Football: An impossible job when England expects

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The Independent Online
THE Football Association having neglected to bike round a copy as requested, there is no way of telling if Terry Venables's new contract contains any clause under the heading of 'Expectations'. It will contain lots of other interesting items like salary, expense allowance, FA escape hatches and the like, but the future of the new England manager will depend very much on the expectations not so much of his employers but of the nation that now holds him in a tight and hopeful embrace.

In return for the undoubted honour invested in Venables, England expects dividends. No one is likely to quantify them, but it will be by the amount his achievements fall short of those expectations - and, believe me, they always will - that the length of his tenure will be settled.

He could have had the Welsh job at a fraction of the fee and an even smaller fraction of the pressure. Now that John Toshack has planned his holidays from his day job at Real Sociedad to take over Wales, the modest requirement of him will be to see Wales qualify for the 1996 European Championship finals in England. An exciting failure at the last fence with a decent hard-luck story to see us through the winter would, however, suffice.

The Scots will expect European qualification from their new manager, Craig Brown, but that should not present too many problems for him. Northern Ireland, at present seeking a new manager to replace Billy Bingham in an admirably sedate fashion, will accept their fate with a cheery stoicism.

Liverpool, who have also volunteered themselves for the new- manager business, will no doubt take a relaxed approach when he arrives and not press him to win the FA Cup this year, on account of their already being out of it, but demand everything else. Pronto.

But those are the demands of a club whose history is awash with success. What can England realistically demand of Terry Venables? His arrival is to be thoroughly welcomed. He has the ability, the experience, the confidence and the personality to overcome the many pitfalls of the job. But is that all the England team lack? One all-purpose leader?

Channel 4's ominously named programme 'The Impossible Job' last Monday seemed to apply a conclusion to the reign of Graham Taylor that the entire country found acceptable. It was entirely Taylor's fault that England are not taking part in the World Cup finals. It was an excellent piece of television but his pathetic public suffering, for which I had great sympathy, was leapt upon by his countrymen as confirmation that his misguided leadership prevented what are really a good team achieving their destiny.

It is a dangerous notion for Venables to have hanging around on his first weekend. Actually, Taylor was right in his Norman Wisdom-like mutterings to the linesman. In not sending Koeman off and awarding England a penalty, the referee kept England at home and got Taylor the sack. Had they been going to the United States, they might have achieved what Robson's England did in Italy in 1990. Either way we would have known where the team stood in the world.

Now we can only guess, and it is the habit of England football supporters to guess high. The truth is that Venables is taking over an English team low on self-esteem and over the next two years he has only friendly matches in which to effect the necessary transformation. As hosts, England qualify automatically for the 1996 championship finals and their first match in that tournament will be his first competitive game.

All the more reason for the four home countries to resurrect the long-abandoned British Championship this summer, and the following summer too. The matches would certainly carry more revealing commitment than the run-of- the-mill friendlies each country is trying to arrange and would certainly brighten up an otherwise barren year for genuine international competition in the United Kingdom.

It would also serve to make England's expectations more realistic. Otherwise, what would be an acceptable achievement in Venables' first major tournament? England's last two ventures in the European Championship finals were disasters. In 1988 they finished bottom of their qualifying group without a point and in their final match against the Soviet Union produced the worst, most half-hearted display ever seen from an England team. In 1992 they managed two goalless draws but still finished bottom of their qualifying group.

Their form in the tournament is thus pretty ropy but home advantage must count. So would a semi-final place be acceptable or would more be demanded? A country of normal aspirations would settle for an encouraging performance and a concentration on the World Cup two years later. But that's probably asking the impossible, of the country and the job.

MORE than four years ago I wrote about the tendency of our schools to 'let loose upon the nation a growing number of feckless, flabby, unfit and unsporting youngsters' and embarked thereafter on a forlorn attack on the absence of a proper physical recreation programme in the national curriculum.

It was gratifying, therefore, to hear Iain Sproat, our rapidly developing Minister for Sport, tell the Sports Writers' Association lunch on Thursday: 'We are breeding a fat, flabby, unhealthy generation of children . . .'

One clued-up politician is worth a dozen pontificating columnists and Sproat's determination to restore team games and a healthier regard for recreation to our schools has to be a most welcome relief.

The problem will come in finding teachers willing to supervise sports and games as they did in days past. The answer will lie, as so many others will, in the use we make of the extra cash that will start pouring into sport when the national lottery gets under way next year. Paying the teachers overtime to accept this vital duty once more will gain much lost ground in our sporting development.

ONE of England's first games under Terry Venables will be a friendly against Germany which, inadvertently, falls on the date Hitler was born. In order to avoid neo-Nazi trouble, the match has been transferred to Berlin. Nevertheless, I understand a large party of commissionaires from our football grounds are going over to commemorate the occasion.

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