The lineage of British managers abroad

The lineage of British managers abroad

IN EARLY JANUARY, David Moyes strolled through the city of San Sebastián, breathing in the air of a mild and bright Basque day. In an engaging interview filmed for Sky Sports with Geoff Shreeves, the Scot touched on his ill-fated time at Manchester United, his tactical approach, his natural domain of the coaching pitch and his idea of bringing guest coaches to work with his team occasionally.

The most pertinent aspect of the discussion was Moyes’ reasoning for taking the Real Sociedad job: “The whole change for me was required. I’ve always wanted to work abroad. There’s probably not enough British managers now going out and doing it. You look at Sir Bobby (Robson), you look at Terry Venables and more recently Steve McClaren went out and did a really good job.”

The assumption is that Moyes turned away the advances of some Premier League clubs to go and coach in La Liga. After 11 years with Everton and nine months at Old Trafford, it was presumably easier for Moyes to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to arise in English football. Instead, he took a bold and unexpected path, uprooting to an alien cultural experience.

“I wanted a chance to do something new. We bring lots (of foreign managers) into the Premier League, we need to start exporting a few ourselves.” The most obvious question is, why are British managers seemingly reluctant to make a similar move? To examine this further, it would be remiss of me not to trawl through history.

Venables was named Barcelona manager in 1984 on the recommendation of Robson, who was a long-term friend of then-Barça president Josep Lluís Núñez. Venables had guided Crystal Palace from third division football to the top flight in four years of impressive achievement. In 1980, he vacated his job with Palace to drop back a division with Queens Park Rangers. Further promotion followed and he led QPR to a fifth placed finish in the first division to qualify for the UEFA Cup. In the early-80s, earning a managerial position at one of English football’s traditional powerhouses was particularly difficult. Liverpool had a procedure of promoting managers from within the Boot Room, with Joe Fagan succeeding Bob Paisley, who himself followed Bill Shankly. Everton were in the midst of Howard Kendall’s excellent tenure, whilst Manchester United and Arsenal were famous for their patient approach.

Venables’ stock continued to rise but there was no avenue leading to a job near the top end of the first division table. His work at Palace and QPR didn’t go unnoticed, though, and Venables attracted interest from a number of clubs around Europe, before being approached by Barcelona.

Venables brought a robustly English ideology to a team and club indoctrinated in a markedly different philosophy. He signed strikers Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes and went with a traditional 4-4-2 formation. This didn’t hinder Venables when time came to deliver results though. In his three years, Barcelona won La Liga plus a Copa del Rey, and Lineker was a prolific goal-scorer. More than the trophies won, the Venables era is remembered more for the European Cup final loss on penalties to Steaua Bucharest in 1986 and the humiliation against Dundee United in the following season’s UEFA Cup, which would eventually cost him his job.

In conjunction with the Venables era at Barcelona, former Liverpool midfielder John Toshack began what would prove to be a prosperous managerial career in La Liga. Toshack lasted one season in Portugal with Sporting CP, but would embark on a career-long association with Real Sociedad.

In his first of three spells with the Basque club, Toshack’s La Real won the 1987 Copa Del Rey, beating Atlético Madrid in the final. From there, the Welshman would take the Real Madrid job. He emulated Venables, leading Los Blancos to their fifth successive La Liga title in 1990. Later, Toshack managed Deportivo, Turkish club Beşiktaş and Saint-Étienne in France.

After eight years as England manager, Robson replaced Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven in 1990. In the aftermath of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Robson left his post as England’s manager. He was sacked after two years with PSV, despite winning back-to-back Eredivisie titles.

Robson was not deterred, travelling south to Portugal to manage Sporting and then rivals Porto, winning two Primeira Liga titles at the Estádio das Antas. It was in Portugal that Robson met a young interpreter named José Mourinho. Mourinho would graduate from translator to assistant coach and was with Robson throughout his continental adventure. Robson’s one season at Barcelona coincided with the Durham native signing Ronaldo, the Brazilian superstar that led Barça to European Cup Winners’ Cup glory.

Robson’s consistent achievement in various countries was rarely recognised and often ridiculed in England. Just before Italia 90, news broke that Robson had agreed a two-year deal with PSV, as his contract with the FA would not be renewed. The British tabloid media placed Robson firmly in the wrong, questioning his patriotism. Robson sued the now defunct Today tabloid for labelling him a traitor. It would be nine years before Robson returned to English football, rekindling the affections of supporters at his beloved Newcastle United.

Decades before Venables and Robson’s tenures at the Camp Nou, another Englishman blazed a trail in Catalonia. Vic Buckingham initiated a common managerial trend, namely managing both Ajax and Barca. In the proceeding years, Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal would follow suit, but Buckingham truly was a pioneer.

It was Buckingham who gave a skinny 17-year-old Cruyff his debut in 1964, and the Dutch genius adopted many of his superiors’ methods. “I think of Vic Buckingham who picked me. But even before Vic there was Keith Spurgeon. They were open-minded but, tactically, you have to see where we were at that time. Football in Holland then was good but it was not really professional. They gave us some professionalism because they were much further down the road.”

