LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 29: Manager Harry Redknapp of Spurs gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane on April 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Last night, the FA released an official statement revealing that they had moved to approach Roy Hodgson for the vacant England manager's job. The message that came attached to this announcement carried undertones of ‘mission accomplished'- "Roy is the only manager we have approached and we remain on course to make an appointment within the timescale we set out." From this little snippet alone, you'd think the FA had achieved exactly what it was that they'd set out to achieve when they first came to terms with the fact that they were going to have to find a replacement for Hodgson's predecessor Fabio Capello. Roy was always at or near the head of their shortlist, they'd always wanted him, and they got their man swiftly and with minimal fuss. Well done the FA.
The truth, of course, as anyone who's followed the media circus surrounding the process of appointing the new England manager and possesses a basic set of critical faculties could tell you, is that the FA has clearly not achieved the optimal outcome they were hoping for. This is because they have not managed to appoint Harry Redknapp as the successor to Fabio Capello. From the beginning of the whole charade, anyone who was in any doubt that Redknapp was The Chosen One, divinely ordained to lead his country to the promised land, swiftly had it verbally punched into their face by every pundit, commentator and asshole with a Twitter account and an opinion. Yet the FA never managed to make their approach for Harry- like the proverbial shy teen who can't approach the pretty girl to dance, the FA just kind of lingered on the peripherals of the Spurs manager's eyeline, thoroughly distracting him from what he was doing and making the whole affair extremely awkward for everyone. Ultimately, they didn't have the bottle to make an approach for Harry- the jealous and spiteful ex-boyfriend character of Daniel Levy lurking menacingly over at the bar with his demands for compensation the probable cause for their hesitation- and instead old Woy has become the lucky recipient of their advances.
Dithering, incompetence and all-round poor planning, you would think, could only happen on this sort of scale just the once. But the sad truth of the matter is that the FA has been through this whole rigmarole before, six years ago when Sven-Goran Eriksson stepped down from the England post. What happened on that occasion profoundly affected the careers of several key players in the affair, and could have served as a parable for the FA had they been more willing to learn from past mistakes.
In 2006, Sven-Goran Eriksson resigned as England manager after a tumultuous five year reign with the national side. Just as when Capello stepped down at the beginning of last year, the end of the line had already been roughly predetermined for the FA, and they were not left without a leading candidate to replace him. The man they wanted in that year was the Portugal coach Luis Felipe Scolari. In many respects, Scolari had proven his eligibility for the task through a sort-of face to face audition with the English national side, ejecting them from the 2006 World Cup after a tense penalty shootout. A talented and well-respected manager, Scolari was singled out as first choice to lead the English national side.
What should have been a smooth transition for the FA, who had the resources and pull to tempt Scolari over to the England job, soon quickly turned into a public relations disaster. As accounts from figures such as the former England manager Graham Taylor indicate, the FA's approach for Scolari was disorganized, unstructured, and amateurish. In making no secret of their desire to appoint the Portugal coach, the body brought down several days of intense media pressure on Scolari, which in turn drew an extreme reaction from the legion of Portugal fans who had only just seen him lead the national side to victory over the English. Some reports, unconfirmed, suggest Scolari was sent death threats by supporters who saw his candidacy as a betrayal. Ultimately, for reasons which veered more towards the personal, Scolari ruled himself out for the post. The FA, having set aside no plan B, turned to an English manager who had achieved moderate league success, was fairly well respected, and was regarded as a safe enough pair of hands for the task- ‘Second Choice Steve' McClaren, former manager of Middlesborough.
What this story should analogously show is that the FA has a history of completely fudging their England managerial appointments, and ending up settling for a second-choice option (no offense to Roy Hodgson, who I have endless respect for) while leaving piles of smoking debris in their wake. Their lack of assertiveness, and the way they allow the media to run a circus over the whole process, undermining them and distorting the selection process, has hurt managers before. How can we really fail to compare Scolari, who lost so much credence and hard-earned respect in the eyes of his supporters through the FA's sloppy advances for him, to old ‘Arry, who's received endless amounts of flack from Spurs fans this season for having his head turned by the job? What we need to remember is like Scolari, though Harry may have welcomed the attention from the press and public alike and would have been enthralled by the idea of managing England, the glare of the media attention that the FA's incompetence brings on a manager is a mighty obstacle for any reasonable man to attempt to work through. The probing, the questioning, the endless assessments of fans and pundits can ruin your life, even if it comes attached to a process which can define your career.
None of this is to exempt Harry from the righteous indignation that's come down on him of late. He should have sat down with Daniel Levy, thrashed out a solid position, made a public statement about his proximity to the FA's selection process and drawn a line under it. He should he carried on like a professional and helped to ensure that his team remained comfortably in the top four, like his players deserved. He certainly shouldn't have lost the dressing room by leaving them uncertain about his commitments and allegiances. He should have acted with a little more of the urgency and directness that Scolari ultimately exhibited. These were mistakes that we perhaps cannot forgive. But we can certainly understand why he made them. The FA is an almighty succubus which not only lures managers in to them, but brings down a media circus on the heads of good men that will distract them while leaving the fans of their clubs confused, irritated and ultimately hungry for blood if no resolution is swiftly found. Harry's hand-wringing got us where we are now- but the FA's own hand-wringing got him there first. Honestly, we can't know right now whether Harry is truly devastated about missing out on the position, about whether it's affected him deeply to miss out on an opportunity to serve his country. But it seems clear that whatever our gripes may be with him, he didn't need or deserve the personal scrutiny, the rumours of betrayal, the finger pointing and the condemnation that the FA's dithering has brought down on him personally. It may be too early to tell, but the frenzied anxiety, loss of trust and confidence, and bilious reactions that the whole affair has whipped up around Harry may mark the decline proper of his tenure at Spurs.
Meanwhile Roy has to deal with a public and press that had been wanting, nay expecting Harry Redknapp from the FA, and sees him as very much a rushed choice to meet a deadline, leaving him with the same sense of pressure and lack of public confidence that destroyed McLaren. No English manager should come into a job with this kind of skepticism surrounding him, as the FA well know. Redknapp loses his secure place at Spurs, Hodgson comes under the blistering hot spotlight of the English public again; one slip up and he'll face all the jeering and the cruel nicknames old Second Choice Steve suffered. As this whole saga may soon prove, one bungle from the FA is all it takes to ruin the honest careers of two good managers.