Nation must back Keegan's passion

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The Independent Online

Anyone who turned up at Wembley on Wednesday night after full-time would have struggled to work out just who were the winners and who were the losers. It was the Scotland fans who were celebrating, while England's just seemed relieved. Maybe that is the difference between the two countries: the expectation level.

Anyone who turned up at Wembley on Wednesday night after full-time would have struggled to work out just who were the winners and who were the losers. It was the Scotland fans who were celebrating, while England's just seemed relieved. Maybe that is the difference between the two countries: the expectation level.

If we are under-achievers, then England has become guilty of building up its team too high, especially as some people just want to knock the side back down again.

The country has a lot of talent, there's no question of that. But the problem is that the players are not transferring their club form to the international stage. People always seem to blame the coach as soon as there is the slightest problem, but it is the players who have to make the adjustment.

The talent is there, you see it every week in the Premiership: exciting young players such as David Beckham or Michael Owen, but what is never there with England is continuity. Maybe there are too many for Kevin Keegan to choose from, but continuity is something Scotland have had in recent years, if not in terms of injuries, then at least having the same faces in the squad.

England have used so many players in the European Championship qualifiers that no one is really given a chance - if they have an average performance, then they are chopped and changes are made. The country has to get behind the manager and the players over the next six months because the last thing you need in the run-up to Euro 2000 is more criticism. We suffered some in Scotland after Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Hampden: it does not build confidence and I was glad that it only surfaces rarely for Scotland rather than being around every match, as is the case with England.

The biggest asset England have is Keegan. I love it every time he speaks, because he talks with an honesty and passion but he never talks negatively. I played under Liam Brady at Celtic and Jean Tigana at Monaco, who were both great players who understood my role, especially as a midfielder. But Keegan tries to understand every player. He's not a fake, he's a natural leader and the rest of the country should back him.

All he seems to get is negative stuff from the press. I spent two years in France and I rarely saw this kind of journalism, but it also helps provide realistic expectations. England don't have a divine right to be at the finals. What about Ukraine, who have gifted players? It's a shame to think a player like Andrei Shevchenko will not grace the tournament. Or the Republic of Ireland, who must feel gutted?

Or even Scotland, for that matter? We felt we deserved to win the tie. We never claimed to have the best individual players in Britain, but any manager will tell you that you have to have a team unit and that you need to think about each other on the pitch and work hard for each other.

Scotland simply worked better as a unit at Wembley than England did and we didn't let them have much of the ball. When we had it, we passed it well and patiently. From my perspective, the midfield is solid. There are intelligent players, like Beckham and Scholes, and Arsenal's Ray Parlour has impressed me a lot when I've played against him; Tim Sherwood is another good player.

Every team needs balance and England's weak point seems to be on the left, but who else has not been tried on that side? As a left-sided player myself, I know there is a massive shortage of good left-footed players in every country.

The other thing that makes Keegan's job tougher than any other England manager before him is the number of foreign players in the Premiership: the England manager does not have the same choice as his predecessors.

I wish it had been us going to the finals - we would have appreciated it more. I didn't want to give away my shirt after the match because I knew it was my final appearance for Scotland: 58 caps and 12 goals, including one against Brazil in the World Cup finals. I've had my time and it's time to let the younger guys get a chance, and beating England at Wembley was going out on a high.

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