The ongoing comedy of who’s to be England football manager continues with Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp, recently acquitted of tax evasion charges, the ‘people’s choice.’
But the Football Association, the antideluvian body that runs the English game at grass roots level and also the England team (unfortunately) is desperate not to appoint the Spurs manager.
Why? Because ‘Arry (pictured) has previous. Although he may hate the description he was known as a transfer wheeler dealer at previous job West Ham (on commission on player sales) and his dealings at Portsmouth with chairman Milan Mandaric still look somewhat convoluted, if hardly criminal.
And north of Watford Gap (a nondescript service station on the M1 that seems to mark the English divide between the London-dominated Home Counties and the rest of the country) Redknapp is regarded by many people as a cockney chancer, whatever his skills as a manager.
The FA is well aware of this; a lot of bizarrely loyal English football supporters live in the midlands and the north; these are the people who pay cash to bring their families to Wembley to fill the FA’s coffers in meaningless friendly matches. They’d prefer someone else.
And the FA is also aware that at the moment there’s a bizarre truce ‘twixt the muck-raking tabloid newspapers and anyone in authority, thanks to the ongoing Leveson Inquiry into media ethics. This won’t last for ever and Redknapp’s complicated business dealings will, sometime or other, become the subject of newspaper headlines.
The man they want is Martin O’Neill (left), newly-annointed (and very successful, so far) manager of Sunderland. FA chairman David Bernstein said as much when he announced yesterday that the FA wasn’t just looking for an English manager to succeed Italian Fabio Capello (as it had said it was) but a British manager. O’Neill was born in Northern Ireland, still part of the UK.
O’Neill, who studied for a degree in criminology before becoming a footballer, played for Nottingham Forest in Brian Clough’s great period, when the club won one League title and two European Cups.
O’Neill is still lionised in Nottingham (despite his managerial success at local rivals Leicester) as the one man who would dare to argue with Cloughie (Nottingham folks always took the great manager with a pinch of salt). O’Neill was cross because he was stuck out on the left wing when he wanted to play in central midfield.
Since then he managed Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa to great effect. He was also interviewed for the England job Capello got, an interview that didn’t go well as O’Neill resented being lectured about football by people who knew far less about it than he did.
But this time round the FA’s door is being shoved wide open for O’Neill. But he’s just gone to Sunderland, the club he supported as a boy apparently, and will feel committed to them. O’Neill understands the meaning of loyalty.
If those idiots at the FA had appointed him last time round instead of non English-speaking £6m a year Fabio Capello they wouldn’t be in this mess. But there are lots of reasons why O’Neill might turn it down.
What’s certain is that the FA’s panjandrums don’t want Harry Redknapp. But they might not have a choice.