Cool analysis, hot air and the tyranny of television interviews

Without time for reflection, says Ken Jones, opinions are likely to be statements of the obvious
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The Independent Online
An irritating chore for coaches in Euro 96 is to be interviewed immediately upon the cessation of hostilities. It is the last thing they want to do but television demands co-operation.

At Wembley on Saturday you could tell right away that Craig Brown was not entirely happy with the arrangement. It was there on his face and when he described the experience as "mandatory" in subsequent conversation.

When the whistle brought an end to emotive proceedings all Brown wanted to do was get with his players, especially his captain, Gary McAllister, who was doubtless beyond consolation after missing a second-half penalty kick that would have brought Scotland level. All sorts of thoughts must have been swimming around in Brown's mind, but first, ridiculously to my mind, a television commitment.

Even for a man as articulate as Brown the words did not come easily and, in any case, what was Scotland's coach expected to say? What of any value could he communicate to the audience?

It reminded me of a conclusion reached in the sweet long ago by Joe Mercer, before he formed a smashing partnership with Malcolm Allison at Manchester City.

When Mercer was between jobs, resting as they say in showbusiness, he was employed to analyse matches for a national newspaper. This acquainted him quickly with the hazard of an opinion given before an opportunity for reflection which, if you think about it, is a problem football correspondents have to live with. "Apart from the obvious, I'd always held back from making statements in the dressing room because time often altered my way of thinking," he said.

Today the coach is expected to go public with intricate detail before the perspiration has dried on his brow. I doubt whether this comes within the scope of public understanding generally, but it is growing more and more as a feature of television coverage and puts a strain on the language of diplomacy. Bland remarks made under interrogation sometimes conceal a rage of impending admonishment.

There is the body language too. Following the disappointment of England's technically bereft performance against Switzerland in their opening match, Terry Venables looked shattered as he trudged towards the dressing room, eyes cast down on the turf. It brought back memories of some who had endured that painful experience before him: Don Revie, Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor.

Saturday brought a significant change in Venables' demeanour. Last week's scowl had given way to this week's smile. And all the complicated analysis that was demanded from him could not deny the importance of fundamental principles to England's improvement. "How can a coach with Venables' reputation manage to make the team look worse?" someone asked at half-time. Well, a bit of tinkering here and there but mostly by getting to grips with the basics of purposeful possession and crosses.

Something similar occurred last Thursday at Villa Park when the Netherlands defeated Switzerland. Carrying the banner of total football raised by their leading club, Ajax, the Dutchmen appeared obsessed with stylish endeavour. You sensed that the idea of scruffy goals did not appeal to them. Then longer passes, quicker play, crosses, the realisation that it does not matter how you score them.

For a long while on Saturday, against a Scottish team that never looked likely to score from open play, England were not one thing or the other. It was understandable that Venables should call for patience but it resulted in negative patterns.

A change came with the introduction of Jamie Redknapp for Stuart Pearce and more positive infiltrations of a dogged Scottish defence. The move that brought Alan Shearer's goal was straight out of the Premiership. Quick movement, early centre, decisive header. There was not much Venables could say about that apart from applauding the execution. "The turning point Terry?" somebody asked. "Well the first goal - and the penalty."

Everywhere dissection. In one newspaper yesterday McAllister's miss was reviewed in detail. Height and pace of the shot, all that jazz. Once, on television, the late Jack Fingleton was asked to describe a batsman's dismissal. "Made a complete mess of it," he said, which is all that had to be said about McAllister.