You know where you are with a Brazil team. Attack minded, adventurous in possession , technically excellent, and usually containing enough stellar talents that they can win despite the lack of a decent goalkeeper.

Holland? A passing game, circulating the ball in order to create space for two pacey wingers in the final third. Players that are adaptable enough to switch between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3. Oh, and they love to have a big row every couple of tournaments.

Germany? Athletic, well organized, efficient, with the emphasis on the collective rather than the individual. Attacking full backs, excellent goalkeepers. And, yeah, great at penalties.
Watching these teams is, to quote baseball legend Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again.
Now, do the same thing with the England Team. A few words might crop up consistently in describing their efforts; clueless, weak willed, baffling, embarrassing. But their style? Which one? Hodgson alone must have tried half a dozen different systems in the last 6 months, from a counter attacking 4-3-3 in qualification, to a sterile, possession based 4-3-3 in the tournament itself, with excursions into midfield diamonds and 4-4-2 along the way.

The simple fact is, as a quick trawl through the list of recent England managers will attest, there is no overarching identity with the national team, no blueprint, no plan, and there hasn’t been one for nearly 50 years.

Other than the realization that the F.A. are very fond of employing  what might loosely be termed as Good Blokes, there seems little discernible pattern to the appointments. Broadly speaking, you might link Taylor, Keegan and early stage Hodgson together as proponents of direct football, who like to get the ball forward quickly. Greenwood, Robson, and Sven were essentially pragmatic, and seemed to switch styles and systems according to the whims of their favoured players. That leaves two genuinely top class Coaches in Revie and Capello, whose style of micro managing their players was ill suited to International football, and, lastly, Terry Venables and Glen Hoddle. These last two are interesting, as there seems to have been a discernible effort within the F.A. between 94-98 to create an England Team with a modern, progressive, mid European style. Both believed in a possession based game, were tactically confident enough to switch between 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, and gave creative freedom to their players. They also shared a more unfortunate linkage; both went out at major tournaments on penalties, after excellent performances against top class opposition, and both were fired for reasons that had nothing to do with football.

Does any of this really matter? Well, no, not if we’d won a World or Euro Cup in the post 1970 epoch, or even if we consistently made it into the semis or finals of these major tournaments. However, the lack of an overall plan, that absence of a tangible sense of direction, has seen the England Manager’s role described as The Impossible Job, reflecting a vicious circle where each appointment has to start from scratch, and attempt to change a culture characterized by fear of failure.

Identity is important to successful Organizations. Knowing what you stand for, what your aims are, and how you intend to achieve them, are imperative to high performance. You can identify this phenomenon in business as well as in top class sport. Take companies as diverse as Tesco, McDonalds, Apple and Honda. Then compare them to British Home Stores, Little Chef, Blackberry and Lotus. Put simply, the former know what they stand for, whilst the latter don’t. A strong identity, and end in mind, and a good plan of action can create a virtuous circle where good practice and favorable results re-enforce themselves, as if in a continuous loop.

At First Steps Soccer we have a strong idea of what we are trying to achieve. An FSS graduate should have quick feet, and good agility, and be confident in receiving the ball, and taking players on in one on one situations. They should become skillful, creative players who love the game, and are a pleasure to watch. Our Coaching team continually work with this end in mind, which is supported by our syllabus, and a range of supporting materials, such as our skills videos and books.

As noted in my opening there are many different, successful styles in football. My preference would always be for a Pep Guardiola team rather than one coached by Jose Mourinho, but that is just a matter of taste. However, a strong, coherent identity for the National Team might make the Impossible job, well, possible.

A trained McDonalds Manager that takes over a branch of the chain is still going to get the food out on time, and match the previous incumbents returns. And if First Steps Soccer had set the Mission Plan for Team England 50 years ago,and a series of  Managers had bought into our vision, Glen Hoddle and Matt Le Tissier would have won a load more caps!

Which brings us to Big Sam. Now Sam does have a well defined set of beliefs; only Capello on our list, and perhaps Venables, would have possessed such a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. This clarity of purpose has broadly speaking brought him a consistent record of achievement, with a special talent for turning round a failing team quickly. He knows how he wants his sides to play, is tactically good at negating the oppositions strengths, and will guarantee that every player within the team knows exactly what his role is. Sam won’t have Sturridge on the wing, or Kane taking corner kicks.

Will he be a successful Manager? I think he’ll do better than many recent appointments for the reasons outlined above. Whether his direct style of play, using long balls from a solid defence to release speedy forwards, allied with imaginative, well worked set pieces, will get England beyond a quarter final is doubtful, but I think we can say with certainty that, under Sam, we won’t suffer the muddled thinking that characterised Hodgson’s tenure.

The question remains, though: what happens when England go out on penalties in the next major tournament? Whose next in the frame? And when we look at a couple of candidates, it throws into sharp relief this recurring problem with an identity. Will it be Eddie Howe, whose teams play like a small town version of Barcelona? Or Arsene Wenger, Big Sam’s philosophical opposite, all style with an aversion to the pragmatic. Whatever happens, it seems we’ll be as far away as ever from a coherent, long term vision for the England National Team.

And the England Manager’s job will still seem impossible.