Football: Ardiles' plan of attack to lift England: Argentinian's spur for his adopted home

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The Independent Online
BACK to the bread and butter - or rather the sweat and suffer. After Black Wednesday it was always going to be difficult to return to domestic matters with real enthusiasm, and every misplaced pass or maladroit touch came as an unwelcome reminder of England's shortcomings on the international stage.

We journeyed to White Hart Lane to check on Leeds United and their manager, Howard Wilkinson, whose price is shortening in the Graham Taylor memorial stakes. We left mulling over a stimulating discourse on the state of the nation from the only World Cup winner managing a Premiership team, Ossie Ardiles.

It has to be said that the little Argentinian with the big IQ got off to a dodgy start. His opening gambit was that there was nothing wrong with English football that better technique would not cure, which was a bit like saying that Hitler would have been a decent bloke, given a different personality.

Poor technique is the very nub of the problem, and once Ardiles acknowledged the fact his arguments became more cogent and compelling. He called for a 'national debate' on the deterioration in playing standards and the antediluvian way the game is run and, on the premise that his thoughts are likely to be of greater interest than Tottenham 1 Leeds 1, it seems reasonable to provide him with a platform.

English football was 'too insular' and had not moved with the times, he said. Its characteristics had not changed since 1966.

'We believe that what we do here is the ultimate answer to everything - to every problem others can throw at us. It is not like that. It is crucial that we open up to new ideas. Nobody has all the answers to every problem in football.'

Radical restructuring was needed, with the interests of the national team given priority over the clubs. The next England manager should be 'a dictator' - empowered to demand the release of players and to impose his ideas throughout the game, from top to bottom.

'It doesn't matter how good the Premiership is, because we are all judged on how the England team perform, so we should put their interests first. The England team is of paramount importance, and everybody should be prepared to make a contribution towards its success.'

His own contribution would be to release any players who might be wanted for weekly squad sessions under Taylor's successor.

'The players should do more work with the national team, to improve cohesion. Once a month is not enough. It should be once a week. I'd be more than happy to make my players available on that basis.'

Ardiles likened England's present situation to that of Argentina before they won the 1978 World Cup. 'In 1975 we weren't the best team in the world, but we were staging the tournament, so we didn't have to qualify, and we used the time available not just to play friendlies, but to have whole weeks together with the manager, Menotti. England are hosting the 1996 European Championship, so they could do the same.'

The demands of the domestic fixture list militate against such intensive preparation, but Ardiles is looking to the agreed reduction in the size of the Premiership to end the relentless slog of midweek football.

It was a 'tragedy' that England had not qualified for the World Cup, he said - a failure born of muddled thinking and tactical naivety.

'The English players were good enough. Norway won the group, and ask yourself who they have who you would pick in front of Ferdinand, Wright, Shearer, Platt and Gascoigne. Nobody.'

What was needed was a manager and a system capable of maximising the talent available. 'Football is really very simple. It is a matter of passing the ball quickly and accurately. To do that, you have to have a good technique. Good technique, applied correctly, gives you a good team.'

At Tottenham, where they have a tradition for such things, they are embracing the Ardiles creed with eager enthusiasm. 'I am on at the players all the time: improve, improve, improve. Players like Nick Barmby and Darren Anderton already have good touch and control, but there's no reason why they can't get better. You can improve any player by working on his technique.

'If someone is good with his right foot, there's no reason why he shouldn't become good with his left, too.'

One win in six games is hardly a glowing endorsement of the Ardiles way, but Spurs have been without their principal scorer, Teddy Sheringham, for all but 20 minutes of that period, and they were further hampered on Saturday by the absence of their most adventurous midfielder, Jason Dozzell.

Without these two, they lacked the thrust to inconvenience improving Leeds, who deserved to take their unbeaten League run into double figures with three points, rather than one.

Mickey Hazard and Vinny Samways passed the ball nicely at times, but without hurting a resolute defence founded on a cluster of three centre-halves. The Leeds midfield were more assertive, with Gary McAllister the game's dominant influence, and they should have had more than Brian Deane's laboriously constructed goal to show for their superiority.

Instead, McAllister and Noel Whelan both rattled Erik Thorstvedt's uprights, and Spurs were able to burgle a draw, courtesy of a poor decision by one of our best referees, Joe Worrall.

David Wetherall, stretching to cut out a cross from Samways, did little more than stun the ball, and was stunned himself when Mark Beeney advanced to pick it up and was judged to have handled a backpass. By no stretch of the imagination could Wetherall's lunging block be construed as a pass, but the free-kick was given, and insult added to injury when Anderton's shot deflected in off Deane's heel.

'A game we deserved to win' was Wilkinson's clenched-teeth verdict, and disappointment probably lay at the root of his refusal to discuss wider matters. The England job? 'I'm here as the Leeds manager, and I prefer to stick to today's game. I'm fed up with talking.'

No problem. Ossie had set the agenda. The Football Association could do a lot worse.

Goals: Deane (53) 0-1; Anderton (80) 1-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-2-1-2): Thorstvedt; Edinburgh, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Campbell; Samways; Anderton, Sedgley; Hazard; Barmby (Howells 68), Durie. Substitutes not used: Caskey, Walker (gk).

Leeds United (5-3-2): Beeney; Kelly, Wetherall, Pemberton, Fairclough, Dorigo; Rocastle (Whelan 77), McAllister, Speed; Deane, Rod Wallace. Substitutes not used: Hodge, Lukic (gk).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).

(Photograph omitted)

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