Last time we looked at the circumstances behind the decision to change England manager following the 1990 World Cup. As well as considering the progress made under Bobby Robson during his tenure as England boss, we examined the merits of Terry Venables’ suitability for the job at that time.
This time we will look at Howard Kendall’s right to be considered as Robson’s successor, and compare it with that of Graham Taylor, who was of course eventually appointed as such.
The appointment of Taylor was to prove to be an act of folly of the highest magnitude, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we can all be wise after the event, it shouldn’t have ever come to that. Kendall and his credentials in 1990 far outweighed those of Taylor (as did Venables’) and were there for all to see.
Kendall had had a top-notch playing career, mainly at Everton where he formed one-third of the ‘holy trinity’ in Everton’s midfield alongside Alan Ball and Colin Harvey ( who would both go onto have somewhat less than stellar management careers themselves).
Whilst at Everton as a player, Kendall won the First Division League title and reached the final of the FA Cup once, but was somewhat amazingly, never capped by England (Harvey received one cap, Ball 72). In 1974 he was transferred to Birmingham as a reluctant makeweight in the deal that took Bob Latchford in the opposite direction, and after more than a hundred appearances for the Brummies, he left to become player-coach at Stoke.
After a successful season in which Stoke gained promotion to the top flight, Kendall took over as player-manager of Blackburn Rovers, then in the Third Division. He was a big success, winning promotion to the Second Division in 1979-80 and only just missing out on promotion to the old First Division, and so back-to-back promotions, on the last day of the following season.
This led to an offer to manage his beloved Everton in the autumn of 1981. The first two or three years were not particularly successful and Kendall was rumoured to be on the verge of getting the sack two years later when he pulled off what in hindsight proved to be a masterstroke with the signing of Andy Gray.
The next three-and-a-half years were breathtaking for Everton and their supporters as their club finally escaped from the shadow of their Merseyside neighbours, Liverpool, and experienced unparalleled success in the club’s best ever period. From 1984 to 1987, Everton were League Champions twice (and runners-up once), FA Cup winners once (runners-up twice), European Cup Winners Cup champions once, and League Cup runners up once. Throw in three Charity Shield successes (one shared) and it is a truly remarkable record.
Graham Taylor in the same period led Watford to an FA Cup final (defeat to Kendall’s Everton in 1984) and another semi-final (in 1987).
In 1987, with Everton fresh off their second title win in three years, Kendall resigned and took over as manager of Athletico Bilbao in Spain, citing the desire for a new challenge. He had been considered for the position of Barcelona manager previously but had not been appointed. Now, however, the time was right for a move.
Why did Kendall decide to leave Everton when they were at the zenith of English football and what were these new challenges he spoke of? It was widely assumed, and still is, that Kendall was frustrated at being unable to manage Everton in Europe due to the Heysel ban that had been in effect since the summer of 1985, and that Kendall felt a real desire to try and prove himself abroad. It is true that Everton had a very good team during this period which may well have challenged for the European Cup in 1985-86 and one can understand his and Everton fans’ frustration at being denied the opportunity to compete.
This frustration lingers in the minds and hearts of many an Evertonian to this day, and even now there is a tendency amongst sections of their support to blame the Heysel ban, and more particularly Liverpool and their fans’ culpability in its enforcement, for Everton’s relative lack of success since 1987.
While it is true that the ban robbed Everton of their chance to play in the European Cup, it seems somewhat simplistic and downright unreasonable to blame their woes of the past thirty years on this one fact. Sides such as Luton, Coventry, Oxford, Norwich, Southampton, and Wimbledon were also all denied places in Europe in this time period and have all gone on to experience real hard times – Luton and Oxford being relegated to the non-league ranks and Wimbledon ceasing to exist altogether – and yet none seem to have spent the last three decades blaming Liverpool for their plight.
The ban doesn’t seem to have had any lasting effect on some of the other clubs also denied a place in Europe such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.
