Almost England Manager

The impossible job? Managers always say they don’t want to manage England but many have been called and very few turn it down. So which big names almost got the job or said no and what might have been?

  • Brian Clough- 1977

When? -1977 following the shock resignation of his bitter rival Don Revie, Clough was interviewed (amongst a lengthy shortlist) of managers for the England job.brian-clough-obe_27.max-740x444_1

What went wrong?

He flunked the interview. Apparently on arriving at Lancaster Gate Clough patronised an elderly man by suggesting he should take the lift instead of the stairs- said man was on the interview panel! Clough later claimed in his biography he had nothing in common with anyone on the FA Panel bar Sir Matt Busby and it didn’t go well. Clough also claimed the interview was a charade.

It’s not a shock that the controversial manager struggled to find a rapport with the conservative FA Panel, but there were other issues too;

The timing wasn’t great for Clough, he’d taken Nottingham Forest up to the First Division and won it 5 years previous with Derby County but his greatest achievements with Forest hadn’t happened yet.

There was also that infamous 44 day stint at Leeds which long before ‘The Damned United’ was published brought into question his ability to handle star names- just imagine the rows he’d have had with the ever combustible Kevin Keegan! The references from Derby Chairman Sam Longson may also have made for interesting reading given their volatile relationship and bitter parting of the ways. The old school tie and blazers of Lancaster Gate would have been in for a rough ride.

What happened next?

The more diplomatic Ron Greenwood got the job, took England to 2 major tournaments but never won a knock out game. Clough went on to win the league with the previously little known Nottingham Forest in 1978 and then back to back European Cups and 4 league cups, picking up every management award in the process and staying at Forest until his retirement in 1993

What might have been?

In truth it would have ended in tears- The FA was largely run by the dictatorial Sir Harold Thompson who’d been instrumental in sacking Sir Alf and had Revie in his crosshairs before the manager walked. The FA was inflexible, difficult and even then in desperate need of reform so it’s hard to see how it would have worked with a renegade manager. Had he got the job Clough and Revie would likely have finally found something they agreed on- The FA was not fit for purpose.

As Revie privately admitted and Keegan has often said since the England of the ’70s simply lacked the players to succeed. Clough would have needed to survive in the role until the early ’80s to have a chance of success, when the likes of Bryan Robson, Glenn Hoddle & Trevor Francis emerged to complement veterans Keegan and Trevor Brooking. Assuming he’d brought longtime cohort Peter Taylor with him (who notably didn’t join him at Leeds) Clough’s best chance would have come at the 1982 World Cup where he’d probably have done better than Greenwood but anything beyond the semi finals would have been truly miraculous.

  • Jack Charlton

When?– 1977 (again) when the then Middlesborough manager wrote a ‘very nice letter to the FA’ and applied for the job. He never heard back.


What went wrong?

He was probably deemed too inexperienced having only entered management 4 years earlier at ‘Boro, despite taking them to the First Division and a highly respectable 7th placed finish. Notably ‘Big’ Jack’s Centre back partner from the ’66 World Cup Final also applied and didn’t hear back.

He was also probably considered too close to Revie having spent 21 seasons at Leeds playing first with and then for the manager with whom the FA was now engaged in a bitter dispute, one that eventually lead to the FA boycotting Revie’s funeral in 1989.

And then there was the ‘Little Black Book’ incident. Charlton claimed in a 1970 TV interview he kept a little black notebook of all the players who’d committed bad fouls against him and on whom he would seek retribution (on the pitch) given the chance. A tabloid had taken exception to this because things like that never happen in football.

What happened next?

Snubbed by the FA Big Jack returned to club management where he continued to enjoy success with smaller clubs before getting the Republic of Ireland job in 1986. He got Ireland through qualification for the first time in their history making it to the Euro ’88 finals, where he exacted revenge on the FA by beating England 1-0 in the group opener. He went on to manager Ireland to back to back World Cup appearances in 1990 & 94 making it to the quarter finals and last 16 respectively. After losing out in a play off for Euro ’96 Charlton hung up his cap and went fishing.

What might have been?

Like Clough, Charlton was an outspoken manager who’d inevitably have run foul of the FA and Thompson before too long. His tactics with Ireland were hardly progressive but that might have worked well with England in the late ’70s but would not have won trophies.

However we wouldn’t have got beaten by Ireland at Euro ’88 and perhaps some of those suspiciously English sounding players in green would have been wearing the Three Lions. Big Jack was an excellent man manager who ringed the most out of the resources he had but it’s tough to argue he’d have done better than Bobby Robson.

