Don Revie as England Manager
England Caps : 6
Goals : 4
Player : 1954-1955
Manager : 1974-1977
Don Revie’s controversy-packed three years in the England manager’s post was in stark contrast to the long tenure of the previous two incumbents. It also marked a change in approach for the FA as they began to get to grips with the new commerciality of the game in the Seventies.
Revolutionary PlayerRevie had had a successful playing career winning six England caps the Footballer of the Year award in 1955 and the FA Cup with Manchester City in 1956. City were using a new tactic, borrowed from the Hungarian team who had decimated England at Wembley in a 3-6 defeat in 1953, of playing a deep-lying centre-forward who would pull the opposing centre-half out of position and then play the ball into the resulting gap. This was called the ‘Revie Plan’ at Man City, as he played that centre-forward role.
Leeds United Boom YearsHe then moved on to manage Leeds United, taking them from a small provincial club to big-hitters in the First Division, with much success at home and in Europe. When Sir Alf Ramsey was sacked, following England’s failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, Revie was considered the natural successor and was appointed in July 1974. Revie was more approachable and PR-friendly than Ramsey and cultivated that relationship.
Good StartRevie got off to a good start with a 3-0 win against Czechoslovakia, and a less creditable 0-0 draw against Portugal, both games being qualifiers for the European Cup in 1976. Then he put the veteran Alan Ball alongside Alan Hudson in midfield for a 2-0 friendly win against West Germany, and then the 5-1 thumping of Cyprus, the group’s whipping boys. The pairing, and Hudson in particular played well, even the Germans acclaiming his skills, but, in a move characteristic of Revie’s time, first Hudson and then Ball were discarded without explanation, and eventually England failed to qualify.
Tensions at the TopThe next target was the Argentinean World Cup in 1978 but already the relationship between Revie and the football authorities was deteriorating. Revie was particularly loathed by Alan Hardaker, the dictatorial Football League Secretary who had refused to postpone First Division matches for the Saturday before an England international, as is common today. In times when outstanding individual talents were few and far between, Revie believed that getting the team together as much as possible was key, but the authorities wouldn’t play ball. Revie arranged non-footballing activities such as bingo and bowling tournaments to foster team spirit, but that didn’t go down well with many of the senior players.
Lack of QualityAlthough good players, among them Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Trevor Francis and Gerry Francis were available, injuries caused havoc with a lack of quality in depth at the time. Revie’s response was to try many different combinations, but this was criticised as a lack of decision. Without a stable team core developing, England went into the 1978 World Cup qualification with home and away wins over Finland but then defeat by Italy in Rome.
The closer relationship Revie had developed with the press was now beginning to bite back as he paid too much attention to what they were saying. Going out to Rome expecting a dour hard battle, Revie had packed the defence and midfield with more defensive minded players, who were then undone by the Italians’ skills and didn’t have the creativity to respond.
Hard TimesThe following spring things got worse. England’s dismal performances in the Home Championship, with both Wales and Scotland winning at Wembley, put more pressure on Revie. With the world and his dog predicting England’s failure to qualify, and believing that he was likely to be sacked immediately afterward, Revie secretly lined up a job as the Saudi Arabian national team manager just before the England team departed on a tour of South America.
The tour went reasonably well, with drawn matches against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, but the key point was that there was only one team change throughout all three matches, and it looked as though Revie had finally settled on a team.