Europe 7 Britain 1

Despite the marked decline of British clubs in European competition over recent years, rarely can one week have provided so much despair and so little encouragement.
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Those who believe the maxim "goalkeepers are crazy" gain- ed more evidence this week. Mark Crossley, of Nottingham Forest, followed up Tuesday's match-saving performance against Auxerre by saying, 'Bring on Barcelona, bring on Bayern Munich'. Judging by the defeats inflicted on every other British team, he ought to have been asking: 'Is anyone from the Faroes Islands left in?'

After a grim week Forest are the only English club left in Europe; only Rangers fly the Scottish flag - and that, after conceding eight goals in two games, is at half-mast. Meanwhile all six Spanish clubs remain in the frame, the French have five, the Italians and Germans four. Even the cities of Prague and Moscow have more teams left than England or Scotland. To rephrase a comment once made about our cricketers, there are just three things wrong with British football - we cannot tackle, cannot pass and cannot shoot.

The bad news is, things are likely to get worse before they get better. As the Football Association's technical co-ordinator, Don Howe is responsible for identifying ways to lift standards in the English game. Like everyone else, Howe has not been impressed by this week's efforts. "I have got a satellite dish at home and on a night like Tuesday I am forever twisting the dials around looking at games all over Europe, 10 minutes from Munich, 10 minutes from Liverpool, that sort of thing.

"I can compare what is going on and the difference is in midfield. At international and club level that is the key area, how midfielders adapt to tactics home and away; how well they protect the back four; how they break and pass.

"If you look at the teams that did well before the Heysel ban - Liverpool, Leeds and so on, they had players like Souness and McDermott, Bremner and Giles, Stiles and Charlton. They were great players who could defend the back four if needed, and be expressive when that was needed. They were all-round midfielders who could take responsibility.

"We have a very attractive Premier League with the ball flying in the net and lots of goalmouth incident. People say: 'Aren't we doing well - we're attracting great entertainers like Yeboah and Bergkamp'. But the country that has dominated European competition in recent years is Italy and that is because their players have discipline.

"They graft and dominate midfield. Look at Milan, with Desailly and Albertini. Away from home they sit in front of the back four, they track players back. At home they go forward earlier and support attacks. Our players do too much off the cuff - there is nothing wrong with that, but you have to do your job for your side first.

"Dick Advocaat, the coach at PSV, will tell you that his team have scored eight against Leeds but first they have made sure McAllister did not play, and they stopped Yeboah getting any freedom. We have to be positive and learn the lessons. We want our league to stay entertaining, but we do not want goals to be cheap."

Howe said the planned meeting between Terry Venables and the managers involved in Europe this season would speed that education process. Other on-going developments were outlined by Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the FA, yesterday. He pointed out that coaching courses are being re- designed and the development of young players reviewed.

However, Gordon Taylor, his counterpart at the Professional Footballers' Association, called for a more radical overhaul with greater involvement from former players and higher standards required for coaches.

Scottish football is also engaged in self-analysis, the SFA having instituted a Commision of Inquiry after years of European failure. Among the consultants is Rinus Michels, the Dutch coach who instigated many of the programmes that have put Ajax at the fore of youth development.

His influence is already making itself felt. Alex Miller, the former Rangers defender who now manages Hibernian, this week announced that the Edinburgh club was to copy Ajax's example and begin coaching boys as young as six.

"I do not mind copying Rinus Michels' ideas or anybody else's if they are good ones," Miller said. "I believe this is the only direction for Scottish football to take. We have to relearn the game."

Howe has studied the Ajax system closely and he said: "I did not see fantastic coaching sessions. We have coaches who are as good. What I did see were long sessions and lots of them.

"It is like a military exercise. They train for an hour-and-a-quarter. Then they do their homework and have something to eat, then they train again. Their young players are getting six sessions a week, our best kids get one, it is nowhere near enough."

Changing this is a long-term programme. What can be done in the interim? One obvious step is to reduce the number of matches. After his team beat Celtic 3-0 at Parkhead on Thursday night Luis Fernandez, the coach of Paris St-Germain, said: "In France we play fewer games and teams have a chance to prepare for Europe. That could be a solution for you. Our national association helps as much as possible when we are preparing for a major European game. That does not happen in Britain."

This, at least, is not the FA's fault. They wanted the Premiership reduced to 18 teams when it was created - instead the greed of the clubs has held it at 20, and that only with reluctance.

Besides, reducing fixtures is one thing, getting players and clubs to use the free time wisely is another one entirely. Very few British players do extra skills training in the afternoon -Manchester United is one exception, but only because several players followed the example of Eric Cantona.

