Smith a rare decorated English manager
Bobby McMahon is the lead analyst for FOX Soccer Report, airing nightly at 10:00 p.m. ET on FOX Soccer Channel.
"Stevenage have appointed former Arsenal scout Gary Smith as their new manager," opened the BBC's Jan. 25 report.
The next line of the article noted that Smith had coaching experience with the Colorado Rapids of MLS, but you needed to hang in until one-third of the way through the story before you were told that the Rapids, under Smith, actually won MLS Cup in 2010.
In ranking Smith's time at Arsenal as a scout above managerial experience in Major League Soccer, the news story encapsulates an attitude that is still very prevalent in the United Kingdom and, in particular, England toward MLS.
But if you pause for a moment you quickly realize the absurdity of this kind of condescension - certainly when it comes to English-born managers.
Try this little quiz: Name three living English managers who have won a major senior trophy in one of the top 10 (ranked by UEFA coefficient) league this century?
Harry Redknapp's FA Cup victory with Portsmouth in 2008 leaps to mind. Then there is Steve McClaren who won the Eredivisie in 2010 while in charge of FC Twente, and six years before there was his League Cup win with Middlesbrough.
And then . . . and then . . . and then. Yip - I can't think of any others either.
Cast the net further - let's say, the last 20 years - and we can add Brian Little (Aston Villa, League Cup, 1996), Joe Royle (Everton, , FA Cup, 1995), and Ron Atkinson (Aston Villa, League Cup, 1994) while Howard Wilkinson sneaks under the wire with Leeds' league title in 1992.
It reinforces the notion that the FA's choices, if they are to replace Fabio Capello with a native son, is limited. Not so much a case of creating a short-list of candidates but never having anything larger than a short list to begin with. If some success and/or longevity are key attributes for any candidate, then the list shrinks rather than expands.
The English game is littered with managers who have been unable to turn some short-term success and media headlines into anything close to punching above their weight: Bruce, Jewell, Warnock, Coppell, Brown, et al.
Alan Pardew came close to winning the 2006 FA Cup with West Ham and has surprised almost everyone with how well he has done with Newcastle this season. But there is nothing within his body of work that point towards England manager material.
Roy Hodgson's claim to fame is that he has managed abroad, has actually managed international sides, and has exceeded expectations when given little to work with. These positives, however, are out-weighted by little in the way of actual success and a traumatic time at Liverpool last season. The English media would surely turn a Hodgson appointment into a feeding frenzy.
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Dig into the teams that have made it to the FA Cup 5th round this season and we have Ian Holloway at Blackpool (away to Everton) and Nigel Pearson (away to Norwich). Holloway would offer some mirth and wonderful sound bites, but the FA could get the same by appointing Ricky Gervais. Nigel Pearson - not even Mrs. Pearson would suggest it.
Ironically, there are two other English-born managers still with teams in the FA Cup, and they will face each other this weekend: the aforementioned Gary Smith and Harry Redknapp.
Smith may have been appointed over three weeks ago but his Stevenage Borough side has seen very little action. A 1-0 win over Notts County moved Stevenage into the last 16 of the Cup, and they have yet to concede a goal in their four Cup matches so far.
Smith has hitched to a wagon that is on quite a roll. Stevenage have gained back-to-back promotions, are sitting in the last of the play-off spots in League One and have just one loss in their last 20 all-competition matches. On Tuesday night they went to Sheffield Wednesday and won 1-0 - a surprise, given Wednesday's league position.
Spurs on Sunday will be a more severe test for Smith and his team. But even a gallant loss might be enough to force mention that Gary Smith - in another life - is an English coach who has actually experienced the joy of lifting a major trophy.