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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Pearce. And Quiet

"How the hell did they find out about 'Bevington's Bollock Cabinet'?"

At the moment, the English national football team has no manager, no (full-time) captain and no Wayne Rooney. And the FA, thus far – perhaps wary of capacity issues in the ‘Bevington Bollock Cabinet’, the cupboard in Adrian Bevington’s office where all the previously dropped bollocks have been stored since sweeping them under the carpet got impractical and not a little messy – has offered no resolution.

Without the governing body to harangue, attention has turned largely to dismissing Stuart Pearce’s tenure as England manager as temporary, like some kind of Fabio Capello residue that needs a quick power-hosing off after this prearranged commitment at Wembley. Inevitable though it seems that he will be stripped of the job, the wilful carte blanche being applied to England’s performance at Euro 2012 could endanger Capello’s permanent successor as much as the perceived lack of pressure (relatively, of course) could benefit the squad’s performance.

England are now in a win-win situation with regard to the tournament and the FA is attempting to appear measured – and if those aren’t warning signs that something is going to spectacularly fuck up very soon indeed, then I don’t know what are. And while it sticks in the craw to suggest it – and I’ve every confidence some fiasco will come to the rescue in the summer – there is reason to believe that England cannot really come out of Euro 2012 badly at all.

It can’t be any worse than 2010, obviously. And, unlike 2008, England are actually going to the tournament, whether they like it or not. The standard is widely accepted as being particularly high this year, with only 16 teams involved and every group tricky to call. While the usual fervour from the excitement of a major tournament will doubtless sweep the country when the games gets going, the post-mortem will heavily feature the excuse that England were so rudderless ahead of time that they actually did just about as well as could be expected. (Hint: we don’t think they’ll win).

Either way, there will be an excuse. An excuse for the fervent press. An excuse for the otherwise ruthless fans. An excuse for the man (or woman) at the helm, as well as one for the governing body that appointed him (or her).

But you already know all this, so what we perhaps should pause to consider is how it will affect the man (or woman) in the hotseat following the tournament, assuming it is the same man (or woman) who occupied it during. “We’ve let you off that tournament,” the friendly neighbourhood idiots will likely say, “now get us BACK WHERE WE BELONG”. And this ridiculous stream of logic (that has also bred the ‘our team beat that team which beat Man United so we must be better’ mentality) is the reason that Stuart Pearce, now he’s in the role, should be manager throughout Euro 2012. If England are going to enter the tournament in the context of these ready-made excuses, then the new full-time England manager should start his (or her) job with a clean copybook, not one that is already blotted after a few performances at the finals, whether exceptional or dreadful.

The inevitable assessment of the new manager shouldn’t be informed by the fact that he (or she)’s already had a chance at the Euros, when everyone pretended they weren’t watching but secretly were watching (and judging) from over their shoulders while loudly shouting ‘BUT IT’S FINE’ when losing to Denmark in the quarters patently wasn’t fine at all. We wouldn’t even be surprised to see some suggestions ahead of the tournament that England could go far because the pressure is off, immediately lumping the pressure back on by making the criticism more fierce when England play like frightened rabbits even though it was SPECIFICALLY STATED that the nation wasn’t that arsed. WHY DON’T THEY CARE, THESE OVERPAID MILLIONAIRES? WHY? ON PAPER WE’RE ACE.

Either Pearce is the man for the job through to July, or he should never have been promoted to the position in the first place. A caretaker who would stay in place through to the planned end of Capello’s contract should have been.

Whatever happens, the man (or men (or women)) in charge between now and the end of the tournament should not be the one(s) who begins formulating a squad to take England to the World Cup in 2014. The nation can’t handle holding its expectation at arms’ length that long. Its arms just aren’t up to it.

There are a lot of things football can learn from rugby, but one is in its general coaching structures. When England won the World Cup in 2003, as has been stated many times, it was the culmination of a very precise plan executed over a number of years. While the Six Nations occurs every year – and we’ll use the example, conveniently, of Stuart Lancaster and England – most coaching teams and squads are assembled with a set of (four-yearly) World Cup targets in mind, which is why Lancaster is still not the confirmed full-time coach. Admittedly, there are fewer rigours on qualifying for the Rugby World Cup as there are on its footballing cousin, and unforeseen blips in qualification could still hamper the football team, but the principle remains the same, certainly for England. Build a structure, build a philosophy, build a squad. It’s the only reason Martin Johnson stayed in the job as long as he did – although you’d be right to point out that getting Harry Redknapp in for the rugby World Cup in New Zealand could well have been a master-stroke given what actually happened.

If the English FA really are in no rush to appoint Capello’s successor, then it might be beneficial for them to persist with Pearce or a Pearce-Redknapp combination (or just Redknapp) over the summer before appointing a brand new manager at the start of next season. Parachuting the new man (or woman) in for the Euros only guarantees one thing – that England’s performance (if good) will be used to unrealistically elevate expectations and hamstring any sweeping reform before they can even get started, or it will (if bad) be used as a sub-conscious straw to undermine confidence and threaten the proverbial camel’s already-quivering back. The FA shouldn’t give in. It should be getting a brand new camel with a brand new back after the finals, not one already wondering why it can't feel its legs.

In summary then: PEARCE IN. THEN OUT LATER.

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