  • Sir Alex Ferguson

When? Since his retirement in 2013 Sir Alex has talked more openly about his brush with the FA claiming fellow Scot Adam Crosier offered him the job in 2001 (following Kevin Keegan’s resignation.)


What went wrong?

According to Ferguson he turned it down. He never showed any desire to leave United and as he’s said ‘He’d never have been allowed into Scotland again,’ a fair point.

He’d never have taken it, simple as that- Ferguson often derided the job as horrible and without the pull of national pride to the post, the absence of day to day working with players wouldn’t have sat well with him, the best the FA could have hoped for would have been an advisory role.

What happened next?

England appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson who took them to 3 straight quarterfinals whilst Ferguson stayed in Manchester won 7 more Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008, retiring after his final title in 2013.

What might have been?

Had he relented and taken the job, the FA of the millennium was a very different beast to the one Clough & Revie encountered. Ferguson would have been guaranteed the jobs for as long as he wanted it, if it had happened in 2001 it would have lasted until Euro 2004 at best.

Eriksson’s results with England in those tournaments were pretty good but Ferguson would probably have done better particularly adapting the team in 2004 after Rooney was injured in the quarter final.

But you have temper expectations with Ferguson’s record in the Champions League- 2 wins and 4 finals from 17 successive attempts, United were perennial quarter finalist but only intermittently better. He also managed Scotland to 4th place in an admittedly very tough group at Mexico ’86 having taken temporary charge following the death of Jock Stein.

One way in which he unquestionably would have moved England forward would have been the construction of St George’s Park.  On arriving at United in 1986 he insisted the clubs priority needed to be building the academy, United having become too dependant on buying players. That lead directly to the class of ’92 and the construction of United’s training facility at Carrington.

St George’s Park was originally envisaged in 2001, coincidentally the time Ferguson was in the FA’s sights. But it took until 2011 for construction to begin with the grand opening finally taking place in 2012 as the FA had perviously prioritised building the new Wembley. Ferguson would never have stood for that and England’s current plan would have been executed a decade earlier, that really would have opened up new possibilities.

  • Luiz Filipe Scolari

When?– Spring 2006, the FA decided they’d part ways with Eriksson after that summer’s World Cup and looked to the man who’d proved Erikksons nemesis in the previous 2 tournaments.


What went wrong?

FA Boss Brian Barwick inadvertantly alerted the press by taking a commercial flight to meet Scolari in Lisbon to agree the deal. The story broke and Scolari discovered a mass of journalists camped outside his house, uncomfortable with the attention he declined to move forward and England started reviewing domestic candidates.

What happened next?

Big Phil’s Portugal inevitably beat England on penalties again, in the quarter finals again! He stayed on with Portugal for another 2 years guiding them to a slightly underwhelming quarter final loss to Germany. Before the tournament he announced he’d be leaving that summer to join Chelsea, many Portugal fans blamed the timing of the announcement for the teams early exit that summer. He endured a tough time at Stamford Bridge and was fired mid season with the Premier League title slipping out of sight. He eventually went back to managing Brazil, making it to the semi finals in 2014 before that walloping 7-1 loss to Germany.

What might have been?

Imaging what might have happened in the absence of Steve McClaren is a particularly low bar of expectation, Scolari would have cleared that by simply qualifying for Euro 2008. He’d have managed that and probably made some progress beyond the group, but England wouldn’t have been equipped to beat the likes of Spain or Holland. He’d have likely stayed until 2010 with a likely similar result to Fabio Capello albeit the players would have liked him more.

  • Jose Mourinho

When?– After Steve McClaren’s unceremonious failure in the Euro 2008 qualifiers the FA sounded out Mourinho who was available following his surprise sacking by Chelsea two months earlier.


What went wrong?

Mourinho was initially interested but preferred a return to club football, when the rumours started to gather pace he received a backlash in his native Portugal and withdrew.

What happened next?

England appointed Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup campaign, the Italian masterminded a brilliant qualification run but suffered a lousy tournament in South Africa. Meanwhile Mourinho took the Inter Milan job in the summer of 2008 and guided them to the treble capped by the Champions League triumph in 2010. From there he went on to win the league in his second season at Real Madrid, second season on his return to Chelsea- anyone spot the pattern here, aside from United?

What might have been?

A whole lot of trouble, when you take Mourinho you take him histrionics and pantomime villainy as part of the deal. The FA may have modernised but it’s hard to see them getting comfortable with all that.

He’d have stayed for 1 campaign- the 2010 World Cup, qualified (probably not as impressively as Capello) and then gone to the finals. Mourinho’s greater grasp of the English language and mentality would have made for a happier base than the infamous Camp Capello. Mourinho would probably have steered England to the top of their group (avoiding Germany) and on to a deeper run in the knock out phase, maybe even the Semi Finals where he usually takes his Champions League sides.