Buckingham’s legacy is more philosophical as he only won an Eredivisie title and a Copa del Rey in over 30 years of management. His primary footballing principle of possession of the ball and his modern approach to team fitness (he sent his players to exercise with Olympic weightlifter Bill Watson) were advanced by Michels and Cruyff.

The focus on possession, speed and technical prowess would later be christened ‘Total Football’. Despite arguably planting the seeds which blossomed into a few of the greatest football teams in the history of the game, the late Buckingham is still relatively unknown and unrecognised in the country of his birth.

If Buckingham received little attention, he wasn’t alone. The first coaching exponent of the possession-based game was another Englishman who spent time in the Netherlands. Buckingham may be the instigator of modern day Ajax and Barcelona, but Jimmy Hogan should probably be anointed the father of Total Football. In 1953, when Hungary famously became the first foreign country to win on English soil, 71-year-old Hogan was in attendance at Wembley Stadium to witness first hand his own creation. England’s antiquated approach to tactics and overall skill was exploited, as Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis and Zoltán Czibor tore through the hosts with an exhibition of football Hogan had virtually implemented years earlier.

Hogan spent nine years in Hungary between coaching MTK and the national team. He also formed an outstanding coaching team with Hugo Meisl, leading Austria to their greatest period in football. It’s widely regarded that Hogan was a footballing innovator in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany. Sandor Barcs, then president of the Hungarian football association, was under no illusions as to who was the catalyst for his country’s unprecedented achievements: “Jimmy Hogan taught us everything we know about football.”

In contrast, Hogan’s reputation in England is indistinguishable from Buckingham’s. Many were disgusted that an Englishman would impart the secrets of the domestic game to the rest of the world. In fact, England’s captain on the day Billy Wright struggled to hide his disdain for Hogan: “There were people who were of a mind to call Jimmy Hogan a traitor,” he told journalist Norman Fox years later.

The iconic image of Steve McClaren draped in an umbrella coined some unfortunate tabloid headlines, but his tenure with the English national team proved far more damaging. McClaren was essentially ostracized, labelled the ‘Wally with the Brolly’. With a reputation to repair and little opportunity of redemption at home, the Yorkshireman ventured to the Netherlands. Scepticism greeted his appointment at FC Twente, but McClaren far exceeded the targets of those even within the club. A second placed finish in his first campaign was backed up with the cherry on top: Twente’s first Eredivisie title in their history. Not since Robson with Porto in 1996 had an Englishman won a league title anywhere in Europe.

Seeking pastures new, McClaren moved to Wolfsburg in the uber hip Bundesliga, becoming the first Englishman to manage in Germany’s top flight. His time in Germany did not work out, but given his championship winning exploits in the Netherlands, McClaren may have envisioned garnering employment in the Premier League. Instead, offers were few and far between.

McClaren briefly managed Nottingham Forest in the Championship and he also worked as Harry Redknapp’s assistant at Queens Park Rangers. Eventually, Derby County presented McClaren with the platform he was looking for and he hasn’t looked back since.

Current England incumbent Roy Hodgson also has a chequered history managing outside the motherland. Hodgson’s CV reads like a lonely planet guide, coaching in eight countries over a 35-year period. Starting with Swedish club Halmstads BK, Hodgson coached clubs in Denmark, Norway and Switzerland before leading the Schweizer Nati to the 1994 World Cup.

Hodgson also coached Italian giants Internazionale twice, speaks five languages fluently, has won 12 major honours and almost masterminded a UEFA Cup victory with Fulham. These achievements rarely figure in the consciousness of English football though, where Hodgson is more synonymous for unsuccessful periods with Blackburn and Liverpool.

In light of the various achievements of British coaches abroad in the annals of the beautiful game, why is it that so few currently manage outside of England? There are a variety of factors at play, but there is one common thread shared by Buckingham, Hogan, Robson, Hodgson and McClaren: exclusion. Despite the globalisation of the game and the influx of foreign players and coaches in the Premier League, English football remains hamstrung by insularity. Fresh ideas are still reduced to tired clichés and acceptance of change is not always forthcoming.

There is an acceptance among the establishment in English football circles which dictates that outsiders must prove themselves in the Premier League. In reality, the majority of the best players and managers are now from outside of Britain. Opportunities for home-grown talent and coaches are scarce at the majority of top level clubs. Of the current top seven in the Premier League, only Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers is from the United Kingdom or Ireland. In an age when British or Irish managers don’t get elite managerial positions in England, they could do worse than broaden horizons.

Financially, the vast quantities of cash in English football discourage some from leaving the grand reservoir. For those seeking the opportunity to acquire a new repertoire of skills and ideas, maybe considering a move outside of their expected confides may not be such a bad thing. Moyes has survived the sneering and thus far thrived in his brave new world. Another Scot, Ian Cathro, is a key cog behind Nuno’s ever improving Valencia. History would suggest that new frontiers offer new opportunities.

By Conor Kelly. Follow @ConorPacKelly

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