Tuesday, February 14, 2012

England Managers: The clubs they left behind (Part 1)

So if Harry Redknapp does get the England manager’s job (and let’s remind ourselves that nothing’s a foregone conclusion), what kind of impact would that have on Tottenham? Come to think of it, how would any club fare if its manager walked out in favour of a dream job as national team coach?

If history is anything to go by, the answer is ‘potentially catastrophic.’ In the vast majority of cases, a club left leaderless by a manager tempted away by the blazered bureaucrats of the FA has seen its fortunes founder in the years that followed.

Ipswich and Alf Ramsey

Take Ipswich Town, for example. An innocent, unassuming club nestling in the serene backwaters of Suffolk, it’s provided two of England’s finest coaches but on both occasions fell from grace when doing so.

Alf Ramsey was the first. Taking the reins as manager of Ipswich in 1955, it took him a while to get the Portman Road machine working the way he wanted, but within five years he’d not only dragged the club up into Division Two but also Division One. They’d never played in the top flight before, but in that first memorable season of 1961-62, Ipswich Town, under the leadership of Ramsey, won the Football League championship. He’d done so with a squad which at best could have been considered ‘average’ and with next to no money to spend on improvements. It was nothing short of miraculous.

When the FA needed a replacement for Walter Winterbottom, it was hardly surprising that they paid a call on the Dagenham-born pariah. Though Ipswich were heading for a 17th-place finish the following season, there was no doubt as to who their number one candidate should be. In April 1963, Alf Ramsey stepped into the role of England manager – the first to take care of team selection and training – and Ipswich were left without the man that had transformed them single-handedly in less than a decade.

Without him, they fell like a stone down the league table. The following season after Ramsey’s departure (1963-64), Ipswich conceded 121 goals in their 42 games and were relegated back to Division Two, finishing 22nd and last. By 1966, ironically the year of Alf Ramsey’s greatest ever triumph, Ipswich were flirting with relegation back to the third tier and it was only in the 1967-68 that they finally gained promotion as Division Two champions.

Alf Ramsey's period in charge of Ipswich Town shown in grey.

* (Click graph for bigger version.)

Ipswich and Bobby Robson

Not long after, Bobby Robson took charge at Ipswich. He, too, had a remarkably positive effect on the club, guiding the team to a series of top six finishes between 1972 and 1982 (except for the 1977-78 season). European football became a regular privilege under his leadership and with players like Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen bolstering an already impressive squad, silverware soon started to appear in the Ipswich trophy cabinet.

An FA Cup win in 1978 and a UEFA Cup bagged in 1981 (not to mention a couple of league runners-up honours in the early 1980’s) was all the FA needed to see. When Ron Greenwood indicated that the 1982 World Cup would be the last chapter of his England managerial career, it was Bobby Robson that got the nod to replace him once the dust had settled in Spain.

Good news for Robson, but ultimately bad news for the club he left behind. In their first season under new boss Bobby Ferguson, Ipswich finished 9th. The following season it was 12th, the season after that it was 17th and finally in the 1985-86 Ipswich finished 20th and were relegated. It would be another six years before The Tractor Boys returned to the top tier.

Bobby Robson's period in charge of Ipswich Town shown in grey.*

Leeds and Don Revie

In Don Revie’s case, Leeds United held off the threat of relegation much longer once he’d taken on the national job but the drop into Division Two eventually came about just as it had done when Robson left Ipswich.

Revie joined Leeds as manager in 1961 with the club treading water in Division Two. Having narrowly escaped the drop into the third tier the following season, Revie gradually turned things around, strengthening the youth team setup and adding players to the squad with the occasional canny purchase.

The 1963-64 season saw Leeds return to Division One and once there, they never finished outside the top four from then until Revie left for the England job in 1974. Again, the turnaround was remarkable; before he left, Revie had guided Leeds United to two league titles, won the FA Cup, League Cup and two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups. Afterwards, however, the decline was notable, if gradual.

Beginning with Brian Clough’s infamous 44-day stretch in the manager’s hot seat, Leeds finished the 1974-75 season in ninth position, although it ended with an appearance in the European Cup Final against Bayern Munich which they lost in controversial circumstances. After that, Leeds had to settle for top-half finishes in the First Division as many of their great players moved on or retired. Managers came and went too (Jock Stein lasting barely longer than Clough in 1978) and in 1982 the club were relegated to the Second Division, eight years after Don Revie’s departure.

Don Revie's period in charge of Leeds United shown in grey.*

Exceptions to the rule

Not all managers go straight from club to country. Two England managers were otherwise engaged at the time of their appointment having stepped down from their regular first-team training duties. Ron Greenwood had ‘moved upstairs’ to become General Manager at West Ham some three years before he took over from Don Revie in the national setup. Terry Venables, meanwhile, had been made Chief Executive at Tottenham well before his acrimonious exit from White Hart Lane in 1993.

Ironically, Greenwood's appointment was seen initially as a short-term solution but was made more permanent following early wins over Italy and West Germany as well as a draw against Brazil, the latter two matches being friendly internationals. Conversely, Venables' contract was supposed to be permanent yet despite England reaching the last four of the 1996 European Championships, Venables stepped down after the tournament to deal with various court cases. He'd occupied the England managerial role for only 27 months covering just 24 matches.

Aston Villa and Graham Taylor

In the modern era, managers were less likely to stay at a club for upwards of five years as Ramsey, Revie and Robson had done, so when the men from the FA made their move, it tended to be for someone only recently flushed with success. Not only that, but one could argue the clubs they left behind were not much worse after the event. Whether that can be put down to the manager in question setting the club on a decent footing for the future is a matter for some debate.

Graham Taylor arrived at Aston Villa in June 1987 just weeks after they'd been relegated to Division Two, only five years after their famous European Cup win. In his first full season at Villa Park, however, he helped his team finish as runners-up to gain promotion back to the top flight again. A tough 1988/89 season followed during which relegation was a constant threat, but the following season, Villa finished third in the league and it was then that the FA made their move.

With Taylor gone, Aston Villa wobbled slightly - particularly during the brief era under the tutelage of Josef Venglos - but eventually they steadied the ship and remained a decent top-flight club. After another worrying relegation threat had passed during the 1994/95 season, they regularly finished in the top seven of the newly-formed Premier League for many campaigns thereafter.

Graham Taylor's period in charge of Aston Villa shown in grey.*

Coming soon in Part 2: Hoddle, Keegan, Eriksson, McClaren and Capello.

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