  • Harry Redknapp

When?- In early 2012 ‘arry Redknapp’s Tottenham were title contenders playing the most stylish football in the country, but he was also on trial in a tax fraud case with the Inland Revenue. On February 8th the result Redknapp 1-0 HMRC was confirmed at Southwark Crown Court. Redknapp was on his way back to Tottenham when the news broke that Fabio Capello had quit the England job after the FA went over his head to strip John Terry of the captaincy. Everyone put two and two together.


What went wrong?

Unlike the others on this list the FA never made an approach for Redknapp instead turning to the more conservative Roy Hodgson. Some suggested he was blackballed by Trevor Brooking at the FA over his pushing Billy Bonds out of the West Ham job- neither rumour has ever been proved. Others suggested Redknapp’s colourful persona raised red flags with the FA or the FA didn’t fancy negotiating with Spurs’ Daniel Levy. However everyone agrees that Hodgson’s previous experience managing the Swiss national side was a factor in tipping the balance in his favour.

What happened next?

Redknapp’s Tottenham went into a late season slump end and missed out on the Champions League. Redknapp who appeared to have his head turned by the England speculation was blamed for the fall and fired. He resurfaced at QPR for an unsuccessful spell and briefly tasted international football with Jordan. He recently took charge of Birmingham City.

Hodgson took charge of England for Euro 2012 where a quarter final appearance represented a par score, he then oversaw a disasterous 2014 World Cup campaign and Euro 2016 exit to Iceland

What might have been?

Redknapp would have managed a similar campaign to Hodgson at Euro 2012 as the man parachuted in. He could’t have done any worse at the World Cup but I doubt he’d have got much further, Redknapp undoubtedly favoured veterans and would have certainly based his side around the likes of Terry, Cole, Rooney, Carrick & Crouch- a t’rffic bunch of lads no doubt but players England needed to move on from.

It’s difficult to see his old school management style fitting well with the FA’s new doctrine of Sports Science and attempts to intellectualise management and coaching. He’s also required extensive knee surgery in recent years that have kept him away from the game for extended spells; it would probably mean he’d have only stayed until 2014. All that being said he wouldn’t have got beat by Iceland.

  • Sam Allardyce

When? On 23rd July 2016 Sam Allardyce was appointed England Manager, a full decade after he was passed over for his dream job.


What went wrong?

He had one too many ales and told undercover reporters how they could circumvent the FA’s rules on third party ownership of players, he also made off the cuff remarks about his peers and arranged some speaking engagements for a big fee.

What happened next?

Just 67 days on from his appointment Allardyce left his post by mutual consent. He reappeared later in the year at Crystal Palace guiding them to Premier League survival and maintaining his record of never being relegated. He then surprised everyone by retiring but has since said he’d be interested in a return to international management.

England meanwhile promoted Under 21s manager Gareth Southgate who is currently engaged in England’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

What might have been?

In qualification terms England would be very likely exactly where they are now, although Allardyce won the opening away game of the campaign it was a slightly fortuitous result and he would likely have picked up wins at home and draws on the road.

He raised eyebrows with his post match comments about an out of sorts Wayne Rooney stating it wasn’t his job to tell Wayne where to play. It smacked a lot of the crowbarring into the team of Rooney that cost Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016. Southgate by contrast dropped Rooney without losing the confidence of the player should he return to form.

Allardyce has always been a strong advocate of sports science and the FA stressed this fact on appointing him but how Big Sam would have fit with England’s DNA mission of developing more technically proficient players, God only knows! He famously insisted “This tippy-tappa is a load of bollocks!” which doesn’t give you much confidence he was the man to develop a more possession based style of play.

Whether or not Southgate is that man remains to be seen, he certainly seems more willing to promote youth but we have yet to see if he can translate it into a successful team.

In conclusion some of these managers may well have got better results for England but the managers who got the job were hardly club failures. Between them the managers England have employed since Ramsey have won 21 league titles in major European leagues (Italy 8, Spain 3, England 2, Portugal 5, Holland 3) plus 6 European trophies, 3 FA Cups, 4 Coppa Italia’s and truckload of smaller prizes. Incidentally Joachim Low has only 1 major club trophy to his name.

Having better players to work with would seem the best way to achieve long term success, it’s a pity it took the FA so long to realise that, build St George’s Park and reboot grassroots football. It’s a longer route to success than paying top dollar for a manager but does provide the best chance of success- just ask Joachim.

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