By the weekend, the dust had barely settled on England’s dismal failure and Steve McClaren’s dismissal. But already several of the top candidates to replace the erstwhile coach were going out of the way to distance themselves from the poisoned chalice. Such is the attraction – or lack thereof - of one of the most high profile and best-paid jobs in football.
It’s easy to see why so few are reluctant to take a step forward. Any England coach takes the job knowing they are taking on a team saddled with the highest of expectations, despite having only once reached the final of a major tournament, and that in the comfort of home 41 years ago. The fans are impatient for success, the big clubs are less than fully co-operative, and the media is vulture-like in the speed and ferocity with which it feeds off any perceived weakness or error of judgment. To say it’s a high pressure job is to put it mildly.
And when the price of failure is to be savaged by the press and then callously discarded on football’s scrapheap, then even the huge salary - and the payoff that comes with it when it is time to go – can seem like inadequate compensation. Of McClaren’s immediate predecessors – Sven-Goran Eriksson, Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle, Terry Venables and Graham Taylor – none rejoined the management ranks at a major club. Eriksson was the most fortunate, taking over Manchester City after a year’s sabbatical. Keegan also joined City, but at a time when they were in English football’s second tier. Hoddle returned at Southampton, Venables popped up as Australia’s coach, and Taylor, like Keegan, had to drop a division to take over at Wolves. History suggests the England job does anything but pave the way to future riches.
And it’s not just the coach who has to count the cost of failure. England’s absence from Euro 2008 means the FA will lose £10m in revenue from ticket sales and sponsorship. Estimates suggest the economy is boosted by as much as £1bn when England participate in either of football’s big biennial tournaments. Umbro, the manufacturer of England’s kits, immediately cut production and announced a profits warning in anticipation of poor summer sales, as did Sports World, their largest retail customer. The bookmakers also groaned collectively at the loss of summer trade; one likened it to Christmas without turkey.
However, large though these numbers are, the true cost of last week’s failure may not fully materialise until long after Euro 2008 has been and gone.
The final impact was the loss of a top seeding at Sunday’s World Cup draw. Instead of remaining in the first pool of teams, they were placed in the second tier. And although they ultimately avoided any ‘group of death’ scenarios, they did find themselves drawn against Ukraine (semi-finalists at the last World Cup) and, irony of ironies, Croatia. They will also face the tricky and less-than-enticing prospect of long trips to Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, Greece, the beneficiary of England’s slide out of the top group, face a less than daunting qualifying campaign against Israel, Switzerland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Moldova. Oh, what might have been …
With only the group winners earning automatic qualification, and just four places up for grabs between the runners-up, World Cup qualification is challenging for anyone. Without the protection of a top seeding position, it is now an even tougher ask for England.
If we thought that not qualifying for Euro 2008 was bad enough, to fail to make the 2010 World Cup is nigh on unthinkable. And yet it is a very distinct possibility.
Blame whatever combination of the FA, Steve McClaren and the players you like. But our absence from Euro 2008 next summer may have consequences which reach out to 2010 and beyond.
And that’s the legacy that the successors of McClaren and the so-called Golden Generation will have to overcome.
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