However, while this factor undoubtedly played a part in Kendall’s decision to go abroad, it is possible that he also had one eye on the England job too. In 1987 Bobby Robson had been in charge for five years and was thought (rightly as it turned out) to have a maximum of three more years in the position. The runners and riders who hoped to replace Robson in 1990 at the latest had to start jockeying for position.
Kendall probably he felt that he had done enough with Everton, and with no European challenge to be had with them he would have to go overseas in order to progress and put himself near the top of the contenders.
At the same time, Graham Taylor was coming to a similar conclusion and knew if he wanted to be taken seriously as a contender for the top job he too had to leave his comfort zone. He had done a fantastic job at Watford in taking them up from the old Fourth Division to the First and not only keeping them there but taking them to runners-up (a distant second to Liverpool in 1983) but also to Wembley for the 1984 FA Cup Final. Now, in 1987, it was time for him to prove he could a job at a ‘big’ club and it was fortunate indeed that one fell into his lap.
Aston Villa had been League Champions as recently as six years previously, and European Champions just five, but now had fallen on hard times. In 1986-87 this had culminated in relegation to the Second Division. Taylor was offered the manager’s position at Villa Park and didn’t hesitate.
He did well, getting the club promoted at the first attempt and this showed that he didn’t just have the secrets to success with the Watfords of the footballing world.
At Watford, he had often been accused of masterminding a rather direct style of football, which while successful, was not particularly pleasing on the eye. At Aston Villa, initially, at least, he kept to these principals and promotion was secured.
1988-89 was not a successful first season back in the top division for Villa, however. Relegation was a real threat for much of the season and safety was only secured right at the tail end of the season. Thus coming into the 1989-90 season, and just one year before a likely change in the England job, Taylor needed a good season to stay in the running, as indeed did Kendall.
Kendall had done reasonably well in Spain with Bilbao but had been unable to win any major trophies and had gotten frustrated at the lack of resources and funds available to him. A poor start to the 1989-90 season saw him back in England and unemployed. This didn’t last long as one of English football’s famous old clubs was soon in touch. Manchester City were desperate for success. They had spent a largely unhappy 1980s yo-yo-ing up and down the league table, even suffering relegation in the decade’s middle years, and were looking for some sign of stability.
Not unreasonably they turned to a man with a proven track record and for a while, the prognosis looked good.
Under Kendall, City finished a safe fourteenth in 1990 after looking like relegation fodder when he arrived. So those were Kendall’s credentials for consideration for the ‘top job’: good playing career, two league titles, an FA Cup, a European trophy, management overseas, and the (partial at least) restoration of one of football’s most notorious basket-case football clubs.
Taylor, though, was far from out of the running. Aston Villa, playing it must be said a somewhat refined Taylor style of football, spent much of 1989-90 challenging Liverpool and Arsenal for the First Division title before falling away in the last three or four games and finally finishing second.
In all reality, it was probably this strong season which resulted in Taylor getting the nod over Kendall. However, it shouldn’t have done.
Aston Villa should have won the title that year in what was a pretty poor quality season (they were five points ahead of Liverpool going into the run-in before self-imploding) and the fact that they didn’t win it from a position of strength should have been considered in the final reckoning on who got the England job. Kendall’s greater success and overseas experience should also have been nails in Taylor’s coffin, as should his preferred style of football.
No, although Taylor could be considered in many ways to be an unlucky England manager (Koeman’s foul on Platt, injuries to Gascoigne and Shearer at crucial times, the width of a post away from qualifying for the Euro Semi’s in 1992) the truth remains he shouldn’t have been in the job in the first place: Kendall should have been.
Had Kendall been appointed in 1990 then it is probable that England would have pushed on from their near success at Italia ’90. They would have been in with a very good chance of winning a very poor European Championships in Sweden ’92, and would undoubtedly not finished third in their 1994 World Cup qualifying group.
Kendall would have had more respect from the players than Taylor could ever have mustered, would have picked the best players available to him at the time (Beardsley and Waddle included) and would have brought in a better backroom team to assist him.
Whoever decided in the spring of 1990 to give Taylor the position without even hearing what Kendall (and Venables) had to say has a lot to answer for.