Don’t fear the foreigner, 5.5.06

The saga of who will coach the England football team goes on and on after Luiz Felipe Scolari turned down the position last week, citing media intrusion and death threats against his family as the main reasons.

“I don’t want this situation,” he said. “My privacy was totally under siege.”

The prospect of Portugal’s Brazilian coach becoming England’s second foreign manager after Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson had drawn a mixed reaction and Scolari’s decision has forced the FA to return to home-grown candidates that they appeared to have initially rejected.

Though Scolari guided Brazil to World Cup success in 2002, former caretaker boss Howard Wilkinson led the criticism of the move for a foreigner. He believes the FA should appoint an English successor to Eriksson, who departs after the World Cup in Germany.

“I think in the long term, it sends out the wrong messages from the FA to English coaches. I think the ramifications of that will be seen in the years ahead,” Wilkinson said. “His (Scolari’s) track record with Brazil is good but then name me a manager who has managed Brazil whose track record hasn’t been good in the last 50-odd years – I can’t think of one.”

Blackburn Rovers’ Welsh manager Mark Hughes agreed: “I think good British coaches need to be given an opportunity and more often than not, the top jobs are going to foreign coaches.”

Mark Perryman, chairman of the England Supporters’ Association, said that it was not the FA’s fault that no Englishman could be found for the biggest job in the national game.

“We need to build a structure where English managers can emerge from. The simple reason why there is not a strong England candidate is because none of the top four clubs in the league currently are managed by an English manager,” he said.

Last week a survey in the The Sun showed Northern Irishman Martin O’Neill and first-choice Sam Allardyce, the English manager of Bolton Wanderers, as the most popular choices. “It is a clear indication fans are not impressed with the idea of replacing Sven-Goran Eriksson with another overseas manager,” the paper said.

England need only look east for reassurance that foreign coaches can bring plenty to the party. The cricket teams of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all have coaches from overseas, while England’s own cricket team also has one.

The great advantage of foreign coaches is that they are outsiders looking in, who have no vested interests, no parochial leaning or bias towards a particular club or county and no history with any of the players. Such issues have dragged down sides on the sub-continent.

Former Sri Lanka captain Aravinda de Silva, who will be part of the Sky commentary team for next week’s first Test, told Eastern Eye: “There are pluses and minuses, but for Sri Lanka, I think it helps that they have a neutral coach, because of the influence people can use and the bias and all that. So whatever decisions they make won’t be with a bias towards any particular player.”

Perhaps Dav Whatmore, who coached Sri Lanka to the World Cup in 1996, started the trend, but he was of Sri Lankan origin, even though he played for Australia.

Whatmore now coaches Bangladesh, while Tom Moody, who has loads of experience coaching in county cricket, is in charge of the current Sri Lankan tourists.

New Zealander John Wright was a controversial choice five years ago as India’s first overseas coach, but he helped the side develop by leaps and bounds, especially in Test cricket overseas. Now Greg Chappell, the former Aussie captain, is building on that foundation and is determined to keep the side moving forward by introducing young players into the squad. They will know only the modern methods of professional, coaching and preparation.

Pakistan cricket has always been riddled with factions within the side. But under the guidance of former South African coach and England Test player, Bob Woolmer, Inzamam-ul-Haq’s side are playing to their potential. Ironically, the Muslim faith has been important in this bonding process, even though Woolmer is a Christian. Nevertheless, the former Kent batsman, who was one of the first to rely on a lot of technology to help the development of players, is a calming influence in the dressing room.

England coach, Duncan Fletcher, is also big on technology and has taken the side to a new level with his fresh and different approach.

There is one common link with all these coaches – and the best recent England football coaches, such as Bobby Robson and Terry Venables – they have all had plenty of experience overseas. May be the stay-home brigade should wise up.