We may still be over 18 months away from Euro 2016, but depending on how you look at it, I’m either pessimistically assuming Roy Hodgson will get the sack immediately after the tournament or optimistically envisaging less mediocre times ahead for the England dug-out.
The Three Lions are going strong in Group E, winning four in four with a goal difference of plus-ten, having already recorded integral away victories over Slovenia and Switzerland – their only genuine competition en route to European football’s jamboree.
Yet, Euro 2016 will mark Hodgson’s third major tournament as England boss and barring a minor miracle, likely the third consecutive tournament where the Three Lions return home with their reputation and FIFA world ranking worse off. Hodgson, being the humble, owl-faced statesman that he is, will happily take the rap for it in the hope that history looks on his tenure more fondly.
So who will the next England gaffer be? Admittedly, viable choices are currently light on the ground with just eight English managers serving in the Premier League.
And of that eight, we have Harry Redknapp, who lost his England chance to Hodgson in 2012, Alan Pardew, perhaps the most controversial and inconsistent manager currently in Premier League employment, relegation representatives Steve Bruce, Sean Dyche, Neil Warnock and Nigel Pearson, and Sam Allardyce – an appointment that would open up a whole can of worms about footballing philosophy and whether it’s morally acceptable for England to win a major tournament in a similarly attritional manner to Greece in 2004.
After that uninspiring rabble, you’re left with loutish gillet-thrower Tim Sherwood, Bournemouth trailblazer Eddie Howe and unquestionably the most talented English manager currently working outside of the Premier League, Steve ‘the wolly with the brolly’ McClaren.
No, I’m backing a different horse to become the next England boss and an incredibly audacious one at that – Swansea City’s Garry Monk.
The 35 year-old hasn’t been in the management racket long, less than a year in fact, and entered it under rather unexpected circumstances. On February 4th, he was brought into Michael Laudrup’s coaching staff on behalf of the board, but had been officially named caretaker by the end of the day.
The progression he’s shown since however has been phenomenal; the Swans won just six times last season in the 24 games prior to his appointment, compared to five in the final 13 games under Monk’s leadership, steering them seven places and nine points clear of relegation.
Of course, Swansea is a well-run club and the foundations of a Premier League-standard first team were already set in place by prior regimes. It’s a dream platform for a debut manager, especially at a club he served as a player for over a decade.
But Monk’s ability to inject substance to Swansea’s possession-based philosophy, pulling it from the brink of a dogmatic downward spiral and back towards the aesthetic, penetrating style that made them an instant success in the Premier League, whilst making trusted, proven additions during the summer, such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lukasz Fabianski and Jefferson Montero, has returned the club to the top-half heights of old this year. They’re currently just four points away from a Champions League spot.
One can point to other forces at work – Swansea aren’t involved in the Europa League this year, which is obviously a huge burden off the club’s shoulders. Yet, it’s the Swans’ sense of balance, the blend of defensive discipline and freedom going forward, that impresses me most. They’ve never lost a game by more than two goals under Monk but remain one of the Premier League’s most eye-catching sides.
He understands the equilibrium between philosophy, identity and pragmatism which, in my opinion, is exactly where Hodgson, Fabio Capello, McLaren and Sven Goran-Eriksen failed. If Monk can turn England into at least an acceptable impression of Swansea, if he can combine the Welsh club’s ethos with England’s own, the apathetic nature in which most Three Lions fans endure watching their country will undoubtedly decline.
Monk’s inexperience is a major drawback and the FA have recently preferred more aged, mature appointments. But why does that necessarily have to be the case? Taking Germany to the 2006 World Cup semi-final was the first act of Jurgen Klinsmann’s management career, at just 42 years of age. The ideals he implemented, particularly focusing on youth, were the long-term foundations that lead Die Mannschaft to triumph at Brazil 2014.
Indeed, for a country that seems eternally stuck in the past, in terms of both achievements and philosophy, perhaps a manager with youthfully optimistic ideas is exactly what it needs. Many have tried and failed to transition the Premier League’s basketball-rhythm of play to international level, being often so far removed from it. Monk, on the other hand, would be a fresh arrival from the top flight, both as a manager and a player, having hung up his boots just ten months ago.
It would certainly be a case of sink or swim, but right now, the English coaching pool is shallow and bleak. Quite frankly, in comparison to Pardew, a manager who willing refers to his colleagues as ‘an old c-word’, or Sam Allardyce, an unashamed champion of hit-n-hoof football, Monk is an option that doesn’t completely appall me.
Depending on how you look at it, he’s now got 18 months to prove he’s a better manager than Allardyce, Bruce, Pardew and company, or 18 months to prove he’s equally unsuitable.