The best man for the job

As soon as the media got wind of FA’s excursion into Portugal to meet with the current Portuguese manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, the papers and online media has been flooded with speculation that Scolari will be the next manager for England.

That’s not news, however. What really is news (not surprisingly) is that the blind patriotism that talked about having an English manager have been replaced by a pragmatic call for the best man for the job. If anyone, most of all the FA, are still considering the credentials of Alan Curbishley and Sam Allardyce, please help me burn their headquarters down. Their teams have flattered to deceive for several years now — and it’s a shame that the other two candidates (Martin O’Neill and Steve McClaren — Stuart Pierce was never taken seriously) have limited “proven success” on their CVs.

So we’re left with looking to the continent for better options (and as much as I’d want it to happen, Ferguson (or even Wenger) would not trade in their positions for a shot at managing England). Guus Hiddink was a good option, but the FA were looking at all comers and Hiddink shot himself in the foot by playing pride before common sense.

And that leaves Big Phil.

The Guardian reports that Scolari’s candidacy only became a realistic option after David Dein, Arsenal’s chairman, was included in the selection panel. It makes sense, because Arsenal under Dein has adopted a pragmatic win-first policy that refuses to get bogged down by issues such as nationality. They go further to say that the FA will formally offer Scolari the managerial position next week, something that poses problems for Scolari — he has a verbal agreement with Portugal on not to discuss his future until after the World Cup (Scolari’s current contract ends after the finals in Germany).

The man is an accomplished manager (see the bottom of this article for a short bio) but the real reason the FA might be pursuing Scolari is his willingness to take the hard decisions (unlike Eriksson) and if he comes in, don’t be surprised there are major shakeups within the England squad. I wouldn’t bet against Scolari kicking out Beckham either, but then again I doubt we have any half-decent winger in England to replace him (with due respect to SWP, the man’s not the best fit into the English lineup just yet).

Will language and nationality matter? The selection committee is treading carefully because they want to retain a favorable public opinion going into the World Cup, but their real job is to make sure they pick a manager who can lead them to a win in Euro 2008 and hopefully in the 2010 World Cup. Somehow I don’t see an Englishman doing that, and outside the top 4 managers in England (Ferguson, Mourinho, Wenger and Benitez — all due respect to Martin Jol but he’ll have to do more than 4th place), there’s no one in England capable of taking the job. And since none of those guys would be coming, it’s towards Scolari that they’re looking.

I’m half expecting that next week we’ll hear another name pop up (an Italian club this time? Or maybe Del Bosque?) and then the media will jump on the merry-go-round again, hoping to get it right this time. One thing though — the FA have been blamed for many things, but despite the circus this has become, they are at least doing a decent job of keeping things under wraps.

Fingers crossed — and all eyes on Germany, because I’m tired of hearing that this England team has the best chance to win the World Cup and want to see more than jaded results this time around.

Update: Read more about Scolari’s background here.

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