Any clued up England fan out there is wise enough to know the result against Ukraine could go either way in Group D’s final pool game on Tuesday at Euro 2012.
Just because the Three Lions managed an impressive draw against the French and a fightback against an unimpressive Sweden, we do not have qualification wrapped up.
New England manager Roy Hodgson is gaining plaudits for the way he has handled the Euro 2012 campaign so far. He has steadied a sinking ship and brought with him tactical nous and a calming demeanour. While managerial skills are all well and good in football this isn’t the only strength about his reign. After all, tactical nous and a calming demeanour are two qualities that could be ascribed to former England managers Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson.
A more simplistic quality to his leadership is that he hails from England.
Hodgson was born in South London, played out his career in England and, despite spending a lot of time managing abroad, has coached Fulham, Liverpool and West Brom.
When Capello left England in the lurch before the Euros, the English Football Association prescribed an experienced English manager to the flailing team. It was a remarkably sensible act from an organisation more used to less sensible acts.
Can’t hide it
Although at times we try to hide our sense of national identity, it is virtually impossible to do so during an international football tournament like the Euros.
Despite a couple of unsavoury characters in the England squad, I can’t help but madly, passionately and hopelessly want my nation to knock co-hosts Ukraine out of the competition and make the last eight. English supporters want their team to do well just as much as any other European nation wants success. Like it or not, we belong to our nation – or the one we feel part of.
In a game of nation versus nation, shouldn’t the manager in charge also be fuelled by the same hopeless passion and blinded love as the fans?
Surely it should be the manager more than anyone else clutching at the emblem on their breast, singing the national anthem with pride and burying their head in despair when they concede a goal.
It is not about speaking the same language as your players (although this is an issue); it is about the manager being driven by passion rather than professionalism. Many foreign managers run national teams like businesses, looking for results to make their CVs look pretty. Whatever they protest, their heart remains with their national side, even if it is the team they are plotting to beat.
The incongruous nature of the foreign international football manager is shown when looking at the Republic of Ireland.
At the Euros the Irish fans have been praised for their good nature and ability to cheer on their side when the chips are down. By name and nature, Giovanni Trapattoni is far from Irish. While he is considered one of the most successful coaches in the history of Italy’s Serie A, his leadership of a nation with such a strong sense of national identity just doesn’t add up.
Luckily enough for Trapattoni, Ireland had already been knocked out of the Euros when they came up against Italy in the group stages. It was a game that either way he was a winner and could home for a celebratory cognac.
"We know that we're not the best team in the world. But every opponent we have will have to sweat blood to get past us,'' said Greece’s Portuguese coach Fernando Santos following his team’s qualification for the Euro quarter-finals.
While there is truth in his statement, there is something odd about the above sentence.
Although Santos undoubtedly understands the passion of the Greek national team, for me it is the oxymoron of the phrase “Greece’s Portuguese coach” that stands out. It takes a nanosecond to grasp its meaning but much longer to work out if this mix of national identities can ever be good for international football.
The Euros and the World Cup remain the biggest tournaments on the globe because regardless of how much money footballers earn in the English Premier League, it is still special for English players to put on their national kit and represent their country. The reason it is special is not because they are playing in front of thousands, sponsored by multinational corporations or can sport a new haircut to the world – the reason is because they are proud of being English.
"The players are united in heritage, culture, customs, language, education and geography, something a foreign manager will never truly understand and might not even want to... "
The players are united in heritage, culture, customs, language, education and geography, something a foreign manager will never truly understand and might not even want to.
Before his resignation, Fabio Capello seemed to be building a successful team but one wonders whether a Euro victory with him would be as sweet for fans as it would be with Roy Hodgson.
International football tournaments are meant to be battles between nations and should live up to their name.
While there is a shortage of experienced national coaches in Africa and the Middle East, the nations competing in the Euros do not have this excuse.
One wonders why European nations still appoint foreign managers when Greece are the only team to have won the Euros with one - and no team with a foreign manager has ever won the World Cup.
Much more often it seems that when a football association imports an expensive foreign coach, the players and fans are left to pay the price.
But what do you think, is there a place for foreign managers at the Euros?
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News and LBC Radio.
Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, http://mythoughtonsport.blogspot.com/
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