Howard Kendall should have been given the England job in preference to Graham Taylor in 1990 when Bobby Robson left the post. His credentials were far better, he had won far more, he had managed abroad, and had had a top playing career. Yet, amazingly, when the FA decided in the spring of 1990 that (come what may) Bobby Robson would be on his way following the Italia World Cup that summer, he was not even seriously considered for the position.

Robson’s reign

Up until the World Cup of 1990, Bobby Robson had been a moderate success as England manager. He had somewhat luckily reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1986 after a dreadful start in the group stages of the Mexico tournament had left England with just one point from the opening two games.

In the second of these matches, an abject goalless draw against Morocco, captain Bryan Robson got injured and sidelined from the rest of the tournament. His deputy, Ray Wilkins, then got himself sent off and subsequently suspended. This meant Robson was forced into changes for the vital last group game against Poland.

This was the game when Lineker, and to a lesser extent, Beardsley, came of age and a hat-trick from the former saw England through to the last 16. Here unfancied Paraguay were duly dispatched by the same 3-0 scoreline that had seen off the Poles, and England were into the last eight.

In the quarter-finals, England met Argentina and lost 2-1 to two Diego Maradona goals. One was a fantastic solo effort, the other a blatant piece of cheating. Those, as most people know, are the bare details of this game, one of the most memorable and controversial in England’s World Cup history.

However, what is usually overlooked in reviews of this game is the fact that England were not really very good for most of the match. They were very cautious and played a containing game for the entire first half as if making the quarter-finals after their wretched start was a relief. They were now intent on ensuring they didn’t lose heavily and could go home with dignity intact.

Argentina scored their two goals early in the second half and, despite the uniqueness of each, England were totally culpable in both cases. Maradonna should never have been able to outjump Shilton, nor run basically unchallenged from his own half of the field.

England ‘gave it a go’ only when they were 2-0 down and had nothing to lose. It was then that Robson threw on Barnes who created two chances for Lineker, one he converted, one he didn’t, and England were out of the competition. More than thirty years later many Englishmen still complain about this game, but few for the right reasons.

Bobby Robson was England manager for eight years and during that time he had two ‘cracks’ at both the World Cup and the European Championships

His record in the European Championships wasn’t good, to say the least. England failed to qualify for the 1984 tournament in France, and although they did qualify for the 1988 tournament in West Germany they promptly lost all three group games and returned home pointless.

It was probably this poor showing in West Germany that made up the minds of the FA to not offer Bobby Robson an extension to his contract following the 1990 World Cup. Knowing he was unlikely to be offered a new deal Robson, quite reasonably, secured his future by signing a pre-contract deal to take over as Head Coach of PSV Eindhoven upon the conclusion of Italia ’90.

This decision to dispense with Robson’s services come what may, of course, came back to bite the FA on the bum when, against all the odds, England went to within a couple of penalty kicks of reaching the final.

Potential suitors

In the spring of 1990, it became public knowledge that Robson would be leaving and so the hunt for a successor was launched. There were several names put forward by the public and the media in particular as being likely contenders. These included Kendall, Terry Venables of Tottenham, Graham Taylor then managing Aston Villa, and Joe Royle who had worked well at Oldham. There were a few others mentioned as possible outsider choices such as Steve Coppell, then in the first of about two dozen spells in charge of Crystal Palace, and even Jack Charlton, who had led the Republic of Ireland to the European Championships in 1988, where they beat England, and would go onto to lead the Irish to the quarter-finals in Italia ’90.

As England readied for the tournament, however, the serious money was being placed on one of Taylor, Venables or Kendall being named Robson’s successor and each man had his supporters and at least a half-decent CV.

Terry Venables

By the early spring of 1990, Terry Venables had been involved in coaching or managing for close on a decade and a half with highly impressive results, and he had a strong claim on paper to support his candidature.

He had started out as a young coach working under Malcolm Allison at Crystal Palace in the mid-seventies before assuming the role of team manager. Crystal Palace were promoted to the top flight with Venables in charge in 1979, and attacked the following season with such zeal that they sat top of the entire football league two months into 1979-80 and were promptly labelled ‘Team of the Eighties’.

