FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn this week told Soccerex in Manchester that Roy Hodgson would stay in charge at least until the end of the Euros next summer. It doesn’t sounds like too big an announcement, really, until you remember 2012 and Fabio Capello’s departure in the months between the qualifiers and the finals.
The more interesting part, though, is that the FA have no plans to replace the 68-year-old manager. Or at least, they aren’t telling us if they do. Which is fair enough – it’s probably not a good idea to turn Roy Hodgson from the leader of the country’s best players into a lame duck just hours after officially clinching qualification with seven wins from seven in the qualifying campaign. It’s just good management and, you know, common sense. Although I’ll admit that it might seem surprising that common sense and English football seem so closely-linked in this instance.
Common sense does seem to be appearing in the world English football, though. The appointment of Hodgson was a nod towards a more sophisticated England. The Premier League’s influx of foreign players and foreign managers has seen an increase in tactical awareness. At first, foreign managers were simply a fashion, a trend. Bringing in an Italian striker was plain exoticism. Your average team would still stick him up front with the big man in a rigid 4-4-2.
It’s not that we are more sophisticated as such these days. It’s just that we’re more used to seeing more of what’s out there. Watching Italian football 20 years ago meant watching Football Italia on a Sunday afternoon. Now you can watch almost any game if you have an internet connection and the red button on your TV will let you watch eight games at once on a Tuesday and Wednesday night if you really want to. It’s no surprise that we’re talking tactics and systems more than we used to.
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And although the FA don’t want to talk about replacing Roy Hodgson, they must be thinking about it. He won’t be there forever and this will be his third tournament in charge.
I’m not saying it’s time for a change, but they really should have a few names in mind. And there’s one name that seems to encapsulate where English football is at the moment: Garry Monk.
I don’t idle speculation, but there’s a case to be made for Monk, and it’s worth talking about. He’s young, he’s talented and he’s progressing as a manager as quickly as his team is progressing up the league. And to me he seems like the natural successor to Roy Hodgson. But not right now.
He has to learn the ropes a bit more, get a few seasons’ experience in Europe. The only way you learn how to beat Italian and German teams is to play against their club sides first. You can’t trust him with the keys to the national team until he’s gained some sort of experience. But Swansea is a good start.
When Monk took over from Laudrup, Swansea were in trouble. Just a year earlier, Laudrup had won the League Cup with the Welsh side, it was a huge achievement and the Swans found themselves in Europe. But a poor season made a relegation scrap a real possibility. The team’s short passing style had charmed us the season before, but it was becoming predictable and easy to beat. What Monk realised was that his team were wonderful passers, but they needed a cutting edge.
They became more direct, looking to play the ball up to the front man. But rather than see him as a target man, as the logical end of the attack, they saw him as a link between midfield and attack. Pass the ball to his feet and get runners behind him. Swansea under Monk are more direct than under Laudrup, but they still have that passing flair.
And although he doesn’t have the experience that is required for an international manager, although he’s young and needs to learn, and although he’s only done well for a few seasons at a club you could hardly describe as ‘big’, Monk epitomises the state of British football these days. A young manager with a knowledge of tactics, but with a pragmatic streak.
He’s not overly principled – not like a Pep Guardiola who simply has to win by playing a certain type of football – but he does have a strong idea of how he wants his teams to play. And he’s built a team that can play it. Swansea are climbing up the league year by year under Monk, and this season they’re a team to be feared.
The FA don’t need to announce Hodgson’s successor just yet. They should beg Hodgson to stay until the after next World Cup, get him to continue to help this group of players progress, and progress as a team – not as individuals. And if Garry Monk is still impressing at Swansea, it’ll be time to give him a call. Monk should be – in the least creepy way possible – stalked and groomed.
The FA should be keeping an eye on him with a view to appointing him in a few years’ time. It might be common sense to state publically that there is no one in mind to replace the current manager.
But it’s also common sense to have a name in mind for once he’s gone, the name of a manager who embodies the state of English football and who will take the team in the same direction, only further. And for the moment I can only see one name – Monk.