Dan Ashworth talks England Manager and the role of the Sporting Director
Published 30 June 2016
Roy Hodgson protege Dan Ashworth heads search for his successor as next England manager
When Dan Ashworth appeared on a panel at the Sporting Director Summit in London back in April, he spoke with great passion about his role at the FA and his belief that the foundations were in place for England to perform at the European Championship.
Two months on, after an embarrassing tournament exit that stunned everyone at the FA, he is now heading up a three-man team to find a successor to the man who brought him to the FA, Roy Hodgson.
The FA’s technical director described himself that night as a failed footballer, leaving Norwich City in his late teens and enjoying stints as a player in non league and the US.
Since returning to these shores 20 years ago, the 45-year-old has performed every role at a football club bar that of a manager, working his way up from Peterborough to West Bromwich Albion via Cambridge United and in doing so operating in every level of the professional game in England, from League Two to the Premier League.
That journey has given him intimate knowledge of how a football club operates from the training pitch to the boardroom.
Ashworth’s view of his role, whether it be at West Brom or with England, is that the technical director/director of football/sporting director provides the glue to an organisation and is the custodian of a philosophy that incoming managers then inherit.
In the case of the England set-up, he will discuss in detail with the chosen candidate how that philosophy works, making it clear that the manager is responsible for performances and results while he, as the technical director, offers support and keeps the rest of the structure aligned.
So what’s his track record been like when it comes to FA appointments? He was told that Mark Sampson was too young to follow in the footsteps of Hope Powell, but the England Women’s team’s third place finish in last year’s World Cup was the best tournament finish since 1966.
He brought in Aidy Boothroyd to coach England’s U19s, who went on a 10-game unbeaten run last season and, by knocking out Spain, now look forward to next month’s European Championship in Germany with many of the squad already boasting a European U17 title two years ago.
The U17 girls have qualified for the World Cup outright for the first time and travel to Jordan in the Autumn, but the players are being challenged to form the backbone of a senior women’s bid for the 2023 World Cup.
Away from the peak, England’s footballing pyramid is looking healthy, particularly when you remember that Gareth Southgate’s U21s won the Toulon Tournament. The former Middlesbrough boss, who has been at the FA for the past seven years, is someone who could step into the breach while the selection process for the England manager gets under way.
He is seen as more than capable enough to perform an interim role and could be appointed, if that’s deemed necessary, by a selection team that also includes chief executive Martin Glenn and vice-chairman David Gill.
Succession-planning is another key tenet of Dan Ashworth’s role as technical director. The fact Roy Hodgson’s contract was coming to an end this summer and the chance that he could walk away on the back of a successful tournament performance means the process to find the 68-year old’s successor would have been under way for many months.
Ashworth would have been negligent in his duties if he wasn’t talking to clubs and potential candidates about what might lie ahead but that succession-planning also extends to each of the 15 England teams over which he presides.
Ideally, the man to follow Hodgson would be an Englishman but this is a search focused on finding the right man.
The shadow of Fabio Capello, though, extends over this process with the FA determined to learn lessons from the appointment of a manager who had no links with the English game and whose reluctance to live in this country hampered both his grasp of the language and his understanding of a nation’s obsession with the team he picked and coached.
With that in mind, the FA will consider an “Anglicised” manager, someone who speaks the language, is prepared to make his home here and, fundamentally, has a real feel for English football.
Hodgson’s swift departure and an International calendar that means England don’t have a game until September gives the Football Association enough time to identify its next manager and there is a confidence that the timeframe will allow it to do just that.
The next manager will be challenged to take England to the latter stages of a major tournament, “latter” meaning the quarter-finals at a bare minimum, and will be given the necessary tools at St George’s Park to fulfil that objective.
He will also have a blueprint to work with, a plan aimed at bringing a consistent approach to all England teams. Eighteen months ago, following development, research and dialogue between the country’s best coaches, Ashworth introduced an England DNA Programme designed to ensure a “golden thread” runs through every team from the age of 15 to the senior sides of both the women and the men.
Drawing on the experience and expertise of the FA’s head of performance and strategy Dave Reddin and head of player and coach development Matt Croker, England DNA has been conceived to produce an “England way of playing” with consistent messages on and off the pitch for every player.
The man chosen to follow Hodgson will be presented with this framework to work with but it’s a framework that will flex and evolve reflecting the personality and priorities of the man placed in charge of the senior squad.
So the the biggest appointment of Ashworth’s time in football now beckons, for the first time since joining the FA in 2012 he is tasked with finding a manager to restore England’s international reputation and the pride of a nation while at the same time heading up a review as to just what went wrong in France this summer.