Football: Kiev in the best of both worlds

Norman Fox studies the evidence to support Wenger's theory of evolution
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The Independent Online
IF Arsene Wenger needed further evidence for his argument that international football is an inferior product to the best the club game can offer, ironically it came through the vivacity of Dynamo Kiev who outshone his Arsenal at Wembley on Wednesday. Glenn Hoddle and most other national team coaches are almost without hope in trying to reproduce such quality on the cruelly unforgiving international stage. The comparison between England's last disjointed performance on this same pitch against Bulgaria and Dynamo's uplifting exhibition was a gulf too far. It was enough to make you give up the absurd notion that because a national coach has the pick of his country's home-born players he can magically weld them into a high- quality team.

When did you last see a national team perform with such cohesion and style as Dynamo? Unless you happen to have watched the Ukraine who head their group in the European Championship and are unbeaten. More to the point, when they recently played Russia 10 of them came from Dynamo, just as the backbone of the best USSR sides of the past were also the Kiev club.

It does make you ask why more international teams are not club-based. The answer in England is obvious: most of the top clubs have a high proportion of foreign players. Except, of course, high-flying Aston Villa, who are English enough to be sent out en bloc in white shirts in England's next game. No chance there.

The disparity between the teamwork of a national side thrown together every now and again and a team regularly playing together was emphasised in Villa's Uefa Cup victory over Celta Vigo in Spain. This totally English side, playing as a formidable unit, suggested that it might serve Hoddle better to take the lot of them to his next get-together at Bisham Abbey rather than continue to look for individuals who in his opinion are the best in particular positions. But that would involve changing his tactical system.

Villa's football under John Gregory's coaching is very British, rarely inspirational but efficient, a lot more so than that of the present England side. So it should be. Wenger is right. International managers are always on a hiding to nothing. The amount of time a national coach has to assemble and tutor his side is nothing by comparison with that of a club coach yet the expectation of the nation, and its knife-wielding Press, is much higher.

Graham Taylor and Bobby Robson both said that it was illogical to expect an England team that had so few oportunities to play together to perform as a unit. They said that was the fundamental reason why the position of England's manager was called "the impossible job", although it could be argued that they made matters worse by believing that having such a wide choice of players allowed them unlimited material with which to experiement when in fact the material itself was limited.

Wenger's suggestion that the European Championship and the World Cup should have a pre-qualifying competition involving the small countries or those with no previous success would not necessarily reduce the number of international matches because coaches would still want to have friendly games to build a semblance of teamwork. Wenger has rightly put the value of the international game under scrutiny, though it will infuriate Fifa who refused to believe their own eyes - that last summer's hyped World Cup contained too many examples of teams who had no prolonged practice together looking like strangers.

Kiev's performance evolved out of familiarity. By contrast, international football is about expecting instant improvisation. Sometimes it happens. More often than not it makes you appreciate why club football is the only true measure.