IT WAS a bold decision to appoint Steve McClaren as England manager, a man who has little experience of European football and who has never managed a major club.
McClaren, the assistant of former manager Sven Goran Eriksson, cannot be exempt from blame for England's poor World Cup campaign, and thus his appointment is surely misguided. Once again the FA has taken the safe option and illustrates exactly why we have not won an International tournament since our World Cup triumph in 1966.
Upon the departure of Sven the search got under way to find a new manager. Amongst the names considered were Steve McClaren, Sam Allardyce and Alan Curbishley. All of which had done exemplary jobs with their club sides but in truth none have enough experience to take the top job.
The 'best man for the job' idea went out the window as Guus Hiddink, the most credible choice, overachieveing with, first, South Korea and second, Australia, had already accepted a contract offer from the Russian football federation. And with Big Phil Scolari unable to speak a word of English, he was not a practical choice.
There was one man, however, whose credentials outshone those of the aforementioned and was for a long-time considered as the favorite to take the job. Irishman, Martin O'Neil. A born winner, he took charge of an unfashionable club in Leicester City and built a wonderful free-flowing team on a shoe-string budget, he further rubber-stamped his qualities by ending the monopoly of Rangers as manager of arch-rivals Celtic.
But O'Neill was overlooked, why? Because, like his mentor Brian Clough, arguably England's greatest ever manager 40 years earlier, he is loud, opinionated and does not accept interference from anyone. In short, the FA bottled it, in favor of McClaren, a no-risk appointment. A thoroughly decent man and a knowledgeable coach, but lacking one vital ingredient that O'Neill has in excess - the ability to motivate and inspire those around him.
In England's last two European championship qualifiers against Macedonia and Croatia we have seen what McClaren is all about - Caution. His team's showing in the match against Croatia was so negative to suggest that McClaren himself believed that his side were not capable of winning. Our national team is static, fairing no better or worse than under the comatose Swede.
Compare McClaren's impact since taking charge of England to the amazing transformation which O'Neill has conjured up at Aston Villa. O'Neill took charge of a club in crisis. Last season the Midlanders just escaped relegation and began the new campaign as favorites for the drop. Now, Villa sit comfortably sixth in the table, the only undefeated club in the top three divisions.
What O'Neill has done in his short time at Villa is what he has done throughout his entire managerial career. He has inspired. O'Neill fields a virtually unchanged team as the one which under-achieved so alarmingly last season, yet he has turned average players into good players and good players into exceptional players.
Sure McClaren is an able coach, enduring a successful time as Ferguson's assistant at Man Utd and advocates the need for sharp attacking football but what would have happened if the FA had had the courage to gamble on O'Neill?
The one thing I can guarantee is that every last member of the England squad would have become a better player with that cantankerous little Irishman in charge.