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Mar 23, 2011

The impossible job

Fabio Capello has once more come under fire in the media for his handling of the captaincy ahead of England's Euro 2012 qualifier with Wales. ESPNsoccernet takes a look at his predecessors' relationships with the press.

Walter Winterbottom (1946-62)

England's first 'manager' may have been spared the kind of savage criticism doled out in more recent decades, but even during that time Australian athlete Herb Elliott had described the British sporting press as "the most vicious in the world".

An Observer feature in 1960 noted that journalists had, on the whole, given a fair assessment of England's 0-0 draw with Brazil at the 1958 World Cup - "only to have their editors deluged with hysterical complaints from a public who demanded victory as their right and anything less as a humiliation. Those journalists who have to be sensitive to opinion have not since made the mistake of any kind of fair evaluation or any kind words for England in defeat, but have simply bayed on the eager pack".

The pressure to deliver saw the FA consider appointing the likes of Bela Guttmann and Helenio Herrera after the much-derided 1962 World Cup performance. "Salary is no object," Graham Doggart, chairman of the FA council, told the Daily Mirror in August that year. "We shall pay the right man the right money. It is open to the world. Anyone can apply. We do not rule out foreigners."

Sir Alf Ramsey (1963-74)

The FA turned to Ramsey, who had taken Ipswich from the Third Division to the top of the First, and his appointment was met with widespread approval.

Even so, he was soon facing criticism. He refused to leave Ipswich until the end of the 1962-63 season despite England failing to qualify for the 1964 European Championships with what the Mirror labelled a "pathetically fumblefooted" 5-2 defeat in France. A 1-1 draw with world champions Brazil in May 1963 appeared in a report under the heading 'Ramsey's men slip even further from world class'.

From then on, though, Ramsey's England began to look increasingly 'world class', and the World Cup triumph of '66 gave him - for a time at least - vindication for his methods.

Even so, Ramsey's star began to wane as the 1970 World Cup exit to West Germany brought criticism of his substitutions and cautious tactics. He then lost out to West Germany again in qualification for the 1972 European Championships, before failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, by which time he had lost the faith of the nation's newspapers. "If we need to be eliminated to get a new manager," Ronald Atkin wrote in The Observer in 1973, "so be it."

Don Revie (1974-77)

Revie had proved extraordinarily successful as Leeds manager and, though they are now most associated with the 'Dirty Leeds' tag, his appointment was, as with Ramsey, welcomed by the press and fans. Sunday Times journalist Brian Glanville labelled him the "obvious choice".

Revie made an impressive start - unbeaten for over a year - but criticism soon began.

He had used a wide variety of players and his 'rotation policy' raised eyebrows. He made himself a target by introducing team-building sessions, such as bingo nights, that had alienated many of the southern players. He was also ahead of his time in compiling dossiers on the opposition.

"I would say 75% of the players bought in to the dossiers idea," Kevin Keegan wrote in Revie: Revered and Reviled. "Unfortunately for Don, the press picked up on the 25% and ridiculed him."

Revie failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships and struggled in qualification for the 1978 World Cup, while a falling out with FA vice-chairman Sir Harold Thompson - who also did for Ramsey - did nothing to help matters.

With England's hopes of reaching the World Cup in severe danger, and an apparent awareness that the match-fixing accusations against him were about to hit the press, Revie agreed a lucrative switch to United Arab Emirates. He infuriated his bosses and the nation by announcing his resignation via the Daily Mail, and in a subsequent edition revealing that he had agreed the post in the Middle East.

Ron Greenwood (1977-82)

Greenwood, who led England to the 1980 European Championships and the 1982 World Cup, had an easier ride than most, retiring on his own terms at the age of 60. There was, though, a national clamour for Brian Clough to lead the Three Lions.

Clough himself was dismissive about the appointment of Greenwood, who had won the FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup with West Ham in the mid-1960s. "If the appointment had been made on the basis of outstanding achievement in soccer," Clough said, "Greenwood would not even have smelt the England team."

Greenwood also took any criticism of his tactics to heart, and he angrily rebuked the press when rumours of a falling out with captain Kevin Keegan were published during the World Cup. "It is scandalous and disgraceful," he said. "I have heard of journalistic licence, but this is ridiculous."

