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Homegrown Coaches Hard to Find

Premier League is among the best, but it was 1992 that an Englishman last won England's top league.

June 06, 2004|From Associated Press

LONDON — Forget Rex Harrison's question: "Why can't the English learn to speak?"

Try this one: Why can't an English manager get a top job at home coaching soccer, the game the English claim to have invented?

England's Premier League is one of Europe's best alongside Spain and Italy, but not for an Englishman. The first George Bush was still the U.S. president when a homegrown coach last won England's top league (1992).

A Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, has coached Arsenal since 1996. He won his third league title this season and his top stars are mostly French: striker Thierry Henry, forward Robert Pires and midfielder Patrick Vieira.

Known as "the professor" for his erudite ways and revolutionary coaching methods -- he cut English players off post-practice pints of beer -- Wenger joined Arsenal from the Japanese club Grampus Eight.

Reflecting on his move, he said a Frenchman coming to English soccer was like Japan turning to France for a sumo manager.

The only Briton at the top is Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. But he's a Scotsman -- the "auld" enemy -- so he might as well be French.

"I come from just south of Hadrian's Wall, so I class a Scotsman as a foreigner," said Frank Clark, vice chairman of the English Manager Association.

"We've got nothing against talented foreign coaches coming into England. It's the mantra that says 'foreign good, England bad' that we are fighting against."

Even England's national team is coached by a foreigner, Sweden's Sven-Goran Eriksson.

And in the past week, two of England's biggest clubs hired two more foreign coaches.

When Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich fired Italian coach Claudio Ranieri, his replacement was 41-year-old Portuguese Jose Mourinho. He becomes soccer's highest paid manager at $9 million a year.

An Englishman was never in the running.

Same thing at Tottenham, which named French national coach Jacques Santini after considering Ranieri and Italian national coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

The tabloid Sun newspaper summed it up in a headline Friday: "Would the last English boss in London please turn out the lights."

Which brings us to Liverpool -- England's most decorated club. The Reds fired Frenchman Gerard Houllier last month and the front-runner to take over is Rafa Benitez.

Sound English? Habla Espanol? He's a Spaniard, who just stepped away from Spanish champion Valencia.

Benitez came to England five years ago to study the English style and spotted an opening.

"The feeling I got was that foreign coaches and players had given a variety to the English game," he said. "Before, there was a pass-and-drive game; now there's more careful use of the ball."

The only Englishman coaching one of the Premier League's top five clubs is Newcastle's 71-year-old Bobby Robson, knighted several years ago for his service to English soccer.

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