The name of Jozef Venglos won’t mean much to most of us apart from a few Aston Villa completists with long memories, and possibly Prince William, though by all accounts the amiable Czech is a pretty stand-up guy. He was also the first foreigner to take charge of an English top-flight club. It wasn’t much of a success, and his year at Villa (1990-91) left them two places above the relegation zone. (Sound familiar?) Now of course you can’t move for foreign managers: on the style pages, the food pages, the news pages — and jabbing each other in the technical areas.
It’s not a great time for English managers (not to say England managers) right now but wouldn’t you like to see Premier League clubs put more faith in them? Not out of jingoism, but because they are more talented than they are given credit for. There seems to be a mentality that unless you are foreign, flamboyant and cost a fortune, you can’t be any good. Don’t judge every-one by Sam Allardyce: he was a poor choice in the first place, a verdict borne out by his dismal first game in charge. There’s an easy case to be made that the manager of the moment is not Pep or Arsène, Jurgen or Mauricio, and certainly not scowly old José, but brave, thoughtful, sunny Eddie Howe of Bournemouth. He kept his south-coast nippers up last season, and given his resources, that was every bit the equal of what Claudio Ranieri achieved at Leicester (with a team bequeathed to him by another Englishman, Nigel Pearson).
Bournemouth’s win over high-riding Everton last weekend typified what Howe manages to squeeze out of his modest and largely British–born squad. It’s all about quick thinking, quick movement and quick-passing: everything that England under Hodgson and Allardyce don’t do. Howe has got the best out of characters such as Jack Wilshere, on loan from Arsenal. And in Harry Arter, he has developed another superb attacking midfielder — one who chose to play, and won man of the match, against Man Utd just days after losing a child. At the weekend Arter easily had the better of Everton’s England star Ross Barkley. We have a lot to learn from Eddie Howe and I hope the FA is watching: he would be a fine choice for England manager.
I always thought the key to the success of Sky’s cycling team was ‘marginal gains’. That’s what they told us anyway. But however you cut it, a socking great needleful of a strong steroid shortly before some of the most important grand tour cycle road races in the world isn’t marginal, no matter how legal, medicinal and within the rules Bradley Wiggins’s asthma treatment was. No, a Haliborange with his bran flakes would be a marginal gain. Still, he did have a doctor’s note.
Manu Tuilagi once used Chris Ashton as a punchbag in one of rugby’s most memorably violent scenes. Maybe it did a bit of long-term damage as he now appears to have turned into Hannibal Lecter, nibbling away at troublesome opponents. Nobody can throw punches on the rugby field any more as the cameras will catch everything. Maybe Ashton is working on the basis that if misconduct brought Dylan Hartley the England captaincy it might work for him.
Fans of holy war may recall I mentioned a T20 cricket tournament between teams of Anglicans, Catholics, and Yorkshire Muslims. In the end the spoils went to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s team in a last-ditch struggle with the Muslims, Mount CC, who had looked well in control. But the Anglicans stuck to their task, needing nine off the last over. Enter the Revd Andy Watkins, not a great technician but superb under pressure. He biffed two fours in a row before scampering a single off his pads from the last ball. Welby’s winners on top of the world.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.