England exited that tournament at the second group stage without losing a game, and Greenwood's moderate success with England, on the back of years of underachievement, resulted in only moderate criticism, with his pragmatic approach failing to inspire much more than mild disappointment among the press corps.

Sir Bobby Robson (1982-1990)

Having built up a reputation as one of England's finest managers at Ipswich, Robson's failure to qualify for Euro 1984 instantly left him at the mercy of the tabloids, and The Sun had begun distributing 'Robson Must Go' badges prior to that tournament.

ESPNsoccernet journalist Harry Harris had just started at the Daily Mirror in 1985 when Mirror Group owner Robert Maxwell decided he'd had enough.

"I was about to head off for my first away tour with England and I had a call telling me to come and see Robert Maxwell at Heathrow Airport," he says. "I was ushered through security into a specially commissioned conference room and he was sitting there laughing with his cronies.

"He'd seen a story in the Sunday Express saying Robson had made a cock-up with the substitutions - Glenn Hoddle was playing brilliantly in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Scotland, but Bobby had mixed the names up and had him subbed off instead of Chris Waddle.

"I told Maxwell that was just what Bobby was like, he always got names muddled up, but he told me that he had alerted the Mirror that there would be a whole front-page story - 'Robson must go'. He had asked specifically for me to write it.

"I told him it was a mistake - the FA wouldn't sack him - and told 'Cap'n Bob', as he was called, that I wasn't comfortable with my name going on it, but he insisted. I asked him if Bobby could have his say on the back page, and he agreed. I headed straight out to a phone box to call Bobby, but he declined the offer. I went off to Mexico with the team the next day and got a very frosty reception - hardly surprising..."

After some big wins later in 1985, The Sun had run a headline stating Robson had a job for life, but the abuse began again in time. 'In the name of God, go' was the Mirror's headline during Euro '88, followed by 'In the name of Allah, go' after a draw with Saudi Arabia later that year and then, after a poor showing against Albania the following year, 'In the name of Zog, go'. The Sun simply called him a 'Plonker'.

The FA was tempted to sack him, but stood by him, and he led England to the semi-finals at Italia '90 where they lost to West Germany on penalties.

Speaking of his switch from Ipswich to England, Robson told author Niall Edworthy: "I had 14 years of tranquillity and happiness working with lovely people and then - well, then the England job. Nothing, nothing, can prepare you for the England job."

Graham Taylor (1990-93)

Taylor had arrived on a wave of optimism after Italia '90 and acknowledged that it would be to his disadvantage if England stumbled under his watch, so he called a number of journalists to a meeting to try to establish a bond of mutual respect. "Everyone recognised the rancorous hostility between the national team and certain sections of the press had gone too far and a return to some semblance of civility was all he asked for," Pete Davies wrote in The Guardian.

After a win in his first competitive game against Poland, he forestalled his critics by giving a detailed look at the negatives of the performance, and a continued unbeaten run saw his honeymoon period extended.

However, he was attacked mercilessly after the defeat to Sweden that brought an early Euro '92 exit, with The Sun running with the headline 'Swedes 2, Turnips 1'. A defeat to Spain in the friendly that followed was met with 'Spanish 1, Onions 0'. "What vegetables do they grow in Norway?" he asked a press conference ahead of the following match, but it was the turnip theme that stuck.

The severity and regularity of the personal attacks only increased, but Taylor was at least able to ensure one victory over the tabloids: he resigned his position and ensured the paper that clinched the exclusive was the Scunthorpe Telegraph.

Terry Venables (1994-96)

The media was split on the appointment of Venables. His business dealings had made him a controversial appointment but, after the failure to reach USA '94, the need to make the right choice was clear and Venables, who had been touted for the role in 1990, was now deemed ready for the job.

Allegations over his business activities continued to surface throughout his reign, and there were those who felt he did not fit the profile for the job as a result, but an absence of competitive matches in the lead-up to Euro '96 spared him the worst of it. However, poor performances against Uruguay and Japan had, in the words of journalist Patrick Barclay, "prompted the tabloids to warn Venables they were sharpening their trowels and heading for the vegetable patch".