While that didn’t quite work out, Palace did enjoy a more than satisfactory first season in the top flight before Venables somewhat surprisingly quit Selhurst Park to take over at Queens Park Rangers, then in the Second Division.

While Palace turned to, amongst others, Allison once again, QPR and Venables enjoyed a good deal of success, reaching the FA Cup final in 1982 and gaining promotion the following year. Once again a Venables team made a strong initial impact on the top division as QPR finished fourth in 1983/84 and so qualified for the following season’s EUFA Cup.

At the time EUFA didn’t permit any match in one of their competitions to be played on an artificial pitch such as that laid at QPR’s Loftus Road stadium, and so QPR were required to play all ‘home’ games at Arsenal’s Highbury ground. For Terry Venables, though, all this was to prove academic as in the summer of 1984 he was, rather surprisingly, to say the least, appointed manager of Catalan giants Barcelona.

Bobby Robson had ironically been Barcelona’s first choice as manager, but he was unwilling to walk out on England after less than two years at the helm, and so he recommended Venables instead. It was an inspired choice, as under Venables Barcelona won La Liga for the first time in many years in 1985 and reached the final of the first post-Heysel European Cup the following year, where Venables started the trend of “Englishman Penalties” by seeing his side miss four in a shoot-out defeat to Steaua Bucharest.

The following season, 1986/87, didn’t prove to be as successful and Barcelona, showing traditional levels of patience and restraint, duly dispensed with his services in the early autumn of 1987. After a very short spell out of work, Venables was offered, and accepted, the post of team boss at Spurs, replacing David Pleat (at one time himself seen as a possible future England manager before a rather unpleasant and unfortunate fall from grace, but that’s another story).

By the time Robson’s imminent departure became public knowledge, Venables had been in charge at Tottenham for two and a half seasons, and although Spurs had yet to win anything under his tutelage, they were generally thought to be heading in the right direction and to be not far away from becoming a major force in the English game. Under Venables they would finish a strong third in the old first division in the 1989/90 season, and but for the Heysel ban would have qualified for Europe, and, indeed, Venables and an inspired Paul Gascoigne would win the FA Cup the following season.

Yet for all his impressive credentials, Venables was not seriously considered as a contender at this point. Why not? It seems odd that Venables was not deemed worthy of even an interview in 1990, while Taylor and Royle, who, despite being undisputedly good coaches, had never won anything between them and had both spent either the majority (Taylor) or the entirety (Royle) of their managerial careers to date operating outside of the top flight, were.

To this day Venables himself remains perplexed by the lack of interest shown in him by the FA in 1990. In his first autobiography (released before he was forced to pull it by Lord Sugar’s legal action against him) he stated that he had no real idea why he wasn’t considered for the job at this time other than the feeling that people felt he was ‘too happy, settled and involved at Spurs’ to have been interested in the job.

Venables would go on to become Chief Executive at Spurs in the coming months, and there was maybe an underlying feeling that he wouldn’t have accepted the job had it been offered him. In first his book Venables says that this wasn’t the case and he would have liked to have been asked at least.

Taylor, Kendall and Royle

This left the door open to a two-way fight for the job between Taylor and Kendall, with Royle very much the outsider. All three were invited to FA headquarters for an interview, but although he desperately wanted the job, Kendall declined the chance to be interviewed.

In an interview in the Independent newspaper in 2008, he disclosed that back in 1990 he and the other two men had been sounded out by the FA in order to gauge their interest and that he, Kendall, while expressing interest, had asked off the record what his chances were. He had been told, evidently, that the interview process was just for show and that Graham Taylor was practically assured of being appointed. On this basis, Kendall decided to give the interview a swerve and Taylor was thus practically elected unopposed.

Next time we will look in more detail at the management career of Howard Kendall up to 1990 and at his credentials with regards to the England job. In particular, we will compare them with those of the man who was eventually appointed, Graham Taylor.

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David Nesbit

Living and working in SE Asia
David Nesbit
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