Football: Germans underline devaluation of British game

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The Independent Online
BLACK Wednesday? Which one? One week on from Graham Taylor's latest setback, in Santander, English prestige continued its free-fall descent with the two clubs dominating the domestic game last season in danger of accompanying the pound out of Europe.

Disregard the slaughter of the innocents from Cyprus and Luxembourg. Everone on the other side of the Channel is sure to. In real terms, the currency of British football has suffered further devaluation, with the Germans again the main source of embarrassment.

Manchester United will feel that they have an outside chance of accomplishing in Moscow what they failed to do at Old Trafford. A scoring draw would oust Torpedo on the away goals rule.

Leeds United, however, approach their second leg with faint hope and minimal expectations.

Twenty-four hours after Celtic had been well beaten by Cologne, it was Leeds' turn to suffer at the hands of the old enemy. And how they suffered. Their 3-0 defeat in Stuttgart was one of the worst inflicted on English champions abroad, and only the most optimistic of Tykes would wager a single pfennig on their chances of clawing their way back in the return.

Barring a dramatic recovery, Leeds are about to go the way of Malcolm Allison's Manchester City, whose loss to the Turks of Fenerbahce in 1969 is the only instance of England's representatives losing to foreign opposition in the first round of the European Cup.

Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, felt the magnitude of his team's defeat in the Neckar Stadium had been a travesty and, in a sense, it was. They created four decent chances in the first half, and everything was going according to plan until Fritz Walter's first goal, after 63 minutes, transformed the tie.

Leeds' response was profoundly disappointing. They panicked and tore up the script. Instead of regrouping and settling for a 1-0 defeat, which would have left them an even-money bet in the second leg, they chased the game and lost their shape with consequences which were all too predictable.

They were naive in the extreme, but the reasons they lost, and for the failure of British clubs against top-class opposition, go much deeper than that. It is a question of technique rather than tactics.

Our players, be it at club or international level, are vulnerable whenever they come up against opponents who run at them with the ball at their feet because it is a lost art in the domestic game. With the long ball all pervasive, the British way is to kick and chase rather than dribble, with the result that even our best teams are unable to combat incisive ball-playing wingers like Stuttgart's Ludwig Kogl.

The expectation of anything other than modest achievement will continue to be unreasonable unless the system changes from the bottom upwards, and skill and intelligence are rewarded ahead of pace and power.

Without a fundamental shift in emphasis, managers like Wilkinson will continue to be at a marked disadvantage in striving to overcome Continental teams blessed with superior technique.

What was always going to be a difficult task on Wednesday was further complicated by Leeds' lack of a serviceable right-back and the absence of Rod Wallace, whose speed and goalscoring potential might have stretched Stuttgart's suspect defence to breaking point and beyond.

Mel Sterland will not be fit in time to stabilise the right flank of the Leeds back four in the second leg, and while Wallace may recover to spark the pell- mell pursuit of goals, there are new doubts about Eric Cantona, whose damaged hamstring could take up to six weeks to mend, and Tony Dorigo, who is to consult a specialist about a debilitating virus.

During a pensive retreat, Wilkinson said: 'This is a big test for us. A lot will depend on how we react.'

Invading his mind, time and again, is the memory of how Arsenal's defence of their title dissolved last season after Benfica had scored three to put them out of the European Cup.

'There is so little time to put things right,' Wilkinson said. 'All we do is play one game after another - play, play, play. If you are a golfer, and a bad habit creeps into your game, the one thing you don't do is go back on the course and play another round straight away. You go to a golf doctor first to get rid of the habit.

'We've got no time for that - we have to play on. Our system is such that players repeat and ingrain mistakes. We just practice crisis football and crisis management.'

Major crisis over Germany? No change there, then.

Liverpool seek old authority,

Ferguson's faith in Robson, page 33