Alf Ramsey: The Man Every England Manager Still Aspires To

Matthew Crist by Matthew Crist / 28 June 2018, 14:27

With England easing though to the knockout stages with a game to spare expectation levels across the nation have understandably risen, no doubt helped by the fact that the 6-1 win over Panama was the first time the Three Lions have scored four goals or more in a World Cup game since they last won the tournament.

Crazy comparisons between teams of today and the past will always be made but if Gareth Southgate, who has largely impressed in the competition thus far, is to become the first England manager to win the World Cup for over 50 years then there is one man he will have to emulate.

Alf Ramsey was born in Essex, on 22 January 1920. A top-class player in his own right at Southampton and then Spurs, a talented right-back who was capped 32 times for England and captained his country on three occasions while gaining the name “The General” due to his tremendous grasp of the tactical side of the game.

Finishing his playing career at the age of just 35 Ramsey quickly embarked on a career in management, taking Third Division Ipswich to the top flight of English football in just six years, incredibly winning the Division One title at the first time of asking in 1962.

Unsurprisingly his achievements didn’t go unnoticed and he was soon appointed as the England manager, taking over from beleaguered boss Walter Winterbottom who had resigned following much criticism at the 1962 World Cup.

Alf Ramsey

In one of his first press conferences in charge Ramsey bravely, and perhaps stupidly, declared that England would win the World Cup in 1966 which was to be held in England while also demanding complete control of the team and team selections; something which had previously been overseen by board committees.

Dubbed England’s first manager Ramsey set about instilling a new approach to the job naming a 22-year old Bobby Moore as his new captain, the youngest ever England skipper at the time as he looked to promote youth in his side, something for which he would reap the rewards just a few years later.

His team became known as the ‘wingless wonders’ thanks to a narrow 4-4-2 with a packed midfield containing the likes of Alan Ball who would run tirelessly ably backed-up by Nobby Stiles, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton who were able to change formation when required in order to confuse their opponents.

As well as something of a tactical genius Alf Ramsey also demanded a high standard of performance and reliability off the pitch too. Like Southgate he had little time for superstar treatment, often placing as much emphasis on physical fitness as tactical understanding.

After a slow start to the World Cup of 1966 Ramsey’s words looked like they might come back to haunt him, but having qualified for the knockout stages his team grew as Ramsey switched from a 4–3–3 formation to 4–4–2 with Ball and Peters operating on the flanks while Manchester United pair Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton moved to the centre.

And on July 30 1966, Ramsey's promise was fulfilled as England became World Champions when they defeated West Germany in the final at Wembley in another tactical masterclass which saw a 21-year old Alan Ball run the midfield while Geoff Hurst, who had been brought in to replace the injured Jimmy Greaves, kept his place and vindicated the decision by scoring a hat trick in a 4-2 extra-time win.

Hurst later revealed that at the end of 90 minutes, Ramsey forbade his players to lie down on the pitch to rest like their opponents were. "Look at them," he told the England them, "They're finished. You've won it once. Now you'll have to go out there and win it again."

Despite the greatest sporting achievement in the nation’s history Ramsey did not join in the celebrations, instead letting his players enjoy the moment among themselves on the pitch and with the 100,000 England fans in the stands.

Ramsey was knighted for his achievements a year later and eventually left the role as England manager following defeat to Germany in the 1970 World Cup but his achievements, not to mention a calm demeanour, down-to-earth approach and keen tactical awareness mean he still remains the only manager ever to win the World Cup with England.

Many more have come and gone over the last half century or so as England look to find a man capable of filling the huge shoes left by Alf Ramsey and to compare the current incumbent with the nation’s only World Cup winner to date would be as ridiculous as it is unfair.

But in Gareth Southgate they have opted for a man with similar values to Ramsey who appears unfazed by the ghosts of the past and is prepared to do things his way while also giving youth a chance to flourish – whether he is afforded the same luxury only time will tell.


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