Speculation game

Steve McClaren’s job is up for grabs

This month the sports pages have been embroiled in a cagey kind of guessing game: something speculative and possibly a little unfair, but which has, as ever, proved irresistible. So much so that discussion of who the next England coach will be has advanced so quickly that you’d be forgiven for forgetting the only real obstacle to getting someone in tomorrow is the fact that the position is already filled.

Alan Smith acknowledged his own uneasiness with this kind of talk in the Daily Telegraph. “It goes against the grain to start talking about Steve McClaren’s successor,” Smith wrote, feeling the old dressing-room reservations about the task his editor has set him. Still, needs must. So it’s “nevertheless, we have to face facts”, ahead of an extended championing of José Mourinho (“What a fascinating thought: the ‘Special One’ bringing to bear his charisma, motivational powers and organisational skills”). And if that fails, there’s always Martin O’Neill, who “comes closer than most to fulfilling the requirements”. The hedging of bets has been a familiar theme, the most common approach a scattergun splurging of various impressive-sounding names. Joe Lovejoy in the Sunday Times reckons “[Arsène] Wenger’s intelligence and communicative skills are second to none”. But then “José Mourinho would be a good choice”, not to mention “Luiz Felipe Scolari, Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello and Jürgen Klinsmann” plus Martin O’Neill, Sam Allardyce and “dark horse” Steve Coppell. Now who does that leave?

Tony Cascarino has an idea. “Harry Redknapp for England head coach? No chance. He is more likely to be on an FA blacklist than shortlist. It can only be because of question marks on his character, not his managerial ability. And it is not right,” he wrote in the Times. Cascarino seemed to have a particular axe to grind. “Redknapp is one of those managers who is the victim of whispering campaigns and, of course, the Panorama witch-hunt,” he wrote, before adding: “He is friendly, approachable, amusing. Few managers are better at handling the media.” Well, Harry certainly seems to have handled Tony quite well. And we all know how important is it to have an amusing England manager.

The Daily Telegraph said: “[Guus] Hiddink could be open to England.” The Sunday Mirror went with Mourinho, as did the Observer. The People spread its net a little wider, plumping for Klinsmann, but also O’Neill, Allardyce and “the Italian duo of Marcello Lippi and Fabio Capello”, possibly in some kind of job-share.

All of this is, of course, just hot air. No one can be sure McClaren himself won’t be leading a triumphant Three Lions squad off the plane in Austria/Switzerland – and even a failure to qualify may not be terminal. Not that you’d guess it from reading the papers, what with all their empty pages to fill, their loyalties and personal agendas and their overriding sense of having wanted someone bigger, more exciting and better copy than McClaren all along. 

From WSC 250 December 2007