English football has been fighting against itself ever since Sir Bobby Moore lift the World Cup in 1966. From that moment on, our national sport has become a conundrum, a political dilemma that has required strict attention from so-called experts. To be a successful country you need to have a prosperous football team, this is a symmetry that has reflected English society since the emergence of mainstream football, hence why our country is currently undergoing a crisis in courage.
The issue has been further exasperated by the fact that the English invented football. Therefore whenever the strength of the England national team is drawn into question, there is a tendency to think regressively rather than progressively, because nobody understands the beautiful game more than those who created it. However the men responsible for creating football are sadly no longer with us, so it’s time to stop pretending that the English are the connoisseurs of football and to move along with the times.
English managers have gone abroad in the past with varying degrees of success. Fred Pentland is a name many of you won’t recognise; despite him being the most successful manager in Athletic Bilbao’s history. The man is something of a father figure for Spanish football, although when he was ready to return to England, he wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Barrow A.F.C hired him not long after Spain became the first non-British team to beat England in 1929, largely due to the short passing game Pentland had implemented.
England may not be at the top of the game right now, although they are every bit as arrogant as they were when they exiled Pentland and others.
In fact if you look a little closer you’ll find that the father of Hungarian, German and Austrian football was English. A man named Jimmy Hogan created the blueprint for these teams; he was ahead of his time, you might have even called him eccentric. However over eighty years on from Hogan’s impact, English football is still trying to recreate the European philosophies he founded – short, snappy passing.
In more recent history, British managers took to Spain, particularly in the 1980’s when English football was thought to be suffering a decline. The likes of Terry Venables, Sir Bobby Robson and John Toshack weren’t pushed out the door like Hogan; on the contrary, they had their pick of teams in English football, but opted for the glamorous Spanish sunshine. They were the best in the world and everyone knew it, it’s a reverse of the situation in the Premier League right now, the best managers are no longer British so club owners have to seek foreign talent to lead their clubs.
This is why Gary Neville’s appointment as first team coach of Valencia is one of the most unexpected stories of the season so far. He’s not even a manager; he’s a TV pundit!
So why have Valencia taken the gamble?
For a start Peter Lim, the owner of Valencia, already has a strong relationship with the Neville brothers due to the 50% stake he has in Salford City, the team the class of 92 have famously bought for their own personal amusement. Secondly, Phil Neville has been at the Mestalla since the start of the season as assistant coach, it is believed he is a very popular figure among the players and already has a grasp of the language.
The task at hand is not as daunting as first thought for the Neville brothers. Valencia are 4 points from a Champions League spot and still have plenty to play for in this season’s Champions League.
Five months into his career with Sky Sports, Gary Neville was the best pundit in the country, by the time the Euro’s come around, could he be the best manager in England?
The Valencia fans will be understandably pessimistic, however the sustained success of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United is well revered in Spain and Gary Neville is a symbol of those achievements. It’s the equivalent of Carlos Puyol being appointed head coach of Arsenal for five months.
The longevity of United’s success under Sir Alex is even more astonishing to the Spanish footballing public; therefore Neville’s Fergusonian influence will only excite the Valencia fans.
Nonetheless English fans have even more cause for optimism. If English football is still fighting against itself, then the Neville brothers have found a more harmonious footballing land to continue their managerial educations. It’s easy to forget just how significant Valencia are to Spanish football. During their world domination between 2008 and 2012, the Spanish national side became the greatest team to ever play the game. At first glance, this team is a combination of Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two giants of Spanish football. However the likes of David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata all learnt their trade with Valencia, and there are many more Valencia success stories to choose from.
If the Neville’s can forge a Fergusonian/Tika Taka hybrid, then the landscape of English football will completely change. The Neville brothers are a Fred Pentland or Jimmy Hogan in the making, except this time English football is ready for new ideas. You can picture it now, Gary and Phil in the Wembley dugout wearing matching tracksuits, and the Ant and Dec parodies that will surely follow their instant success. Rest assured, Gary Neville to Valencia could be one of the most significant managerial appointments in English footballing history.
Photo Credits: Robert Wilson and The National Portrait Gallery