May 04, 2008

Brits abroad

Roy Hodgson and Gary Johnson are not the names that fly off the tip of the tongue whenever we consider managerial jobs at the top level of English football, but they should be. Hodgson is now manager of Fulham, but has managed in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Finland- he was also considered to be manager of Germany in the late 90s. Johnson's career is less illustrious: he has managed in England mostly and very successfully at the lower levels (Yeovil and now possibly Premiership bound Bristol City) but also had a great stint as manager of Latvia. The reason I bring these two up though doesn't lie in their exceptional careers- great though they are- but in the fact that they are so often ignored- when the lament comes up that there are no English managers, what does it say that we ignore these two and how does that structure the incentives for managers.

There are very few English managers of class in the Premiership- personally Steve Coppell, Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp and maybe one or two others might qualify. But overall most English managers have been left behind over the last ten years by those continental managers interested in diet and uninterested in pure motivation- the failing careers of Kevin Keegan and Peter Reid demonstrate how old methods of up and at em don't work so well any more. The English Premiership has been staffed by foreigners. You might wonder then why English managers don't go abroad?

I think there are two reasons why more don't follow in the footsteps of Hodgson and Johnson- two reasons that demonstrate an unhealthy conservatism in the attitudes of both the managers and the football bosses themselves. The first is that most English managers tend to be happy with where they are- they want to be football managers and learn the group of players that come to England and how they work. They are rigorously logical in their approach to football management- that's why they all use the same limited vocabulary, because that is the vocabulary of management. The interesting thing is that going abroad will not neccessarily teach you things that you didn't know about football but it will teach you things that you didn't know about life. And as soon as you are exposed to more, try more in life, you yourself learn more about yourself and consequently become better able to help other people. This comes in all sorts of ways- it would be interesting to think about the way someone who has never lived in a foreign country helps a 19 year old settle in a new place, it is even more interesting to consider whether knowing more in general actually enables you to think laterally- to go beyond convention and therefore to do better than convention.

The second thing is that management of football clubs is also very very conservative. If I want to employ a manager- I have a selection list normally of those who have managed Premiership clubs and perhaps of those who have managed a little abroad. That culture is so conservative because the environment around football is so conservative- the constant attacks on every foreign manager as though he might be Christian Gross, forgetting that Gross was not actually that bad. The best way to treat a new idea is to mock, the best way to treat intelligence is to imply homosexuality. Whatever your thoughts about football in general and management in particular (whether you agree with me, James and Chris Dillow that management is overrated or not) the idea that a culture could grow up which eschews thinking about problems and concentrates on mocking novelty and discouraging change is a deeply damning one. The environment means that Johnson and Hodgson are ignored, despite their acheivements, because they didn't do them in England- the Welsh manager John Toshack (successful in Spain) similarly has not been acknowledged sufficiently- whilst serial failures like Graeme Souness get reappointed constantly.

As this is an issue which is shaped out of a wider culture, I think it says something about Britain as a whole and the way that the country is still a small c conservative place and a profoundly unintellectual place. The difficulties with management that Dillow highlights so often on his blog are made worse by the fact that Britain doesn't seem to value what Denis Healey called a hinterland- a background which goes beyond the task at hand. Not something that managers think they need, or club chairmen look for...


James Higham said...

it is even more interesting to consider whether knowing more in general actually enables you to think laterally- to go beyond convention and therefore to do better than convention.

Unless oof course they just carry the same mantra with them and chant it at intervals instead of opening the mind to other ideas e.g. a current debate a taq certain person's site. :)

Gracchi said...


Gracchi said...

I just removed an anonymous comment which was a protest about the world from a particular perspective: not a response to the post.