Author Topic: England football management, by Martin Samuel, the "Times"  (Read 1099 times)

Offline Alan

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England football management, by Martin Samuel, the "Times"
« on: February 01, 2008, 10:46:48 AM »
From Times Online
January 30, 2008

Well, that's another fine England mess we've gotten you into, Fabio Capello.  David Beckham's fitness and the captaincy conundrum are small beer compared to what the Premier League fixtures computer throws up. 

Fabio Capello does seem to be taking this England thing very seriously. Extended squads of 30, intense deliberations with his technical staff over the fitness of David Beckham, an internal dialogue on the subject of the captaincy - bless his little Gorizian heart, he actually thinks he has a chance of winning something. That won't last.

No doubt Capello has been so focused on his first match, against Switzerland a week today, that forward planning for his second game, in France on March 26, has rather passed him by. Which is a pity because if he knew what English football had in store, he could have saved a lot of heartache and learnt to pick up the money and coast, as Sven-Göran Eriksson eventually did.

England play in Paris on a Wednesday, so what matches has the Premier League scheduled for the preceding Sunday? Manchester United versus Liverpool at 1.30pm, followed by Chelsea against Arsenal at 4pm. Welcome to England, Fabio. Welcome to a sporting culture so dysfunctional that it actively works against you. You'll learn. Give it a year.
It is not a language barrier that you have to overcome here, but an intellectual one. We're stupid, you see. Stupid people playing stupid games, which is why we end up paying stupid money for a guy such as you to save us. But you have to do it while pushing a piano upstairs, didn't we tell you that? And with a brick dropping on your head every two minutes. That's just our way, you see. That is what we're like. We're the Laurel and Hardy of the international scene.

The Premier League cannot hide behind the skirts of the television companies on this one. The fact is, no broadcasting business would pay £1.7billion over three years just to put on Bolton Wanderers versus Wigan Athletic at prime time. Sky Sports and Setanta demand big set-piece attractions at regular intervals through the season.

Understandably, the League does its best to oblige. So the moment Liverpool's visit to Old Trafford and Arsenal's to Stamford Bridge were scheduled for Saturday, March 22, it was plain that the matches were designed to be remade as what is known as Grand Slam Sunday. Yet at that time England's intention to play on March 26 was well-documented - and could have been confirmed with one phone call - even if the identity of the opponents was not officially revealed until December 4, 2007.

From the start, the Premier League would have appreciated that delaying matches involving the leading four teams could cause huge difficulty for the England manager. Indeed, at the time the fixture list was published, England were hoping to qualify for Euro 2008, in which case the March international would have been one of only four fixtures to fine-tune the team for the tournament. And still the Premier League pressed on with its plan.

No use blaming computers, either. The days when we believed that the schedule was spewed out at random are long gone. On August 19, Manchester City played Manchester United and Chelsea played Liverpool, both matches moved to Sunday for television, as the return matches have been on February 10. The games on March 23 are, in effect, the return legs of fixtures played on December 16, also a Sunday, live on Sky. Nobody even pretends these days. These showpiece Sunday double-headers are football's equivalent of arranged marriages and to place one in such proximity to an England match shows almost wanton disregard for the fortunes of the national team. The administrative geniuses of English football had better hope that Capello's grasp of our language remains limited, although his thoughts on this episode could no doubt he expressed in simple terms.

The simpler the better for Sir Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League and a senior administrator at the FA. Richards is a member of the FA board, vice-chairman of the international committee and sits on FA committees governing technical control and the FA Cup. Indeed, if more than two people gather anywhere in a room in England and wish to talk about football, there is probably an FA article stating that Richards must be present and has the right to veto all decisions.

Now, with a foot in both camps, it would appear that Richards is in the perfect position to mediate, to see the dilemma presented by a crowded fixture list and to steer a middle course ensuring that neither the clubs nor the England team are short-changed. It is logical that the Premier League keeps its television paymasters happy, but not at the expense of the national team. This does not appear to be happening.

