England for the English

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The Independent Online
ON SUNDAY, while trailing Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie around Wentworth golf course in the final of the World Match Play Championship, it was put to me that a hard time probably lies ahead for the England football coach, Terry Venables.

The basis for this conclusion and that the new order is not guaranteed to be much better than the old one, was the technical superiority, individual and collective, displayed by Romania last week when drawing 1-1 with England at Wembley.

A personal impression is that a similar foreboding was expressed 30 and more years ago, when there was an abundance of outstanding performers in the Football League, and possibly will be repeated in the future.

In addition to listening to expositions of practice and theory, students of football benefit from an understanding of attitude and style and the effect of local considerations.

The method favoured in British football and, interestingly, considered to be marvellous entertainment abroad, stems from the public's traditional preference for urgency. In fact it is not ludicrous to suggest that spectators in this country would quickly reject the emphasis Romania place on possession if it was experienced on a regular basis. Doubtless, they would yawn and caustically advise the players to get on with it as American audiences did when watching the men from Carpathia progress to the World Cup quarter-finals last summer.

There were two things that combined to stir the imagination when Venables succeeded Graham Taylor. He was going to introduce fluency. Directness was important in his mind, but he would not encourage it as a habit. Venables did not publicise those intents, though they were uppermost in the thoughts of his sponsors and any number of professional critics, one of whom ridiculously suggested that the idea was to fashion a style reminiscent of Brazil.

In the supreme crisis of his career, shortly before being shown the door by ungrateful employers after failing to qualify England for the 1970 World Cup finals, Alf Ramsey presciently stated that football managers get too much credit and too much blame, a conviction Venables will possibly come to share wih him. On returning from the 1970 finals in Mexico, the England manager clumsily invited censure by declaring he had learned nothing from Brazil's triumph. He meant that it is pointless attempting to emulate the imagination and flair that come naturally to Brazilian footballers.

The task Venables inherited is to create a way of playing that takes advantage of traditional strengths - commitment, morale and pace - while seeking to improve confidence on the ball and elevating patience as a virtue. In the example of great Liverpool teams, history allows for this.

It does not, however, allow for the self-serving theory that it would be greatly to the advantage of English football if its clubs were forced to include recruits from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in a limitation on the number of foreign players they can put to work in domestic competition.

Under review by the Football Association as a means of enhancing their prospects, it could raise fresh, and to my mind, justifiable complaints about Britain's privilege of sending out four national teams.

Reflectively, such a rule would unquestionably have prevented many of the most memorable achievements in the history of English football and consequently retarded the progress of young English players.

Not that long ago, I was persuaded to join a couple of managers from the Premiership in drawing up a list of great players, men irrefutably in the highest class.

There were any number of marginal contenders - Bobby Charlton, Garrincha, Bobby Moore, Denis Law, Eusebio, Stanley Matthews were all in with a shout, but finally we settled on eight - all forwards apart from Franz Beckenbauer.

Nobody is obliged to agree with the choice of Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, George Best, John Charles, Ferenc Puskas and Diego Maradona, but you may find it interesting that there is not an Englishmen among them.