England enjoy rare outpourings of admiration
Confidence, that most elusive yet valuable of football qualities, has settled upon England's Bisham Abbey training camp like a force field around the Starship Enterprise.
It was there in the way Robbie Fowler nonchalantly juggled a drinking bottle in training yesterday; it was there in the overhead kick from which David Platt scored in a three-a-side practice match; and it was there in Teddy Sheringham and Terry Venables' contrasting reactions to England's astounding 4-1 defeat of the Netherlands on Tuesday night.
Sheringham, who has long had a difficult relationship with the media, was unable to resist sounding a note of `I told you so' when he faced them. Last summer, he was mildly ridiculed for suggesting England were in the same class as Brazil - five days before Brazil won 3-1 at Wembley.
Bolstered by the evidence of Tuesday night, he returned to the theme yesterday. "I still believe that," he said. "I can't believe you guys run us down, look at the quality of some of the players in our side. If other countries had players like McManaman, Anderton, Gascoigne, Shearer you would be writing `you have got to watch out for him and him'. We are just as capable as the other sides." Point taken.
Venables, who has had an even worse hand from some quarters, preferred to wait his moment. Ever since he became England coach he has followed Kipling's strictures about the twin impostors and, having refused to be despondent in the bad times, he was not about to be carried away by the good.
"I am very, very pleased," he said. "The players did exceptionally well, but we have another game coming up."
To that end he had been on to the BBC before he had even left Wembley on Tuesday for tapes of Spain's match with Romania and England's with the Netherlands. After training yesterday he took out his notebook and studied them, looking for clues.
"People have said to me `did it all just click on the night?'," he said of Tuesday. "Things don't just `come right' against a team like the Netherlands. You have to work on them."
Much of that work involved Steve McManaman and Sheringham, getting them to cause problems for the Dutch with their movement around Alan Shearer. The training - and the results - had, Venables said, impressed a group of Uefa delegates who had come to watch England prepare. "They spoke very highly of us," he said. That was nice as one of my aims was to get the respect back, for teams to fear being drawn against us."
So, had the FA's International Committee been down to see what he was doing? "No," replied the coach, with a look that suggested he was more likely to receive a visit from Lord Lucan.
Tuesday must have been a mixed evening for some Englishman. Judged on his team's football, the FA's decision not to re-engage Venables looks increasingly foolhardy. If this keeps up, there will be calls for those responsible to be brought to account.
Venables himself insisted he had `no regrets' but he admitted: "There is an element of sadness. I am envious of [Glenn Hoddle] being able to work with the young players coming through. I always said I was disappointed to leave."
One of those young players, Jamie Redknapp, remains doubtful for Saturday after damaging ankle ligaments against Scotland. Platt is still feeling pain from his strained side muscle injury but suffered no reaction from playing with it on Tuesday. He is likely to replace the suspended Paul Ince in an otherwise unchanged side on Saturday.
Venables is hoping for another vibrant Wembley atmosphere. "I don't even remember anything like it in '66, and there were more people in the ground then. It was wonderful on Saturday and I thought, `how are they going to match that' but they were even better. It does help, it enables people to give that little bit more. But you have to keep your heads and do your job as well."
Venables then went to conduct an interview in fluent Spanish. Having given - as Guus Hiddink admitted - "a lesson" to one of his mentor countries he must now overturn another. "They have not lost since the World Cup and I have great respect for them and their manager," El Tel said. Still saying the right things, whatever the language.
European Championship, pages 26 and 27
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