England can still learn from the great Sir Alf Ramsey
- Credit: PA
Half a century on, can England still learn lessons from Sir Alf Ramsey, our country’s greatest ever manager? TERRY HUNT thinks they can....
“There are only three certainties in life – death, taxes, and England messing up in major football tournaments.”
That was my personal contribution to the black humour which has been flooding social media channels since England’s humiliating exit from the Euros at the hands of mighty Iceland. Yes, it’s happened again, as it always does, time after time after time. It’s now 50 years of hurt and frustration since Alf Ramsey led England to World Cup glory in 1966.
All these years later, can we still learn lessons from Ramsey? Yes, I know – football, and life in general, has changed almost beyond recognition since those halcyon days. But surely the principles of man management, and team-building, still apply? Those skills created the team – and I use the word deliberately – which lifted the Jules Rimet trophy.
From the moment he became England manager, after taking homespun Ipswich Town to the First Division title, Ramsey had one goal, one obsession: For his England team to win the World Cup in front of their own fans in 1966. Nothing was ever going to deflect him from the ambition. The phrase his players remember vividly, delivered in Ramsey’s clipped tones, was: “Gentlemen, most certainly we will win the World Cup.’’ He believed it – and that belief spread through his players.
Sir Bobby Charlton tells the story of Ramsey’s triumph eloquently in his new book, “1966, my World Cup story.’’ Through every page, Charlton’s deep admiration for Ramsey shines through. Yes, in public, Ramsey often appeared awkward, even difficult, and Charlton recounts times when he could be distant and dismissive, even of the most established players.
Charlton says Ramsey deeply resented any of the players assuming their place was safe. He says: “It was the presumption of permanence surrounding a casual phrase like ‘see you next game’ that offended Alf to his core.’’
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Sir Bobby, arguably England’s greatest-ever player, also recalls a casual conversation with Ramsey at the end of a successful England tour, when Charlton had mentioned that he’d missed his family. The manager snapped back: “If I’d thought that was your attitude I wouldn’t have brought you on the trip.’’
Through such means, Ramsey kept even the most senior players on their toes, avoiding any complacency, but at the same time he built a great team ethic. His players – whether his Ipswich team or the World Cup winners – absolutely adored him. His sense of purpose and single-mindedness spread through the squad.
From 1963, when he became England manager, to the Wembley triumph in 1966, he built a team he trusted. A team – not a bunch of talented individuals. Of the line-up in his first game, only Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore survived to play in the World Cup Final.
Just as at Ipswich, Ramsey recognised it was not a case of picking the best 11 players – but assembling the most effective team. There were no sacred cows, not captain Jimmy Armfield or established keeper Ron Springett. They didn’t fit the Alf plan, so were jettisoned from the team, being replaced by Gordon Banks and George Cohen. Other building blocks came along in the lanky shape of Bobby Chalrton’s brother, Jack, and midfield terrier Nobby Stiles. Were “Big Jack’’ and Nobby great players? Not at all – but they fitted into the team.
Finally, he introduced Alan Ball, Martin Peters and, at the 11th hour, Geoff Hurst. We all know that Hurst became the hat-trick hero in the final, but he wasn’t in the team at the beginning of the tournament.
Then Jimmy Greaves – the great goalscorer of English football – picked up an injury. Even though Greaves was fit for the final, he watched from the sidelines. There was no room for sentimentality with Alf. Hurst was doing a good job for the team, and he kept his place, The rest is history...
There have been 15 England managers since Sir Alf was so shabbily sacked in 1974. None has lived up to Ramsey’s achievements. Memorably, Bobby Robson came closest in the 1990 World Cup.
But the rest, bluntly, have failed. Time and again, England have flopped at major tournaments. I know it’s not “the done thing’’ to look backwards. But a glance into history, at the largely unappreciated footballing genius of Sir Alf Ramsey, might not be a bad idea for the next England boss. The lessons are there to be learned.
As Bobby Chalrton signs off his book: “Sir Alf remains the great hero of the story I have been proud to tell.”