Cris Freddi looks back at the days when British coaches had to go abroad to be coaches at all and wonders if it is time for a little reciprocation
Among the British subjects living in Germany who were arrested at the outbreak of World War I was a certain S Bloomer, who must’ve been first pick in any internment camp five-a-side: he’d scored a world record 28 goals in 23 matches for England. The mighty Steve had been passing on the tricks of the trade, and not just in Germany: Vittorio Pozzo became the only manager to win the World Cup twice (1934 & 1938) on the back of conversations with Bloomer and the great centre half Charlie Roberts.
Meanwhile, another England player, Edgar Chadwick, took Holland to the 1912 Olympics; yet another, Fred Pentland, coached Spain when they became the first foreign team to beat England (1929) – and Belgium employed a whole string of Brits: Scottish international Willie Maxwell led them to the 1920 Olympic title; Jack Butler, who won his only England cap against the Belgians in 1926, coached them to their only win over England ten years later; and Bill Gormlie, in charge from 1947 to 1953, was succeeded by Dug Livingstone, who organized the draw with England in the 1954 World Cup. Above all, thanks to the teachings of Jimmy Hogan, the Austrian wunderteam lost only twice in 29 internationals (including an unlucky 4-3 defeat at Stamford Bridge) before the 1934 World Cup semi.
All very historical so far, but so what? Well, the significance of these moves abroad is that not many coaches could find similar work at home. League clubs, by and large, still believed you couldn’t teach a professional how to play football – and even those that did, and did some innovative things, had no use for the kind of fancy dan stuff Hogan was preaching. His short-passing game of the old Scottish school was being replaced by Herbert Chapman’s direct wingers and destructive centre-half. Pozzo believed in these too, but Hogan and his disciples proved there was room for both: England lost in Vienna, Budapest & Prague, and Austria won 4-2 in Italy just before the 1934 World Cup.
Of all the prophets without honour over here, none did better abroad than George Raynor, the Yorkshireman recommended to the Swedes by Stanley Rous. Although the Birmingham City players who visited Stockholm soon after his appointment dismayed his employers by saying they’d never heard of him, the whole of Europe soon knew the name: in his first match Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2; a year later a great Swedish side won the Olympic title – and was immediately preyed upon by Italian clubs, Milan buying up the entire ‘Grenoli’ (Gren-Nordahl-Liedholm) inside-forward trio. Raynor rebuilt well enough to finish third in the 1950 World Cup and came back to reach the final again in 1958.
In Stockholm he sometimes won matches just by making the opposition face the sun in the first half, knowing it sank very quickly in the second. England, 3-0 down at half-time in 1949, lost to Sweden for the first time.
Typically enough, none of this cut much ice over here. After plotting a 2-2 draw away to the great Hungarians (Sweden hit the bar in the last minute), Raynor offered his methods to the English FA: put a man, a different one in every part of the pitch, on the deep-lying centre-forward Hidegkuti. Nothing too strenuous for the mental muscles there – but the English ignored it, left Hidegkuti to a 34-year-old converted wing-half, and lost, famously and traumatically, 6-3 at home.
Since then British coaches have continued going abroad in droves – but with relatively limited success. Now, keeping that sentence in makes me flinch from the coming backlash – and listen, I know Robson, Hodgson, Porterfield, Bob Houghton, El Tel et al made the grade out there – but a look through a couple of hundred British coaches who worked abroad leaves me no alternative, m’lud. Many of them tended to stay only a short time (Big Ron becoming another of Jesus Gil’s victims at Atletico Madrid, for example), they were often with outfits like Durban City, Uppsala and Liberty Baptist College (if you think this is being deliberately selective, the list’s available for viewing), and some simply didn’t make it.
For instance, after Qatar had beaten England in the 1981 World Youth Cup, one of their officials said they’d stopped using British coaches because “they were no good.” That doesn’t go for all of them, of course – the reputations of Busby, Stein, Ramsey, Clough, Gradi and Arthur Rowe are beyond too much criticism and rightly so – but you can’t help wondering, l mean, if foreign players can do well here…
It’s not going to happen, of course. Ossie and Jo Venglos saw to that. But maybe it ought to. After the failure to qualify for the last World Cup, FlFA’s technical director Walter Gagg thought “the English coaches have stuck too much to their own ideas and haven’t looked elsewhere since the end of the European club ban.’ Would Ottmar Hitzfeld (Borussia Dortmund) or Zdenek Zeman (Foggia and Lazio) really do worse than Ray Harford, or Walter Smith in Europe?
Oh alright then, maybe they would. After all, even the most successful club managers have had to swim against the English current. When a club finally deigned to offer George Raynor a post, there was so much interference by Coventry City directors that he complained: “Coaches are rarely a success in Britain. There is too much impatience . . . I am convinced the players could be groomed as the continentals are. I am convinced they would become as interested. But they are not allowed to do so. More’s the pity for British football.”
From WSC 115 September 1996. What was happening this month