Football: Pouting Ince lets the side down

Ken Jones on Monday
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The Independent Online
ALL RIGHT, so in today's climate even such notable gentlemen of the game as Stanley Matthews and Bobby Charlton would be fortunate not to appear on the crime sheet, but the indiscipline that finally wrecked England's cause in Stockholm on Saturday further undermines a once proud reputation.

We have come a long way from the time when corinthian idealism ensured that anyone sent off in an England shirt had seen the last of his caps, but the Football Association are on dangerous ground if they are prepared to go along with pragmatic management.

Glenn Hoddle cannot be held to account for the stupidity that resulted in Paul Ince being dismissed for a second yellow card offence against Sweden anymore than he was responsible for the petulance that resulted in David Beckham's expulsion against Argentina during the recent World Cup finals.

However, it is the coach who sets standards of behaviour, the coach who treads that fine line between acceptable and unacceptable conduct when calling for a maximum effort.

It was not merely that England again found themselves depleted in an important match but that Ince disgraced himself and the team as he pouted towards the dressing rooms, appearing to show the crowd two fingers while mouthing off invective.

People crammed into the south London pub where I watched the match were in no mood to forgive Ince's indiscretion.

"Idiot," bellowed a large man, his ample gut bulging beneath a replica England shirt. Idiot indeed, Ince's wild lunge when other methods of interception were available to a player of his experience bringing all it deserved.

The mood of those around me had changed in the two or three minutes that saw Sweden equalise and take the lead after falling behind to Alan Shearer's free-kick. "Here we go again," they chorused bleakly.

Taking some air outside during the half-time interval - also relief from a bombardment of television analysis - I was approached by three late arrivals, one of whom asked for the score. As the inquiry was in a Scottish accent, the response to news of England's distress, "They'd better get Eileen to give the team talk," was predictable.

As the second half progressed little could be heard to support Hoddle's belief that he is much loved by England's supporters. "He's lost the plot," somebody said. "Anderton's bloody injured again," said another, "Alan Shearer's not what he was and the tactics are a disaster."

Michael Owen's ineffectiveness baffled them. "At this level it's a lot more difficult for Owen to find space," they had heard Andy Gray say on Sky's transmission.

Trouble is that Owen-mania overwhelms circumspection. Time is what the Liverpool prodigy needs, time in which to supplement his coruscating pace with improvements in link play and dealing with more accomplished defending than he comes up against in the Premiership.

Last week's hat-trick at Newcastle was further proof of Owen's enormous potential but it was achieved against a team that would have struggled to keep out the Avon lady. Sweden were a much different proposition, working hard and intelligently to ensure that the supply lines to Owen and Shearer were cut off.

I felt it wise not to enter into discussion about this because the assembled company grew more and more frustrated with the errors, individual and collective, England continued to make; careless passing, shaky positional play, unintelligent movement.

When Sweden began using their numerical advantage to give England the run around by sensibly keeping possession, it was more than my companions could stomach. "We were supposed to win this match," somebody said, "but the Swedes are just taking the piss out of us."

A cry went up when Shearer appeared to be tripped in injury time. "Penalty," they chorused. From the large screen Ron Atkinson expressed doubt. "It isn't clear," he said. "What's he bloody on about," came a cry from my left. "A penalty, definitely a penalty."

Hoddle could be seen gesticulating on the touchline. "Come on Glenn, get a grip," came the shout. Then it was over. Much muttering. "Same old story," somebody said.

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