famous for being very simple, plain spoken managers, as well as have a derisive opinion of the importance of tactics in the game of football. They also had well known contemporary opinions held of them in regard to transfers, both could be described as wheeler dealers. Clough famously brought in Dave Mackay to his Derby side, getting something out of the old man and helping lead Derby to success. Clough though, had a flair for the large and dramatic, breaking the English transfer record twice (first for David Nish in 1972, and then in 1979 for Trevor Francis).
While similar, the two of course have their differences. Redknapp does not have anywhere close to the visual flair and sharp wit that Clough had, a wit which got him into trouble often, as well as being the cause of the Football Association's hesitance to hand him the England job. This cost him in 1974 when Don Revie became England manager over him. While Redknapp lacks in this, he makes up for in allegations of rule breaking, being brought in a 2006 corruption case for tapping up a player, which led to his charges of tax evasion. Colorful, English managers they both are and were, and it seems only fitting they share the same role in this play.
The disgraced managers, however, have less in common and our new scriptwriter has seemingly tweaked the disgraced manager role. This role in 1977 was held by Don Revie. Brian Clough molded Revie into Lucifer, to Clough' St. Michael. To Clough, Revie was all evil, accusing the manager of dirty play and bad management, considering him unfit for both the Leeds job and the England job. During Revie' tenure as manager, he was accused of being too old fashioned and stodgy, treating the national team as if it were a club team. He became the first (to be succeeded by Steve McLaren) English manager to unable to get England to any international competition, and was a failure in his role. In 1977, he was castigated by the Football Association when he resigned to take the United Arab Emirates job. He was the first manager to ever resign the job, taking a lucrative contract in turn and completely turning an entire country against him. He was banned for 10 years from English football immediately following the incident.
Playing the role in this years production is Fabio Capello. He is a remarkably different character than Revie. He is not English, he has not failed to get England to international competition, and he is not regarded as old fashioned. He has not resigned from the England job in a backdoor deal to manage another team, and he reminds our spectator more of Milton's Lucifer than the biblical one that Clough portrayed Revie as. However, the similarity of the two regards to the situation of the captain. In one way you could look at the saga of the team captaincy as the link between these two men. With Revie, he is the man responsible for ending the international career of Alan Ball, the last man remaining on the England team from the 1966 winners, being completely removed from the squad and captaincy in 1975 and only finding out from phone calls by the press. He was only 30, and the move caused a shock and would go down to mark the beginning of resentment of Revie in the role of England manager.
With Capello, the captain signifies the end rather than the beginning. The Football Association's removal of John Terry' captaincy is the cause of Fabio Capello' resignation, as he could not deal with a governing body that would interfere with his running of the team. Capello had already removed Terry once from captaincy for incidents off the field, and he felt that the move undermined his authority. This resignation has caused a panic for England, as the European Championships loom in the summer and the need for a manager is immediate. This brings us back to the here and the now, the start of our grand, surprise production of filling the England managers chair.
So we have our Don Revie (Fabio Capello) our meddlesome and monolithic Football Association (The Football Association) and we have our Brian Clough (Harry Redknapp). However, we still have another role to fill, a role that for all intents and purposes could have been written out and perhaps we will be punished for assuming this would be a blow for blow reproduction, but it is our duty to ask if there will be, and who will play, our Ron Greenwood?
Ron Greenwood was the man appointed as England manager in 1977, a choice that could be described as dark horse. He had managed West Ham United from 1961 to 1974, leading the club to success it hasn't seen since and supplying many of the players who would prove to be heroes of the 1966 England National Team. When he was chosen however, he had not managed for three years. He was viewed as the safe choice for England, rather than taking a risk with Brian Clough. He was a success for England but never won anything, and is more remembered as the man England dragged out of mothballs to avoid kowtowing to Brian Clough and his demands. Clough put it this way on Greenwood' hire:
Typical Football Association decision. Ron; charming man, wouldn't hurt a fly, couldn't fall out with his wife to save his life, and was a nice man. They didn't want any trouble. They didn't want me.
So who is our Greenwood? Trotted out as possible examples, managers who avoided the legal concerns Redknapp had, were Alan Pardew of Newcastle and Martin O'Neill of Sunderland. However both have quickly refused the role, both backing Harry Redknapp as the choice for the England job. It could even be Stuart Pearce. So who is our Ron Greenwood? In a throwback to Peter Sellers, Harry Redknapp will also play the role of Ron Greenwood! He's the perfect fit. The Football Association would see it as safe because it is what everyone wants, Harry won't criticize the Football Association or demand any control over certain internal processes, and Harry fits the type of manager the Football Association wants. Truly, Harry Redknapp is a dexterous performer. It seems only fitting as well, since Ron Greenwood was Redknapp's manager at West Ham United, and helped shape Harry Redknapp into the man he is today.
The lights have dimmed and the patrons have taken their seats for the play. Harry Redknapp will be playing two roles at once and the Football Association will try and put on a show that isn't as disastrous as their 1977 show was. While the surface of the play looks the same it does not have the same intrigue the production in 1977 had, and looks to have a more staid and predictable plotline. However, the ending will likely be the same as it ever was when the Football Association puts on a production of The England Manager: sad.
Save for a brief moment of catharsis in 1966, a nation which prides itself as the birthplace of The Rules of the Game has had no success on the international stage. It has never won a European Championship, and it has never won the World Cup since 1966. It has lost in the most heartbreaking, absurd ways every other year, becoming the Charlie Brown of international soccer. It is a nation that has never punched above its weight and indeed consistently fails to live up to its talent. Nothing regarding this team Redknapp is taking over says otherwise. Redknapp himself said above that people delude themselves into the idea of England as a fearsome soccer juggernaut. It is not. That is why this series of plays regarding the England Manager position is not a drama but indeed a comedy of the highest order. Indeed, perhaps England could have found international success if it had ever cast a masterful comedian, a truly witty and joker of a man, Brian Clough as a manager. For Brian Clough seemed to understand the comedy and absurdity of this farce. A couple quotes from seminal Englishmen seem to sum it up best.
"Blake understood. Treated it like a joke, but he understood. He saw the cracks in society, saw the little men in masks trying to hold it together... He saw the true face of the twentieth century and chose to become a parody of it. No one else saw the joke. That's why he was lonely." - Alan Moore
"I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed. I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me." - Brian Clough