England managers ranked
England may have played their first international match in 1872, but it took another 74 years for the FA to appoint a full-time manager. The team had previously been chosen by the International Selection Committee, a policy which continued even after Walter Winterbottom had been handed the reins.
England have had 15 permanent managers in total, from Winterbottom in 1946 to Gareth Southgate in 2019. In this slideshow we rank them from worst to best.
15. Steve McClaren (2006-2007)
Highlight: David Nugent scoring from 0 yards out
Lowlight: Wally with brolly
Having recently taken Middlesbrough to the UEFA Cup final, McClaren was installed in the England hot seat after the 2006 World Cup. He inherited a talented squad which had nevertheless failed to live up to expectations at the previous three tournaments, but Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard & Co. were almost certain to be among the favourites at Euro 2008.
Except they weren’t, because England inexplicably failed to make it. McClaren’s men stumbled to third in their qualification group – level on points with Israel and one behind Russia – after dropping points in five of their 12 games. Their fate was sealed by a 3-2 loss to Croatia at Wembley, where McClaren had the audacity to use an umbrella to keep dry.
14. Graham Taylor (1990-1993)
Highlight: Sticking up for John Barnes
Lowlight: “Do I not like that?”
Taylor was a gentleman who conducted himself with dignity when root vegetables were being digitally merged with his head in the tabloids, but his team were dire to watch. England bored at Euro '92: three games, only one goal and Gary Lineker substituted with the Three Lions urgently needing to score against Sweden. But at least they got there.
The failed qualification campaign for the 1994 World Cup was a debacle detailed in the riveting documentary An Impossible Job. Taylor’s use of language was the stuff of genius (“Can we not knock it?”) but his usage of England’s creative players was definitely not.
13. Sam Allardyce (2016)
Highlight: 100% win record!
Lowlight: Pint of wine!
It’s hard to judge Big Sam on a tenure comprised solely of a forgettable 1-0 win over Slovakia (opposition Big Sam couldn't actually remember when FFT quizzed him on it recently). But lasting only 63 days in a job is ignominious, even if there wasn’t really a ‘smoking gun’ moment in the Telegraph sting in Wing's restaurant which ended his stint.
Allardyce was a little unlucky – he didn’t actually break any rules and the FA probably acted too hastily in dismissing him almost immediately after the story hit the papers – but it’s hard to imagine his England side capturing the nation’s hearts in the way that Gareth Southgate’s did last summer. No offence, Crouchy.
12. Kevin Keegan (1999-2000)
Highlight: Beat Germany
Lowlight: Quit in the loo
Keegan took control of his country in 1999 and successfully steered them to the following year’s European Championship, overcoming Scotland in a qualification play-off. England weren’t much cop at the tournament itself, though, throwing away leads to lose to both Portugal and Romania either side of a forgettable 1-0 triumph over the worst Germany team in decades.
His tenure with the national team ended with a defeat by the Germans in a qualifier for the 2002 World Cup. In the last game played at the old Wembley, King Kev abdicated the throne after a rare Dietmar Hamann goal settled the match in the visitors’ favour, telling David Davies of his resignation inside a toilet cubicle. Some way to go.
11. Fabio Capello (2008-2012)
Highlight: Revenge over Croatia
Lowlight: Capello Index/Germany meltdown
After the golden generation’s continued failures throughout the 2000s, Capello – a no-nonsense disciplinarian who had won seven league titles and the Champions League at club level – was seen as the ideal man to whip a ragtag bunch of overpaid prima donnas into shape. It started well too, England steamrollering their way past everything in sight to qualify for the 2010 World Cup at a canter.
Yet Capello’s side were dismal in South Africa, drawing with the United States and Algeria (the latter being arguably the worst game in the history of professional football), before crashing out after a 4-1 thrashing by Germany. That defeat revealed that Capello was a busted flush tactically as the Germans’ between-the-lines attackers found gaps in England’s rigid, outmoded system. He clung on until 2012, before resigning in protest at the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy.
10. Don Revie (1974-1977)
Highlight: Beating West Germany
Lowlight: Sneaking off to Dubai
A great manager at Leeds, Revie never got to grips with his role as Alf Ramsey’s successor. He failed to qualify for a major tournament, although the nature of a 16-team World Cup and four-team Euros worked against him. There were good results; beating world champions West Germany 2-0, a strong Czech team 3-0 and Scotland 5-1.
Yet his mistrust of flair players, a strained relationship with FA bigwigs and England’s declining form led to an abrupt end. Revie sensationally left England to manage the UAE, selling the story of his departure to the Daily Mail – “Revie Quits Over Aggro” – before the FA had received his resignation letter.
9. Roy Hodgson (2012-2016)
Highlight: Euro 2012 was quite fun
Lowlight: Freezing against Iceland
Hodgson was no stranger to international management, having previously taken charge of Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Finland. His appointment in 2012 was a surprise – Harry Redknapp was favourite for the job – but he did a reasonable job at the European Championship a few months later, guiding England to the quarter-finals before they were given the run-around by Andrea Pirlo.
Hodgson was undefeated in qualifying matches (16 wins, four draws), but his team underwhelmed at both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. England failed to get out of the group at the former tournament, before suffering an ignominious last-16 defeat by Iceland in France two years later. Hodgson did plenty to freshen England up after the Capello era, but he ultimately failed when it really mattered.
