England qualified for the World Cup in Russia next summer and went the entirety of their qualification campaign unbeaten. Whilst that’s a success that should normally be remembered, the nation has been left wondering when the last time the Three Lions were enjoyable to watch.
Wembley Stadium is not the fortress it once was and is now more Tottenham Hotspur’s home than it is England’s, especially as games in the stadium often descend into a competition as to who can get a paper plane furthest onto the field, a scenario that usually brings the loudest cheer of the match.
Without using the dreaded words of ‘golden generation’, England do indeed have some very capable young players in the form of Jordan Pickford, Dele Alli and, of course, Harry Kane but the issue for the Three Lions remains that players never perform to the standard that they do at club level.
England clearly need someone who can kick people into gear and Gareth Southgate doesn’t strike you as the sort of person would do that, instead he looks like one of those weird people who applauds a plane pilot when they land or puts his milk into his tea first.
Paper planes all around Wembley evoking memories of the greatest moment ever at the old stadium… pic.twitter.com/PwS5TasDia
— Cormac O'Malley (@cormacpro) October 5, 2017
That, quite clearly, is something that England cannot be represented by and change needs to be afoot, preferably before the bi-annual underperformance at an international tournament that leaves us licking our wounds, declaring it’s time to change, doing nothing about it and suffering the same torture in 2020.
Inevitably, the powers that be will decide that the next manager needs to be British, which severely limits the options available, but the man top of the shortlist should be current Brighton boss Chris Hughton – a man who not only impresses on the field but also provides inspiration of it.
His Seagulls side have already exceeded aspirations by earning promotion to the Premier League, returning to the top-flight for the first time since 1983, and it capped off a superb turnaround – with Hughton avoiding relegation when he arrived midway through the 2014/15 season, finishing third the following year and narrowly missing out on promotion by two goals.
Hughton’s sacking from Newcastle, which came in December 2010, was certainly premature as he had an impressive win ratio of 55.7% and led the Magpies back to the Premier League following their relegation. Their loss is certainly Brighton’s gain and it could be England’s too.
His playing career, which saw him break through as a youngster at Tottenham Hotspur, also leaves Hughton deserving respect. As one of the first black players to represent the Lilywhites, Hughton faced a wealth of racism which, unfortunately, was ever present during the 70s and 80s.
Having overcome that burden, Hughton is now flying the flag as the inspiration for black managers within English football. The game has come a long way since the dark days of the eighties but there’s still a whitewash of managers within the Premier League and Football League – at the time of writing there is just two, Hughton and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Northampton Town.
Chris Hughton deserves so much credit. Never done a bad job anywhere he's been. First male black England manager in the future?
— Mad Monk (@FPLMadMonk) October 20, 2017
The Football Association is currently enduring a very damaging period, with the fallout from the Mark Sampson racism scandal following on from the long saga concerning sexual abuse and the quick exit of Sam Allardyce from the England role last year.
Changes need to be afoot at the Football Association and appointing a black manager would be a massive success for the sport – and it’s not just a showpiece move, as Hughton can get the best out of a squad of players who are far too casual.
Hughton’s rivals for the position would likely stand as Eddie Howe, a young manager who still has a long way to go, Sean Dyche and Paul Clement, if the FA were to continue looking at British managers. That in itself may well be a mistake but Hughton would at least show some signs of promise and a willingness for the FA to move out of their comfort zone.
Crucially, though, Hughton would need to be given time and patience. A massive overhaul is needed in English football and stability is needed to do that. Yes, you could argue that Southgate should get that chance but when you look at his record and experience, it’s clear he’s not the man to take the Three Lions forward.