Back during the 2006 World Cup, each day’s first business was to remember which German city I was in. Such is the go-go, train-travel intensive pace of covering a World Cup.
On the days I awoke in glorious and underrated Hamburg, where the U.S. team was based, my next steps were toward the nearby town center for strong coffee, quick eats and a fast newspaper catch-up session.
And that’s where, on a sunny summer day, I learned how wonderfully, comically impossible the England managerial job really is.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England side was failing to properly impress in Germany. He had already announced plans to step down after the World Cup, and the headline writers would soon be bashing England’s laggard performance and the outgoing manager: Sod off, Sven, and don’t come back wrote the Daily Star. The Sun was more succinct: Goodbye, tosser.
But that wasn’t the revelation, not the “aha moment” of clarity where I understood the impossible slog that awaited any England boss.
Steven McClaren had already been named to successor. England was not yet out, so Eriksson was still officially in charge on the morning I saw this headline in one paper from London:
You read it here first: McClaren must go!
I stood and giggled. And I understood. Nothing will ever be good enough. Not for England’s perpetually inflated sense of its soccer self.
Here was a piece declaring all the reasons why McClaren’s reign over the Three Lions was already fatally flawed – all based on speculative personnel politics. You could say they were right in the end – but you also could argue self-fulfilling prophecy on a grand scale might be at work.
Yes, Roy Hodgson now faces the insurmountable England managerial mountain. The untenable media scrutiny is bad enough. (Remember, Luiz Felipe Scolari could have had the job in 2006 but was essentially scared away by media meanies.) But it’s the inflated expectations, the feeling that England should always do better and perennially underachieves – never mind if England does just fine, all things reasonably considered.
Eriksson went to two World Cup quarterfinals and a Euro quarterfinal, not too shabby for a country of England’s size. And they despised that guy!
In the wonderful book Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski devoted an entire chapter to the England soccer condition. Essentially, they wrote, England does fine considering its size – even if the prevailing public winds blow hard of underachievement. And based on a wide sample of results, they write, there is rarely a reason to believe that something better is in the works in the next World Cup or Euro Championships. And yet, believe they do. Habitually.
And should we list the England men who have been wildly overrated? Nothing straps the anchor chain around a manager’s ankle like players who aren’t really all that on a global scale – yet they are lauded as world beaters when combined with these fellow overrated men.
What does that mean for the manager? I think we know.
So I’ll just say it here, and be the first to do so:
Roy Hodgson must go!
Honestly, I don’t even know why. But I’m sure someone in England will tell me soon.
This is a great history I dug up of past England managers, and how their buses got sideswiped along the England managerial motorway.