England are to be shafted in March, just as they were in August before the match against Germany at Wembley that England lost. Once in a season would be unfortunate, but twice really is, as we English would say, Fabio, taking the p***.

Of course, everyone would wish the fixture list to be rearranged to suit its purposes, not least the powerful elite club lobby. José Mourinho, during his time in England, complained that Chelsea were often given difficult domestic matches before Champions League games; when in Portugal, a leading club such as FC Porto were given an easy ride, or a free weekend, to help them. He failed to understand that to aid Porto as shamelessly as this unfairly disadvantaged a rival club and the Premier League exists to do more than preserve a stranglehold of the richest on Champions League survival.

Compromising to assist England is not the same. The Premier League and FA are not in the business of making life easier for Raymond Domenech, of France, or Joachim Löw, the Germany coach. From Capello's perspective, it will seem ludicrous that no consideration is given to the needs of the flagship concern for English football; indeed, that matters are arranged to make life harder for him. It is almost as if the Premier League is actively working to undermine the national team and, through it, the FA. But that could not be, for if it were true, surely there would be a movement to kick Richards off every committee in Soho Square and make him as welcome in the building as head lice.

When England were due to play in Israel on March 24 last year, the FA helpfully scheduled two FA Cup replays for the preceding Monday, offering the explanation that there was no alternative (although as one of the matches that necessitated this arrangement was a charity friendly between Manchester United and Juventus, this excuse had a hollow ring). Even so, the same mitigation cannot be advanced on this occasion.

Because part of the fixture list is manufactured, there is no reason why these matches involving the elite quartet of Barclays Premier League clubs cannot be specifically arranged for weekends that do not clash with England fixtures, FA Cup games or Champions League commitments. Do such dates exist? Absolutely. And here they are: January 13 or 20, February 10 or 24, March 16, April 13 or May 4 or 11.

Viewed like this, the inbuilt inadequacies of English football become plain. This is an industry with wealth measured in billions run by men who cannot organise a diary. No wonder Eriksson had lost interest in everything beyond the typing pool by the end and Steve McClaren's campaign was holed below the water line. Whatever mistakes the last man made were compounded by a process that often left his team shorn of their best players at crucial times. These problems will arise naturally enough, without football's executives adding to them.

Capello, McClaren's successor, is trying to heal a team fractured by failure, yet in his second match he will not know until the Sunday night whether he can call on the services of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Owen Hargreaves, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney for a difficult away match against a France team who will want to win, as all the leading nations do against England.

We have grown too attached to the concept of the meaningless England friendly, too blasé about the importance of these matches to a manager. Eriksson foolishly devalued the currency, but Capello's serious treatment of the Beckham issue indicates that he is aware of the importance of all matches and training sessions to a coach whose time with the players is already limited. Now, before the match against France, his key players will need to rest on Monday and have one light training session on the day before the game. There will be no opportunity for fitness assessments or detailed tactical preparation. But will England be expected to turn in a good performance? Of course, they always are.

Capello must take the hand he has been dealt this season, but not beyond. A priority should be a quiet but very firm word with Richards and others who will bask in the reflected glory of any England success, as if they have been anything but a ball and chain fastened around the ankle of successive England managers. Put simply: no more. Start considering the England team and treating them with fairness or lose them. We can see how much fun a tournament is without them - the head of sport at ITV is so looking forward to the summer that he has cancelled it.

One imagines Capello, sitting at his desk with that same, long-suffering look to camera that Oliver Hardy used to have as the piano teetered on the lip of the top stair. “Well, why don't you do something to help me?” he would ask Stan Laurel, his partner. And there goes English football, cascading down the steps to oblivion: dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, didd-er-ly dum, didd-er-ly dum...
« Last Edit: February 01, 2008, 12:01:32 PM by Alan »
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