Retiring FA chairman David Bernstein has inadvertently thrown up another worrying question with his condemnation of Premier League clubs’ practice of buying non-English players in the transfer market: Namely, where are all the English coaches/managers? Bernstein is rightly concerned that the ongoing influx of foreign players to the Premier League is eroding the development of home-grown talent and, in consequence, the future of the national team. The FA need to urgently address the fact that we are not producing sufficient players of quality who would force themselves into Premier League club squads. However, it isn’t only native players we are short of in England, it is coaches, too. We should be worried about the alarming shortage of top-ranked English coaches at our biggest clubs.
It is an alarming fact that, in the 20 years since the formation of the Premier League, in 1992-93, the title has not been won by a single English manager. The last Englishman to win the League Championship was Howard Wilkinson, whose Leeds side claimed the old First Division crown in 1991-92, the season before the Premier League was created. Currently, we have only four Englishmen in charge in the Premier League, Sam Allardyce, at West Ham, Alan Pardew, Newcastle, and Ian Holloway and Steve Bruce at promoted Crystal Palace and Hull City. That startling fact, coupled with the decreasing number of English players, means that slowly, but surely, the national identity of our top division is being eroded. As a result, the prospects for our national team are paling. I find that alarming.
Not enough of our retiring top-class players are going into coaching and management and a big factor here has to be money: They have got too much of it. When injury cut short my playing career at the age of 32, I still had a mortgage to pay and three boys to raise and I needed to work. Nowadays, Premier League players of that age have millions of pounds in the bank. Above all, I wanted to stay in football and, so, I applied for managerial posts and, after losing out to Terry Cooper for the job at Bristol City I was fortunate to land the role as manager at Oldham Athletic, where I spent 12 marvellous years before moving on to Everton, then to Manchester City and Ipswich. At all of these clubs, I was able to bring to bear the experience I had gained as a player at the highest level of the English game, including the national team. Now, it seems our brightest, top quality players are either drifting out of the game or choosing careers in the media. Men like Gary Neville – okay, I know he has a part-time coaching role with England – and Jamie Redknapp work for Sky TV. Martin Keown is a newspaper pundit. These are intelligent guys who played the game at the highest level, who understand the game and could conceivably have become successful coaches. Instead, they chose the media route to ongoing involvement and I can only conclude that the wealth they accrued from their playing days was a factor when it came to weighing the pros and cons of going into management, which is a thrilling, but stressful, business to be in. When you have got financial security for life, as any Premier League player who has been responsible with his earnings will have, the need to stay in football to earn a living is not a consideration. There will always be exceptions, of course, like Gary Neville’s brother Phil, who retired from Everton last season, and who is on record as saying he wants to go into coaching and management. I can’t help but feel we need more young Englishmen to do the same. I must say, the cause might be helped if the FA were to modify its rather laborious coaching badge course which I could see putting many people off. Too many top class English professionals are leaving the game and not enough potential top class players are being produced. It is a scary double whammy.