"Our players think afternoon training is a punishment," Howe said. "Glenn Roeder said when he went to Lazio with Paul Gascoigne their players thought they must have done something wrong if they did not get an afternoon session on skills.

"We do have too many games but one quote that has always worried me is when a player says: 'I would rather play than train'. That amazes me. What he is saying is he does not like training - but that is where you work on your game. Most foreign countries do not have reserve leagues; if you are not in the first team, all you do is train. That would blow our players' minds."

His thoughts are echoed by Ray Harford, manager of Champions' League failures Blackburn. "Foreign players want to improve, they work hard on their technique. Some of our players think: 'I've pounds 1m in the bank, why bother working harder'."

Meanwhile aspiring clubs could do worse than study Forest. "They have a midfield four which gets its shape quickly, picks people up and closes them down," Howe said. "It is a bit like they were under Brian Clough. They play nine-one: nine behind the ball and one up."

Forest will now test themselves against Lyon, conquerors of Lazio. It is a good draw. English clubs have only lost twice in 18 Anglo-French encounters. Of the three French clubs to have gone out of Europe this year two, Monaco and Auxerre, lost to English clubs. If only the rest of Europe were so easy to beat.



Six matches in European competition and Blackburn are still looking for their first victory


Rangers' worst home defeat in 35 years of European competition


Four-time European Cup winners, Liverpool became the first English team to lose to Danish opposition


Leeds suffered their worst aggregate defeat in European competition


Danny Lennon's goal for Raith was the only time a British team found the net in Europe this week


Forest, who needed rearguard action to advance, now face Lyon, conquerors of Lazio, in next round


Sending-off of Craig Short summed up a week of misery for British teams in Europe


Equality with Rangers at last - their heaviest home defeat in 35 years of European competition

It's not about systems or tactics, it's about ability and quality


(Football Association

chief executive)

We have to find out if there is one reason why we have under- performed over the last five seasons in Europe since the ban. Certainly our coaching courses are being redesigned for next year. The more open we become, the more we listen and watch and take new ideas into our game, the better we will be. The FA has addressed a lot of grass-roots issues, and is getting more teachers into football and providing more curriculum time for football.


(Professional Footballers'

Association chief executive)

We are paying the price for a continued emphasis on the Premier League and the domestic game. We are falling behind our international competitors with regard to coaching techniques. The FA has, and wants to keep, responsibility for coaching, but with that responsibility has to come accountability. The FA needs to create a much more sophisticated coaching set-up that involves players from the professional game as the teachers of the next generation.


(Blackburn Rovers defender)

You need experience and patience and I'm sure English football will be back in force eventually. I just hope there is a next time for us. People must remember that we were out of Europe for five years and when we came back, there was the complication of the three-foreigners rule. For us as a club, it's been a completely new experience. We've learned with every game and will be better for it. You have to concentrate as hard as you do when you're playing international football.


(Blackburn Rovers manager)

We've played three teams in the past week and they all played the same shape with two markers and a sweeper, but they each played it differently. It's not about systems or tactics, it's about ability and quality. What impresses me about the teams we've played is the pace every player has, the amount of ground they cover with the ball and without it. It's not just that they counter-attack, but they do it with such pace that you feel swamped. They break out with such freedom of movement."


(Nottingham Forest manager)

At the top level here there are still massive pressures on clubs getting results in the Premier League and giving the public excitement on Saturdays.

Our players find it difficult in Europe because teams are playing a different type of game. Auxerre were the best team for passing and movement we have played since I've been manager at Forest. But we achieved the most important thing there ever is in cup football - we got into the next round. How? We stuck at it.

I wished we could have passed the ball better and given support quicker and better from the back to players further up the field. But after three years of instructing players how to go about winning at domestic football, I've suddenly got to tell them different things to perform in Europe.

It is hard to blame them when they find it a struggle. I'm sad the other teams have gone out, because we've no particular wish to seek the higher profile which we'll probably get now as the only British side playing in Europe on Tuesday nights.


(captain of Celtic)

Players at clubs like Paris St-Germain learn from an early age how to ally pace and strength to their ball skills and technical ability. We put in a challenge and tried to do what we had to, but we just weren't good enough.

A lot has been talked about the state of the British game, although I'm more concerned about things in Scotland, and we have got to realise that we cannot change things overnight. We have got to think about youth development and try to teach the young ones what playing in Europe is all about.


(Paris St-Germain striker)

Like Italian sides, French teams have learned through playing in Europe and that makes it easier to play against the British style than it used to be. It's not what we're used to, and the singing and clapping before the start really scared us, but when you've got international players with experience of big matches, it means you can play under pressure.