The Fire-fighters

Why Southgate and The FA should be concerned

Two managers have unceremoniously bitten the dust and we’re barely a week into the off-season. Everton and West Ham have parted company with Sam Allardyce and David Moyes respectively, after both men served less than a year in charge at their clubs.  The merry-go-round is already picking up pace.

Of the usual names in the Premier League fire-fighters brochure, only two now remain; Hughes and Hodgson are the last men standing.  To be fair, both have done remarkable jobs.  Hodgson has kept Palace up, when they hadn’t even scored a Premier League goal as the leaves turned brown in autumn.  Southampton looked doomed in all departments, but Hughes somehow galvanized his old club into a position where they could benefit from Swansea’s ill timed slide.

In a nutshell,  this is the appeal of these managers.  Whilst they can never truly be considered glamorous names, they do a job, the job for a lot of clubs.  Premier League survival is simply essential.

Fans will roll their eyes and joke on social media about how naff their football team has become in appointing a Moyes or a Pulis etc, but cynicism aside, there is a serious consequence to this short term approach.  In the week that Southgate has announced his squad for Russia, it should ring as an alarm for the men paid to run the National Team, especially as the trend is simply not going to go away.

Logic behind the mayhem

Ten managers were already axed this season with the above men taking that number to twelve.  For the third time in five seasons the Premier League managerial casualty rate has been in double figures.  These numbers do not bode well for fan’s who seek stability and a long term project of bringing in talented players from the academy.

The rate is unlikely to get better any time soon as clubs continue to duck and dive to avoid the drop.  Everton were forced to turn to a fire-fighter this season as results turned sour under Ronald Koeman.

Most Everton fans will tell you, relegation was never seriously in the frame, and this probably contributed towards the distain aimed at Allardyce for much of his tenure.  The league table would back up this argument.  Big Sam claimed he took over a mess and you would think he’d done a similar job to Roy Hodgson.  However Everton were thirteenth in the league and had just won four nil at home to West Ham before Allardyce took control.  Not really a team in free-fall.  A closer look at Farhad Moshiri’s blueprint however tells us a bit more.

Moshiri’s ambition is to build a new fifty thousand capacity stadium at Bramley-Moore Docks in Vauxhall.  It is his pet project and would be his most tangible impact on the club.  One of the key components for the plan is a two hundred and eighty million pound loan to part finance the project.  The lenders and no doubt the creditors will have been uneasy with the club’s Premier League status in the balance.  Big Sam represents safety, he is the quintessential fire-fighter, and this probably forced Moshiri’s hand.

Short term gain, long term pain

These short-term appointments come with an almost unspoken contract between the manager and the board.  The likes of West Ham or Everton will see themselves as significantly better than relegation dodging clubs, the board will definitely see it this way, hence an initial offer of a paltry six month contract to Allardyce.  Deep down, everyone knows a better class of manager is sorely wanted and needed.

This lack of a long term vision and commitment from Premier League club’s is hardly going to help the development of the English game.  Men like Allardyce will come in and play direct, long ball football for a season or two before leaving the club in relative safety.  However, when you consider the fate of the talented young players at the club, the lack of a long term manager and plan is a concern.

Why would a manager brought in to steady the ship, be worried about bringing youngsters into the fold, for a future he won’t be part of?  Why would he offer a more ambitious style of play which aides the development of young players?  This lack of a long term vision from the majority of Premier League club’s is hardly going to help the development of the England’s youngsters.

Talented trio

Everton boast three very talented English youngsters who, under the right circumstances may have fancied their chances of an England call-up.  Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies had both been making waves prior to Koeman’s sacking.  Both continued to be regulars under Allardyce as they each clocked up over forty appearances this season.

On the one hand, this game time is a real plus, but on the other, has the negative football played by their manager hindered their progress?  Neither look anywhere near an England place which is a real disappointment after two years of first team football at a top ten club and success at youth level international football.

Perhaps the most disappointing example of this turbulence was Ademola Lookman.  David Unsworth seemed to fancy him as did Koeman, but in January Allardyce was ready to send him to Derby County.  The twenty year old played a significant role in England’s Under 20 World Cup win and was seen as an exciting, creative player.  A loan move to The Championship is not ideal for a lad looking to make it at the top.  He opted instead for the Bundesliga and went on to score five times for Leipzig as they nicked a Europa League spot.  Would he have contributed to a more attack minded ambitious style of football at Everton?

Reasons to be optimistic

Gareth Southgate’s squad contains eighteen players from top six clubs.  Of the other five, three are goalkeepers, leaving Vardy, Maguire and Pickford as the only men playing outside the elite clubs, with any realistic chance of game-time.  It’s nothing new for a World Cup squad to be assembled from the league’s players at the best clubs.  However the slim chances for some of the youngsters playing outside the elite, making the cut, are a real disappointment and reflection of the falling standards in the Premier League.

Perhaps though, slowly, we are seeing a change for the good.  This season saw three talented youngsters opt for moves to Germany as they seek the next stage of their development.  Jadon Sancho, Reece Oxford and Ademola Lookman all moved to Bundesliga clubs where more emphasis is put on bringing in youngsters as opposed to topflight survival at whatever the cost.  They will have benefited from top class facilities and exposure to outstanding coaches and senior players.  All key components in their formative years as pros.

Closer to home, and an Under 20 World Cup winner has had success in earning a call up to senior England duty this season.  Has Lewis Cook benefited from Eddie Howe’s uncompromising approach to playing good football at Bournemouth?  Having played almost fifty games at a decent standard, he earned a twenty five minute appearance against Italy, having also been linked with a move to Liverpool.

The FA and Gareth Southgate should be encouraging their young stars to make these moves. The advice should be, make a move, be brave and play for a less glamorous Premier League or foreign club if the style and level of football is appropriate.  Southgate himself won over fifty caps, whilst playing outside of the elite English clubs at that time, it can be done.  Simply staying at a club which invests in fire-fighting managers, with ten men behind the ball and a crude approach will never produce the kind of players England needs if we are ever to challenge on the international stage.

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