Football: England the victims of vacillation: Taylor's Teams / He said it was injuries, but a study of his teams suggests that Graham Taylor never made up his mind. Clive White reports

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The Independent Online
ON THE face of it, Graham Taylor's record does not seem at all bad. Statisticians looking back in years to come might even conclude that it was quite a good one really: P38 W18 D13 L7 F62 A31. A Premiership team with such a record last season would have been runners-up.

On closer scrutiny, however, the record, never mind performance, does not stand up. Almost a third of the games played were against opposition who were definitely not what you would call 'Premiership material', more like Second or Third Division. In competitive matches against those who were from the top drawer, England fared miserably: just two wins, both against Poland, and both at Wembley.

In fact there was only one other victory of note against top-class opposition, the 2-0 friendly win against France in February last year. Invariably, against the better sides, in matches that mattered - and even those that did not - England finished up drawing, or losing.

Taylor pleaded bad luck with injuries as a major reason why he was forced to call upon 60 players during his three and a quarter years in charge. Yet of the 160 odd team changes he made in that time our analysis (see panel right) shows that about 78 per cent were not forced upon him. For the most part alterations were made not because of injury, suspension or retirement, but because the manager had changed his mind. So much for his plea for a settled team.

After his opening match in charge, the 1-0 win against Hungary in September of 1990 at Wembley, he said: 'If in a year's time there are six or seven different faces, I'd like that to have been done gradually.' A year later Tinker Taylor had used 36 players and there was little sign of a settled team. There were another 36 changes in the following six games.

Taylor made no secret of his scepticism of England's success in Italia '90 but the rapidity with which he dispensed with proven internationals, like Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley, surprised many. Waddle (last season's Footballer of the Year) appeared in Taylor's first two teams as a second-half substitute, then made one more appearance, a year later, before being consigned to the wilderness.

By contrast he remained faithful to John Barnes, even to the point of selecting him for the European Championship in Sweden at the end of a season in which he had been bedevilled by injury. Barnes broke down 10 minutes into the pre- tournament friendly in Finland with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

For his second game, the European Championship qualifier against Poland at Wembley, Taylor did something he was never to repeat. He made no changes.

His first tinkering came in the qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin when he left out Paul Gascoigne, saying: 'I didn't see him being an influence.' Steve Bull, who was in those first two teams, was also dropped, never to return.

In that early period there appeared little pattern to Taylor's selections. In the first four matches of 1991 for instance, Beardsley was successively dropped, picked, dropped, used as a substitute - then forgotten for good.

In the qualifier against Turkey in Izmir, it was the turn of Bryan Robson, the captain, to be stood down. Geoff Thomas, then of Crystal Palace, made his international debut for that match, along with Dennis Wise. Thomas at least got a reasonable run, playing the next seven games before injury ruled him out, but Wise was not so lucky being picked four times (and coming on once as a substitute) and dropped twice before the end of the summer. He has not returned.

All the time, though, England were still not losing. It was 13 games before Taylor's England tasted defeat and then a trifle unfortunately to the world champions, Germany.

Two months later came what his critics would see as a typical Taylor selection. Andy Gray, of Crystal Palace, was introduced for the vital European Championship qualifier against Poland in Poznan. England got the draw they needed, but Gray was never given a second chance.

When the finals came round the following summer Taylor went into the tournament without a settled team, indeed without a settled formation, and it showed. His side failed to score in two of the three games, and he dropped first Alan Smith, then Alan Shearer and then, with England behind against Sweden, symbolically replaced Gary Lineker with Smith.

Lineker's international retirement at least prevented further vacillation, but as England set about qualifying for the World Cup there were more changes for changes sake, though victories against the group's lesser lights tended to mask the problem. Ian Wright played in the 4-0 victory over Turkey, but was replaced by Barnes when San Marino visited Wembley.

By the summer of this year no one, least of all the man himself, seemed certain of what Taylor's first-choice team was, and two defeats, to Norway, and the United States, left his reign in ruins. Even then the friendly tournament in America was not used to develop a settled side, with eight players dropped for the games against Brazil and Germany.

A good performance against Poland at Wembley in September revived spirits, but still Taylor refused to learn the lesson, mystifying many by making unenforced changes for the game against the Netherlands in Rotterdam a month later.

After the ensuing defeat Taylor criticised the German referee for not sending off Ronald Koeman for a professional foul. Koeman may have been lucky, but as far as blame was concerned many felt that Taylor should have started with himself.

(Photographs omitted)