Football: Howe and Robson line up with Venables: The new England coach's assistants bridge north-south divide and the generation gap. Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
TERRY VENABLES' England will defend like Arsenal, attack like Tottenham and hope the end product bears passing resemblance to Manchester United. That was the inference yesterday when the new coach announced a back-up staff featuring Don Howe and Bryan Robson, who will assist him with the preparation of the senior team on a part-time basis, and Dave Sexton, who is back for another stint with the Under-21s.

Robson, clearly, is being groomed for succession, but would not Howe, as a studious coach and tactician, be duplicating his latest employer's particular skills?

Venables thought not. 'We will take charge of separate parts of the team,' he explained. 'The biggest problem we've got is to get more

cohesion between the back four and the front six. Don will take one and I'll have the other. I wouldn't have time to do both.'

It will surprise no one, given their respective reputations at Arsenal and Spurs, that Howe will be drilling England in the offside trap, and possibly the sweeper system, while Venables strives to bring more wit and less predictability to the team's attacking play.

Robson, presumably, will be looking and learning. He has no coaching experience, or qualifications, but was earmarked for a place in the new regime from the moment he lent Venables' candidacy early momentum by speaking out

unequivocally on his behalf.

A debt has been paid. The

appointment of the old warrior also has a useful spin-off in that it bridges the north-south divide, and counters the cynical suggestion that at a time when northern clubs are in the ascendancy, the national team was passing into the hands of a cockney cartel.

At the age of 37, Venables said, Robson represented England's

future. 'He has not done any coaching as such, but his information on, and knowledge of the international game as a World Cup player and captain is invaluable.

'Don and Bryan both bring

different things to the party. Don brings the experience of three World Cups as an international coach and Bryan provides the younger element. Players are still able to converse with him as a man of their own generation, and probably feel more comfortable with him because of that.

'He has got a lot of enthusiasm, great knowledge of the game, and it could well be that he is England's future, as regards coaching and management.

'At the moment, he has no coaching badges, and I think it could only help him if he got them, but that's up to him. When I discussed things with him this week, I found his knowledge of players - their strengths and weaknesses - very impressive. He's not just been a captain in name only. He's obviously taken a lot in.'

United will have first call on their club captain for the rest of the season, but Robson is an infrequent member of their team these days, and Venables expects to have him for all England games, starting with the friendly at home to Denmark on 9 March.

'If Alex Ferguson had a problem, United pay Bryan's wages, and they would have to have him. I understand that completely. If it happened, we'd still have myself and Don, and we'd be OK.'

Like Howe, who was Bobby Robson's coach when England reached the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, Sexton is back on familiar

territory. His success in winning the European Championship twice at Under-21 level, allied to the deep respect Venables has always had for his coaching acumen, sees him recalled to the colours just two months short of his 64th birthday.

Howe is in his 59th year. Dad's Army? Emphatically not. 'People like these are a must because of their experience of the international scene,' Venables insisted. 'They are both so sharp-witted. Don is the ultimate professional's coach, and Dave is very imaginative. We can't allow people of such quality to be lost to the game.

'With myself and Bryan Robson as well, we've got three generations involved here. I've got different sorts of experience on either side of me, and I like to think it looks like a professional set-up.'

Professional or not, it is to be

reviewed at the end of the season. 'Nobody has had an offer of full- time employment,' Venables said. 'It's a case of seeing how we all get on. The Football Association are talking about a new coaching structure, and the whole thing has yet to be sorted out.

'I've come in at an awkward time, halfway through a season, and the first thing is to get through the rest of it. Then, I'll have the summer to see if I'm happy with things.'

If he is not, it is unlikely to be for the want of advice, or ideas.

(Photograph omitted)