With England’s depressing draw and the United States’ drubbing at the hands of Spain, the detractors for both managers have come out in full force once again. Fabio Capello has long been the target of the English media ever since the World Cup last summer, and Bob Bradley has always divided opinion amongst soccer fans in the US. The problem that most fans of these two sides, as well as fans of most other international sides, have is their belief that a manager for an international side works in the same way as a club manager.
To begin with, international managers do not have a great amount of leeway in picking their side. Capello can’t buy or sell players; he can merely decide the 23 players he wants to call in from a list of English footballers. Occasionally players retire from international football, or younger players grow old enough to contribute, but over the course of Capello’s tenure, the number of players he realistically can choose from is around 40.
In addition to the limited pool of players an international coach can count on, the type of players available is also a problem. An international coach can’t spend an off-season working on a position switch, or refining a player’s technique on holding the ball with his back to goal. Managers have to take players as they are, more or less. Occasionally players will play different positions for club and country, but this is often met with mixed results, and isn’t something a coach can count on. Bob Bradley has had numerous problems in the center midfield because he is trying to force one of his three defensive midfielders into a more attacking role, and none of them are able to execute the role efficiently.
Along with the type of players available, the depth and quality of players at a position can also hamper an international manager. One of most US fan’s favorite past times is to criticize whoever Bob Bradley decides to start at left back, often Jonathan Bornstein being the target of this ire. Fans often forget that Bornstein is currently the best option at left back for the US in most situations. Until a natural left back develops, or a right back becomes comfortable playing on the opposite side of the pitch, there isn’t a lot Americans can do other than hope that Bornstein doesn’t make any mistakes. The US also has problems up top with a lack of any consistent goal scoring threat since Brian McBride retired from international duty several years ago.
A final problem faced by managers is the question of selecting the best 23 players for the squad, or selecting the best players to play in a specific formation. There are advocates on both sides of the issue, and for some managers it ends up being their downfall. No England manager has ever been able to successfully fit Gerrard and Lampard into the same midfield, and numerous games may have been lost because of it. Bob Bradley spent the early part of his tenure trying to find the perfect way to fit Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey into the squad to best effect, and no one doubts they are the two most talented American internationals right now.
In the end while managers are ultimately the ones who will be judged on their sides performance, it will do well for fans to temper expectations and realize that there is only so much an international manager can do to improve his squad. A lot of it is left up to the players on the pitch.