The England manager’s gig is occasionally referred to by people without much knowledge of the outside world as “the hardest job in football”. But serving as head coach of England is categorically not the hardest job in football. No, that honour is surely reserved for the video analyst at whatever club Marcelo Bielsa happens to be employed, or perhaps the unfortunate Adidas image consultant handed the Wayne Rooney folder at the staff meeting. Maybe even the defence coach at Arsenal or the midfield coach at Liverpool.
Still, there’s no denying the England job is tough. Very tough.
The phrase “poisoned chalice” springs to mind. Particularly when you look back at the first two decades of this millennium. For most of the 2000s, it was essentially a babysitting job for talented, out-of-control egomaniacal man-boys, before it morphed into the impossible task of being expected to win a World Cup with Joe Hart in nets and Glen Johnson at fullback. These days, despite the relative success of almost reaching a final on two occasions, Gareth Southgate – rightly or wrongly – seems to spend most of his time answering questions about the behaviour of his team’s fans.
As an England manager, then, you just can’t win. Unless you actually win something – which, of course, hasn’t happened for 53 years, so isn’t really worth thinking about. Most of the time, taking the job is a kiss of death. It’ll likely end in failure and, as we’re about to illustrate, may result in you being stigmatised for the remainder of your coaching career…
BEST – BOBBY ROBSON
Bobby Robson is one of the few men who were able to make a decent fist of managing football teams post-England.
Arguably, Italia ’90 was the zenith of his career in the dugout, but he went on to find gainful employment at several major European clubs, such as PSV, Porto and Barcelona, where he took charge of a squad including Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo and (Original) Ronaldo. In Catalonia, he won the Copa del Rey, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Spanish Super Cup, while he won the Dutch and Portuguese leagues twice each.
There was also the small matter of a memorable spell at St James’ Park from 1999-2004, a five-year span that made him one of the most popular figures ever to manage Newcastle United.
It’s subjective but, if anything, Robson was more successful after stepping away from England than before (though Ipswich supporters may disagree). A rare feat indeed.
A simply incredible montage of Sir Bobby Robson's managerial careerpic.twitter.com/zT1ldOqR5m
— talkSPORTDrive (@talkSPORTDrive) June 5, 2019
WORST – SAM ALLARDYCE
Big Sam was a roaring success as England’s top dog, leaving with a 100% record having masterminded a superb 1-0 victory over Slovakia in his single game in charge. He then departed for unknown reasons thought to be related to pints of wine.
Things took a turn for the worse when he accepted a job at Crystal Palace in December 2016. Sam then spent £30m of the club’s money on three players in the January transfer window and heroically led the team to 17th place, avoiding relegation on the final day of the season.
He celebrated this achievement by retiring immediately, before taking the Everton job six months later. Unfortunately for Sam, he was gone by the following summer, leaving the Toffees in 8th place with a remarkable statistical record:
Sam Allardyce at Everton:
34pts from 24 PL games – 8th most & 1 fewer than Arsenal in that period. Went from 13th to 8th
20th Total shots
19th Shots on target
17th Shots faced
16th Passing accuracy pic.twitter.com/tjFAE21V8l
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) May 16, 2018
BEST – ROY HODGSON
Poor old Roy was pretty much endlessly pilloried while he had the national gig, despite doing an acceptable job with a fairly abysmal group of players.
Hodgson oversaw several notable calamities, but it’s hard to see how anyone else would have done much better with the resources at his disposal.
After moving back into club management, Roy got his groove back, picking up the pieces left behind by a certain other ex-England coach at Crystal Palace. Since 2017, Hodgson has made Palace a solid Premier League outfit, proving himself to a public that had become skeptical of his abilities.
WORST – ALF RAMSEY
Ramsey is – correctly – remembered for providing the England national side with its only international honour so far. But it’s often forgotten that 1966 was followed by three tournament failures in a row under Ramsey’s stewardship, leading to his sacking in 1974.
That eight-year period set the tone for the rest of what would be a short-lived managerial career away from the Three Lions.
Ramsey was out of the game for a few years before taking over at Birmingham City in 1977. It didn’t go well, with the Blues winning just 13 of Ramsey’s 28 matches at the helm.
The World Cup-winner then moved on to Greece, where he spent a year working as a Technical Director at Panathinaikos.
BEST – GRAHAM TAYLOR
Taylor’s three-year stint with England from 1990-1993 has since entered the realms of legend. Despite poor results with the national team, he retains an iconic place in the memories of many, largely because of documentary footage such as this:
TELLY GOLD: Today is the 25th anniversary of a rotten referee ruining Graham Taylor’s night in Rotterdam.
— Proper Football (@sid_lambert) October 13, 2018
Infamously, things ended badly for Taylor with England and he became something of a comical figure. But he was an accomplished club manager and rebuilt his reputation to a certain extent at Watford in the late 1990s.
Having led the Hornets during their golden age prior to replacing Bobby Robson as national coach, he returned to the club and lifted them from third tier to Premier League in the space of two seasons.
Subsequently, Taylor left Vicarage Road and had a brief but unsuccessful spell at Aston Villa. It wasn’t a great end to his managerial career, but his performances at Watford had reminded everyone of his pedigree.
Along with Bobby Robson and Steve McClaren, he is the only manager to have won a trophy after leaving the England job. Do you not like that?
WORST – STEVE MCCLAREN
Okay, if you’ve read the previous sentence, you might argue the case for McClaren being included in the “Best” category.
If you did, though, you’d be wrong. Very, very wrong.
McClaren may have – impressively – won the Eredivisie with FC Twente in 2009-10, but his career since then has been one mediocrity after another. He’s had seven jobs in the last nine years, which probably says it all.
Things briefly looked up after a moderately adequate two seasons with Derby from 2013 to 2015, but he followed that up with a disastrous stretch at Newcastle, where he won just seven games out of 31 and was sacked before the end of his first season with the Magpies.
His latest effort was at QPR but, honestly, it’s hard to understand why clubs keep giving him a chance.