England's management miss the point

Glenn Moore is unimpressed as Bryan Robson carries the attack to the media
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The Independent Online
When the press were allowed into Bisham Abbey yesterday it looked as if Terry Venables had finally cracked. There was Bryan Robson hitting crosses and David Seaman attempting to volley them past Alan Shearer in goal.

Fortunately this was not the England coach's latest experiment. It was evidence that, for all the criticism and pressure, his players were still capable of enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, their capacity to do so is a mixed blessing. Saturday night's alleged 2.30am players' drinking session in an Essex nightclub, and the coverage of it, continues to foster a resentful atmosphere in the England camp.

Having got the matter off his chest with his traitors' jibe on Tuesday, Venables was in a more amenable mood yesterday but his assistant, Robson, still had a few impassioned words to say.

"We are coming into a competition and we are all supposed to be together for England," he said. "I have seen a lot of rubbish talked. Paul Ince goes to a private barbecue and there is a photo of him on the front of a national newspaper - he's had two bottles of Budweiser. If anybody is telling me that is going to wreck his performance in a match a week away I can't see it. That [coverage] is detrimental [to England].

"The Germans were out having a few drinks on Monday, I know that for a fact. But I read reports saying we are the only team that has a few beers - if we are so naive as to think that, and are going to make such a hype about it, we may as well forget about [press conferences] because you may as well write what you want to write and knock the players however you want to."

Robson's words underlined the anger within the England camp but, like Venables, he missed the point. Venables had also said that other teams like a drink, including the Italians, and that, when the Irish do it, it is applauded. What he did not mention was that the Italians drink wine, and then strictly in moderation, and the Irish, as with the Germans on Monday, do it as a team and after a victory.

The key word is victory. You can get away with a lot if you are winning, but if the performance is poor the presentation must be beyond reproach. Night-clubbing into the early hours after such a jaded display as Saturday's is so obviously stupid it smacks of arrogance. Anyone who paid pounds 25 to pounds 100 to be at Wembley was bound to be piqued at seeing Teddy Sheringham, who looked so exhausted at 4pm, out clubbing at 2.30am, boozing or not.

The pity of it is those players who took the sensible option and kept a low profile are - as with the Cathay Pacific incident - tarred with the same brush. One wonders if this is really conducive to team spirit.

That said some of the coverage of England, on and off the pitch, is way over the top and Robson made a very valid point when he said this was inhibiting players' performances. "The younger players are frightened to death to play for England because of the publicity they get for absolutely anything," he said.

"I thought Gary Neville played very well against Norway in October but he had a nervous first 10 minutes and he is criticised to the hilt. He's only a young kid so he gets tense. He is wondering about his performance in the next game.

"I don't care how thick-skinned you are, if you are being criticised every day for three weeks you are going to get apprehensive, no one is that tough. People should be encouraging them to play for England, not knocking them. They are young lads, now and again they will be out of order, but in general they work very hard. Apart from a couple of nights they have prepared very well for this game."

Neville has not harboured a grudge - in China he stunned the media by helping a veteran photographer carry his equipment on the draining climb to the Great Wall. Yesterday, despite being, he said, drawn into mild but unintended criticism of England's build-up on television last week, he again faced the press with his customary honesty.

"Switzerland did to us what we have been seeking to do to other teams," he said of Saturday. "They kept pushing us back, we retreated and stopped putting pressure on the man on the ball.

"We now have to beat Scotland. We will have to play the game, not the occasion. It's wrong to suggest the Scots are more passionate about it. England are just as hyped up. They just show it more."

Meanwhile David Platt pulled out of training yesterday with a painful rib injury and Darren Anderton is troubled by a tight hamstring. Both are likely to play if fit as England are expected to revert to a three- man defence to counter the Scots' midfield strength. The big question is, who plays in the centre?

Tony Adams has 41 caps and nine years international experience. Gareth Southgate made his international debut in December. But on Saturday Southgate looked far more comfort- able. If Duncan Ferguson was playing for Scotland the choice would be obvious but, against the less physically daunting, but more nimble Gordon Durie and Scott Booth, Southgate should be preferred.

Germans take a swig, page 27