Football: English ignorance bliss for Lambert

Euro 2000 Battle Of Britain: Phil Gordon hears why the Scots can count on priceless edge
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The Independent Online
SOMETIMES MONEY can weigh down even the most gifted of footballers. Just ask Ronaldo, Nicolas Anelka, or even Duncan Ferguson if their talent and happiness have expanded in proportion to their bank accounts.

So, Scotland could be sitting on a priceless piece of motivation for the European Championship play-offs with England which money could never buy: respect. It is doubtful if David Beckham and Co would get out of bed for the bonus Craig Brown's team have agreed on for qualifying for the finals. The England midfielder probably rang up more than the estimated pounds 25,000 Paul Lambert will pick up the last time he visited Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Yet, as Lambert has already proved once to Beckham and Manchester United, nothing can ever match up to the simple pleasure of winning and stuffing the words of those critics who could not even spell your name right down their throats.

Lambert was an unknown and his Borussia Dortmund side were unfancied when they came to Old Trafford two years ago and rudely ended United's Champions' League dream. That game was as much of a foregone conclusion as the double-header that awaits at Hampden and Wembley.

Lambert and the rest of the Scotland squad will split pounds 350,000 between them should they reach Euro 2000. With Brown having used 33 players in the campaign, that pool of money will see some of the players make as little as pounds 10,000 if Scotland achieve success, while Lambert, who has played in almost every game, will pocket pounds 25,000, half what Kevin Keegan's men will make.

It's not that the Celtic midfielder has a poor estimation of his own worth, far from it, since he was one of the chief dressing-room protagonists in Celtic's Champions' League bonus row a year ago, just that he knows that victory over England would provide everlasting gratitude in his own country, and grudging admiration across the border.

"The Manchester United semi-final was probably the best feeling in my time at Dortmund," says Lambert. "No one rated us and the English media have got a bad habit of being dismissive about sides or players they know little about.

"We had world-class players in our team, like Jurgen Kohler and Andreas Moller, but the talk was all that United were going to the final. John Collins said the same thing when he faced United the next year with Monaco, and they put them out too. Sometimes, you just want people to recognise that you are not a bad player - and I would say we have a few like that in the Scotland team right now."

Craig Burley left Chelsea after being brutally treated by Ruud Gullit before the 1997 FA Cup Final; Billy Dodds has rebuilt his career after an early exit from Stamford Bridge to blossom into a decent international striker.

The Scotland side of 1967, who inflicted England's first defeat as world champions, have all since admitted they would have paid for the privilege of their 90 minutes of fame at Wembley, even men, such as Denis Law and Jim Baxter, who could be hard-nosed and mercenary when it came to wage talks. The inflationary effect of television means that silencing Gary Lineker and Mark Lawrenson is thrown in as an extra bonus.

Few remain in the current side from the Euro 96 encounter. Tom Boyd is out because of a back injury, while Colin Hendry is trying to recover from a knee problem. John Collins has broadened his game with a French title at Monaco since that June day in 1996, while Lambert, who was not even in the squad then, has won the Champions' League with Dortmund. "We have only one player with a European Cup medal," says Brown self- effacingly, "while England have several from Manchester United. But this is a great opportunity to our players to prove a few things to a few people."

Brown has a habit of nurturing such unlikely heroes: in 1995, he called in Tosh McKinlay, who was building his house, after Alan McLaren was injured in training the night before a crucial match with Greece. McKinlay began his international career at 29 and helped in the victory which took Scotland to the last European Championship finals.

While Beckham concerns the Scotland manager, he is likely to hand the marking task to Blackburn Rovers' young wing-back, Callum Davidson, on the basis that youth carries fewer fears.

But between now and Saturday, Brown will be conditioning his players to think European rather than in terms of a Battle of Britain. He wants to impress upon them that this is a tie of two cities, and to adopt the two-leg mentality rather being sucked forward by a partisan Hampden crowd into a hasty approach.