The FA are in trouble if Harry Redknapp turns them downEven as David Bernstein was setting out the preconditions for the next England manager — preferably English, perhaps British but certainly not another pricey continental buy-in — so his shortlist of potential candidates was shortening.
First Martin O'Neill, then Alan Pardew ruled themselves out of contention. For reasons of national loyalty, we can assume all seven Glaswegians currently working in the Premier League would not be available. If they are worried about the language gap, if they do not want anything else — as Rio Ferdinand tweeted - "lost in translation", then Roberto Mancini might not be the shrewdest appointment. And Arsene Wenger long ago told us he wasn't interested. Martin Jol is too Dutch, Brendan Rogers too Irish, Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis too Welsh. While Mick McCarthy is too Yorkshire, Roberto Martinez too Wiganish, Andre Villas-Boas too bonkers.
If the FA wishes to draw from English managers currently working at the pinnacle of the English game, then, the choice comes down to two. And given what the papers are writing, the fans are telling phone-ins and the leading players are saying on Twitter, the clamour is not for Roy Hodgson.
The widespread assumption has long been that Harry Redknapp is the anointed heir, Harry Hotspur ready to answer St George's call. Indeed, it does not take the most imaginative of conspiracy theorists to suggest that once the potential obstacle of a criminal conviction for tax evasion was removed, his candidacy was deliberately and speedily advanced by the powers that be when they took the opportunity to part company this week with his largely unloved predecessor.
The widespread assumption, too, is that Redknapp wants the job. He is old school, so runs the line in most of the papers this morning, a man who played with Hurst, Peters and Moore, who understands the importance of the national team, someone for whom England matters. The second-guessing in the opinion columns insists that this is the moment he has been waiting for all his football life.
And yet, if you were Redknapp: seriously, would you take the job? There he is at Tottenham, building a potent, youthful and widely admired side, about to finish higher than he ever has in league football, with the possibility of once again taking his team into the Champions League, a competition offering the very best of fixtures.
Compared to that, what does England offer? A game every couple of months is hardly manna for a man who revels in the cut and thrust of daily involvement, who relishes the banter, the connection, the involvement. And while he may currently enjoy almost universally positive relations with the press (and why not, he is as engaging a character as the game has ever produced, an endless source of wit and charm for journalists generally starved of both) we know with England that won't last.
One poor competition, one avoidable scandal, one heavy defeat by a proper national side and the honeymoon will be over. The prickliness will surface. The paranoia will arrive. It has happened with every one of those previously engaged by the FA. Since 1945 there have been 12 full-time England bosses and the vast majority have left the job with their reputation severely diminished.
Take Fabio Capello. One of the shrewdest club coaches of all time, a man with a stellar record in European competitions, he left pursued by brickbats. Shabby, inept, incompetent, his tenure has been already dispatched to the footballing dustbin. In writing his England obituary, most appeared to wish it had never happened.
Personally, I think the FA is probably right: on its rapidly dwindling shortlist, Redknapp is the stand-out candidate. Sure he has not won anything beyond the FA Cup. But his skill set — of instinctive psychological chivvying rather than astute tactical planning — is precisely what the England set-up requires. Were he to surround himself, as he does at Spurs, with a cohort of coaches to take his training and bounce ideas off, he could restrict himself to the important task of picking the right players and making them feel good about themselves. It sounds easy. But a dozen good men have largely failed in that task before.
But the question still remains: why would Redknapp subject himself to all the nonsense of the England circus when Tottenham offers him so much? He is a man in his sixties with maybe another five years left in the tank. Does he want to go out remembered as the man who restored the pride to the cockerel? Or, as inevitably will happen, as yet another victim of the ridiculously over-inflated national expectation?
We shall see. Because the choice is entirely his. The job is there on a platter if he wants it. The FA, it is clear, really has no other options.