Will José be England's saviour?
Even if Brian Barwick picks up the telephone to make the call almost every England fan is clamouring for, the Football Association (FA) might not end up with José Mourinho as the next national manager.
But the FA’s chief executive would get detailed insight into what it will take to make England succeed from one of the most successful and intelligent managers to have worked in the English game. As advice goes, that would be worth the price of an international call.
Barwick and the FA’s director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking—the men who share the responsibility for appointing Steve McClaren’s successor—have not yet finished canvassing the opinions of outside sources and will make no move until they do.
Sir Bobby Robson, the most successful England manager since 1966 World Cup-winner Sir Alf Ramsey, is one whose opinion has been sought.
He evaluated Mourinho thus: “He has popular support, is loved by players and is unafraid to make changes during matches.” But he added a caveat: “Would he make a drama out of a crisis if something goes wrong?”
That, frankly, should not be a consideration. English football is in crisis, having missed out on qualification for an international tournament for the first time in 14 years, and it seems only a dramatically ambitious appointment like Mourinho’s could shake up the system.
If Barwick makes that call, Mourinho will make clear to him that the FA must professionalise its approach to international football. He is staggered that there is no central base for England during international weeks.
At the moment England decamp to hotels in the vicinity of the M25—McClaren’s preference was for The Grove hotel near Watford—while making use of club training facilities, with Arsenal’s London Colney centre often used. But Mourinho would call for the National Football Centre to be completed as a self-contained location from which to operate during international duty.
The bucolic Burton-on-Trent site was mothballed when half-built. It boasts a complex of heated pitches that are being carefully maintained, but there is no residential capacity to accommodate the players when using them. Having been closely involved in the construction of Chelsea’s sprawling training facility at Cobham in Surrey—with its state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool and gyms—Mourinho already has a template from which to work.
Mourinho would also demand the resources for full-time scouting and medical infrastructures. At the moment England take the physiotherapist, Gary Lewin, on secondment from Arsenal. But there have in the past been complaints from managers who feel this presents a potential conflict of interests, since Lewin is given an insight into the fitness secrets of their players.
In a move that would likely mollify such figures as Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho would move to ensure that all medical staff work exclusively for the national team.
Mourinho is ambitious enough to seek a more hands-on role than his predecessors. The Portuguese coach would seek to exploit his cordial relationship with Ferguson to procure access to United’s Carrington training ground to view their day-to-day sessions and check on the fitness progress of English players. It is likely, though, that there would need to be a rapprochement with Liverpool’s manager, Rafael BenÃtez, before there could be similar arrangements at Melwood.
The perception has been that Mourinho could not bear to be denied daily involvement on a training ground and that he considers international management to be the preserve of men approaching their retirement. But the former Chelsea manager would provide his employers with a rolling 15-day itinerary so the FA would at all times be aware of his working arrangements.
“The manager of a national team normally works one or two weeks before a match, whether it’s a friendly or a competitive fixture. They work only on the match,” said a friend this week.
“But José is very different. He knows it’s such an important job. If he becomes England boss he’ll change a lot of things and work in a different way. Managing England is not the same as managing Italy or Germany—it is a special job.”
That much is clear. Italy are the world champions and reached the Euro 2000 final; German shirts are gilded with three stars above the crest. In 2004 Mourinho, on his way to winning the Champions League with Porto, recognised Chelsea as a well-resourced club that had been starved of success for 50 years.
It was a destination where he could make an instant impact. There are clear parallels with England, who have not reached a tournament final since 1966, but whose broadcasting and commercial income makes them among the wealthiest nations in football.
“Resources and money are all issues for down the line,” said a senior FA source. “But finance for the FA is not an issue. Wembley has a business plan in place and the rest of the organisation is in the best financial health it has been in its history.
“This is about getting the right man for the job. There are only so many managers who fit the profile—we’re talking about getting a world-class manager to make England into a world-class team again. Sir Trevor [Brooking] and Brian [Barwick] will do that.”—Â