England's Dunkirk inspiration

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The Independent Online
A leading stress expert yesterday predicted that England would win the European Championship - despite reports that Terry Venables' squad are both mentally and physically exhausted.

"I will certainly be putting some money on them now," Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist), said. "I think the Dunkirk spirit will take over and the team will take off."

England, and Paul Gascoigne in particular, came under fire for the way Switzerland were allowed to get back into their opening Euro 96 Group A game on Saturday and secure a point in a 1-1 draw. Professor Cooper, a Manchester City supporter, said: "The expectations are lower as England have drifted out on the betting. But they can work this to their advantage and I am sure Terry Venables knows this. He is a good people manager and I wouldn't be surprised if he told his players to just go out and enjoy themselves.

"That's what I would do. That way you have a better chance of winning and I am convinced England will go on and prosper. I can't believe the pressure we have put on the team. It is astronomical and we have really built it up too much.

"People expect a lot of our sportsmen. This country has declined as a military and economic power; the empire is crumbling. Yet we expect success. It is part of our tradition, even though we are no longer a major force in the world.

"So we look for success in other fields, such as sport, and football in particular. When we don't get the results we demand there is an outcry," Cooper added. "It's unfair to heap all the blame on the players and say they should be able to perform well because they earn huge salaries. I heard someone say they should all burn their wage packets at the end of the pitch. That's nonsense.

"It is wrong to blame the players for the salaries they earn. That is determined by the marketplace and how much players in other countries, like Italy and Holland, get paid. We have a lot of good players in this country but we love to criticise and put people down. We should leave Gascoigne alone and just appreciate the talents of one of the best players this country has produced."

Gary Neville, arguably England's best player against Switzerland, agrees that the puncturing of the balloon of expectation could work in the team's favour. "Of course we all wanted to win, all wanted to put on a really good performance, but it might not be such a bad thing," said Neville, who rejoined his squad-mates yesterday after a 48-hour break from the demands of the competition. "Some people are saying that it will put more pressure on us before the Scotland game, but on the contrary I think it might work the other way.

"I honestly think that it will take some of the pressure off us. We still have to win but, because we didn't play too well on Saturday, the level of expectation from the fans and the press might not be too great now."

The Manchester United youngster argued that the Switzerland game had also been an invaluable experience for a team containing seven players having their first experience of tournament football. "It was the first time I've played in a tournament, the first match of the Championship as well, and it was really difficult for us," he said. "One of the first things we said to each other in the dressing room on Saturday was that we simply didn't come out in the second half against Switzerland. We weren't at the races.

"I don't think any of us would really argue with that. We certainly couldn't blame the heat, because it was probably the coolest day of the week, and we were quite happy in that respect. We just didn't play as we can, or as we wanted to," he added, while agreeing that the demands on the England players had mounted in the last few days before a game they had been expected to win quite comfortably. "It was different to anything else I've done," he said. "The build-up was different to anything I've been involved with before."

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