8. Glenn Hoddle (1996-1999)
Highlight: World Cup qualification in Rome
Lowlight: Dubious reincarnation views
A mixed bag for Hoddle, who encouraged an attacking, passing style and whose victory at Le Tournoi is still recalled in revered tones in every office (OK, in FourFourTwo’s office). Yet Hoddle didn’t always get selections right. At the 1998 World Cup, his decision not to start a red-hot Michael Owen in the first two games was a head-scratcher. At least Owen was in the side for the epic 2-2 draw and subsequent shootout loss to Argentina in the last 16.
Hoddle’s own exit was less epic. After intimating that people with disabilities may be paying for sins in a former life, he was let go, despite Hoddle’s claim that his words had been misinterpreted. A fine training-ground coach, it’s widely felt that his man-management deficiencies let him down.
7. Ron Greenwood (1977-1982)
Highlight: Two major tournaments
Lowlight: Two dour draws
A manager defined less by who he was than who he wasn’t. Brian Clough was the popular choice to become England boss in 1977, but the FA chose the less irascible option of Greenwood, manager of a stylish West Ham side in the 1960s.
An able pair of hands, Greenwood took England to the 1982 World Cup after the failures of 1974 and 1978. His team topped their first group in Spain but back-to-back 0-0s in the second group stage spelled doom, with some suspecting that defensive-minded coach Don Howe had too much influence.
6. Walter Winterbottom (1946-1962)
Highlight: World Cup quarter-finals (1954, 1962)
Lowlight: Humbled by Uncle Sam
England’s first full-time manager, pipe-smoking Winterbottom guided England to four successive World Cups (which is good) but lost 1-0 to a semi-professional USA side in 1950 (which is very bad).
Winterbottom’s 16-year spell had other ups and downs. He convinced the FA that a manager should have sole control over team selection before he left the role, and repeatedly warned that sides in Europe and South America were surpassing England. Yet despite that astute analysis, Winterbottom didn’t seem able to learn from England’s chastening 6-3 and 7-1 defeats by Hungary – undoubtedly a missed opportunity for self-reflection.
5. Sven-Goran Eriksson (2001-2006)
Highlight: 5-1 vs Germany
Lowlight: Fake sheikh shenanigans
A mild-mannered chap who provokes fiercely differing opinions. On the one hand, England’s first foreign manager bested an admittedly-weak German side 5-1, took England to a World Cup quarter-final and generally delivered better results than the managers before or after him.
The Swede’s critics would argue that he was never able to coax the best out of a gifted crop of players, while various off-field scandals – the most amusing being Eriksson telling a ‘fake sheikh’ that he’d take the Aston Villa job after England won the World Cup – certainly didn’t help. Yet his reign is ultimately proof that the margins are fine at international level, with Eriksson’s England suffering two penalty shoot-out defeats in the quarter-finals of successive major tournament.
4. Terry Venables (1994-1996)
Highlight: Football’s coming home (or being on the first cover of FFT 25 years ago... you decide)
Lowlight: El Tel left early
Venables was a slick operator with the media and a renowned coach. He used the Euro 1996 warm-ups to fine-tune his ‘Christmas tree’ formation, with Alan Shearer the burly fairy up top. It paid off in a tournament lit up by Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland and a 4-1 demolition of the Netherlands. England were fortunate to sneak past Spain in the quarter-finals, but had chances to beat Germany in the last four before the inevitable exit on penalties.
Venables stood down post-Euros, believing that the FA were unlikely to back him during the ongoing business and legal disputes which played out in the background of his tenure.
3. Gareth Southgate (2016-present)
Highlight: Football’s coming home: part II
Lowlight: How do you break an arm while jogging?
Southgate got the England job in unusual circumstances, replacing Sam Allardyce after the ex-Bolton boss was disposed following a newspaper sting. Expectations were low – his only previous experience of senior management came at Middlesbrough, who were relegated from the top flight on his watch – but Southgate has already exceeded them, creating a fresh, vibrant and attacking team on the pitch and making articulate, intelligent statements off it.
He also took England to their first semi-final in almost three decades at the 2018 World Cup. Extra time against Croatia proved a bridge too far, but at least we got to hear a crowd – nay, a country – serenade the England manager with: “Southgate you’re the one; you still turn me on”, which didn’t feature in even the wildest pre-tournament predictions.
2. Bobby Robson (1982-1990)
Highlight: Nessun Dorma
Lowlight: Hand of God
Memories of Robson’s reign focus on his twinkly-eyed charm and the glorious oh-so-near of Italia ’90, but it wasn’t always such a love-in. After exiting the 1986 World Cup to Argentina, Robson felt the venom of the press when Euro 1988 went badly wrong (three games, three defeats).
All that changed when England reached the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, taking eventual winners West Germany to penalties only to lose the shootout. That campaign played a big part in sparking the football renaissance in England during the 1990s, yet it’s the loyalty he inspired in players as varied as Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker and Terry Butcher that define Robson. A terrific man-manager and a terrific football man.
1. Alf Ramsey (1963-1974)
Highlight: Take a wild guess...
Lowlight: Substituting Charlton in 1970
Contrarians might point out that Ramsey is the only England boss fortunate enough to have the advantage of a World Cup on home soil. He also had a formidable group of players to pick from, including Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks. However, other England managers have boasted world-class players and never come close to finding a system to unlock their talent. Ramsey did.
His ‘wingless wonders’ won the World Cup in 1966, and while it’s a shame his time in the job ended with the sack after failure to qualify for 1974 the World Cup, his legacy was secure by then. A sunny afternoon at Wembley; Bobby Moore lifting the trophy as the team hoisted their captain aloft; Ramsey watching on, letting his players soak up the adulation.
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