Yet Venables - who had announced that he would depart after the European Championships - managed to escape any truly vicious press and, given the team's run to the semi-finals at Euro '96, his time in charge was viewed, by and large, as a success.

Glenn Hoddle (1996-99)

Hoddle's media downfall is well known. He had made a positive start to the job with qualification to the 1998 World Cup and, once there, a second-round exit to Argentina on penalties.

However, his status had waned as England struggled during qualification for Euro 2000 and, in January 1999, Hoddle had given an interview to The Times newspaper to defend himself from the tabloids, with his much-ridiculed decision to bring in faith healer Eileen Drewery fuelling the fires.

In the interview, though, he said: "You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime."

Hoddle said it was a "scandalous and disgraceful interpretation of a football interview" and added: "The motive behind it I can only imagine." He told the Mirror in the wake of the media firestorm that the reporter "did not misquote me but he did misrepresent me. Certainly, I do not believe disabled people deserve what they get. That would be obscene".

Hoddle was sacked soon afterwards.

Kevin Keegan (1999-2000)

Keegan had been appointed with the brief that he would inject the passion considered essential to England teams, but performances and results had never quite lived up to the more elevated expectations.

It was not until the group-stage exit at Euro 2000 that the press really turned on him. After he rejected the criticisms of his tactics and selection, the Daily Star ran with the back-page headline 'Don't make us laugh, Kevin'. The Daily Express' back-page editorial began: "Kevin Keegan and his team have left true English football fans feeling cheated. The players and their coach enjoy all the financial trappings that go with the modern game, but on the evidence of the past week they have done nothing to deserve those rewards."

Keegan's reign came to an end with a 1-0 defeat to Germany in a World Cup qualifier in October that year. Booed off by the Wembley crowd, Keegan said he was not up to the job and resigned his position.

Sven-Goran Eriksson (2001-06)

While the idea of a foreign appointment had been floated almost 40 years earlier, the appointment of Eriksson was met with derision in some quarters. "England's humiliation knows no end," Jeff Powell wrote in the Daily Mail. "First the Turnip. Now the Swede. Graham Taylor - do we not know it - was embarrassment enough ... but at least he was English. We sell our birthright down the fjord to a nation of seven million skiers and hammer-throwers who spend half their year living in total darkness."

Eriksson was tasked with living up to the inflated expectations brought about by the 'Golden Generation' and, though he reached three quarter-finals and was hindered by injury problems, the praise he had garnered after the 5-1 World Cup qualification win over Germany in 2001 gave way to regular acerbic editorials.

His private life became a regular fixture of the tabloids and, after he was set up by the News of the World, he announced he would be leaving the post after the 2006 World Cup.

The performance at that tournament was by some distance England's worst during his tenure, and his departure was met with headlines that expressed startling hostility. 'Sod off, Sven, and don't come back' appeared in the Daily Star, while The Sun went with 'Goodbye, tosser'.

Steve McClaren (2006-07)

The vilification of Eriksson - and the fact Luiz Felipe Scolari was scared off by the media frenzy even before he'd agreed to take the job - saw the press clamouring for an Englishman to be appointed. McClaren, on the back of a UEFA Cup final with Middlesbrough, ticked enough boxes and was given the job.

Aware of the ferocity of the tabloids, he had appointed PR guru Max Clifford to ensure good press but, after a 2-0 defeat in a Euro 2008 qualifier in Croatia three months later, the spin doctor quit. As performances failed to improve, Clifford even joined the papers in sticking the boot in.

"I would love to say I would have been able to make a difference but Steve is beyond PR right now because of the results and the way the team are playing," he said in March. "Against Israel, England hardly put a decent move together against opposition that would have struggled to compete in the Coca-Cola Championship."

England then struggled to make the breakthrough against Andorra in their next game and, while they eventually came away with a 3-0 win, McClaren anticipated the response.

"Gentlemen, if you want to write whatever you want to write, you can write it, because that is all I am going to say," he told journalists. "Thank you."

A home defeat to Croatia later confirmed England would not be at Euro 2008, and the image of McClaren sheltering from the Wembley rain earned him the nickname 'wally with the brolly'.

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