Shearer for top job

STEVE McCLAREN said right at the start that he would have to be judged on results. So it's goodbye from him, then.He was perhaps saved from a summary execution on Sunday by Russia's unexpected defeat in Israel.

STEVE McCLAREN said right at the start that he would have to be judged on results. So it's goodbye from him, then.

He was perhaps saved from a summary execution on Sunday by Russia's unexpected defeat in Israel.

But if his England players were really all behind him, as they claimed, they had a funny way of showing it.

Only Peter Crouch emerged with any credit at all from Wednesday's woeful defeat by Croatia. And he wouldn't have played if all McClaren's chosen players had been available.

OK, there were stars missing and the pitch was probably in the worst state ever seen at Wembley.

But neither of those things can excuse the worst 45 minutes I can remember from an England team. And I remember only too well the Graham Taylor and Kevin Keegan eras.

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It's not been a good season so far for former deputies. Sammy Lee at Bolton, Chris Hutchings at Wigan and now McClaren with England have all shown that promoting the No.2 is no sure route to success.

You could argue that none of the three was given time to make their mark. That all were victims of the boardroom habit of swinging the axe too soon.

Except that one reason why football's managers are so freely fired is that they are so haphazardly hired.

The one sure thing about being England manager is that it will end in humiliation. Even Sir Alf Ramsey, our one World Cup winner, found that. And even Bobby Robson, now remembered fondly for his near-success in 1990, failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship.

Our best, or luckiest, managers can appear tactically inept at times.

It took injuries to force Robson into picking his best line-up in 1986. Neither Sven Goran Eriksson nor McClaren ever realised what everyone else could see - that Steven Gerrard OR Frank Lampard is great, but both together is terrible.

Yet in 40-odd years, only two England managers - Taylor and Keegan - have seemed completely clueless. Both were outstanding club bosses, which shows how different the jobs of club and international management are.

In many people's eyes, the best England manager we never had was Brian Clough.

He was certainly inspirational, if unconventional, at club level. But would he have remained idolised as he was if the England job had ever come his way?

I doubt it very much. So whoever the FA board put in the driving-seat next can be sure that the end of the road is in Ignominy. He, and we, will just have to hope he can get there via Glory.

My choice, for what it's worth, would be Alan Shearer.

He has the wit, the passion, the football nous and, crucially, the players' respect.

And I think his lack of club management experience would be a plus.

His thinking and his habits will be unmuddled by all the detail that fills a club manager's life but is irrelevant at international level. There is plenty of precedent for a national captain going straight to national coach.

Jurgen Klinsmann and, longer ago, Franz Beckenbauer did it very successfully with Germany. Slaven Bilic hasn't done too badly with Croatia.

Whoever gets the England job next will have the advantage of starting with a virtually blank sheet.

With no tournament to worry about until the 2010 World Cup, the only way for England now is up.

So why am I writing about football - again - outside the sports pages?

Despite what the great Bill Shankly said, football isn't more important than life and death.

For some people, though, it virtually IS life. And for the rest of us it contains a lot of life's issues in sharp focus - much more so, say, than so-called reality TV or whatever soap people are watching these days.

I can get queasy sometimes over the nationalism inherent in the very idea of international sport. But I had far, far rather England went to play football with Iraq or Argentina, say, than going to war with them.

As for whether football matters, here's a little quiz for you. Be honest.

1. You got excited over the recent rugby World Cup, right? But can you name the current English champions or the two sides now vying at the top of the Guinness Premiership?

2. You enjoyed England's Ashes triumph over Australia in 2005 - but do you know who won this year's County Championship title, or the name of their coach?

3. Would you even have to stop and ponder before naming Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson?

I rest my case.

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