Football: Taylor oblivious to the loudmouths

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The Independent Online
IN SHEFFIELD, Glasgow, and probably a few other places as well, Graham Taylor is now firmly confirmed as being barking mad. Who in the past week were the most impressive English players? Mark Hateley and Trevor Steven, for Rangers, and, yet again, Chris Waddle for Sheffield Wednesday. None of them is included in the England squad for the World Cup match against Turkey in Izmir a week on Wednesday.

Arguing on Taylor's behalf is sometimes difficult, occasionally impossible and never likely to be universally popular. So why defend him when he leaves out Waddle, Hateley and Steven, includes the already jaded Lee Sharpe, the unexceptional Les Ferdinand and, almost as if to rile a large proportion of England's followers, remains faithful to the seemingly always disappointing John Barnes?

The only name a large and vociferous group of the Wembley regulars want to see removed from all further England involvement is Barnes. They are not to have their way. Had he scored a couple of own goals in the match against San Marino, some of the crowd could not have been more profane. No doubt they still want to ignore the fact that, if required, he remains the most skilful left- side forward available to England. That apart, he had to be included in this particular squad or else Taylor would have been guilty of conceding to loudmouths with racist tendencies.

Taylor maintains that Barnes was made a scapegoat when England were finding it difficult to score in their last match. 'The scene was set for it by the situation,' he said, referring in part to England's performance before David Platt came to the rescue but mainly to one of the tabloids' successful attempt to goad the crowd into giving Barnes a hard time. 'The only thing to do now is get on with it,' Taylor said. 'Most decent- minded people would say 'let's hold fire a little bit' and I'm not going to bomb the fellow out because it would make the whole thing ridiculous. We asked him to play wide and Gascoigne to play wide as well, and in a funny sort of way we hardly needed them. The aim was to get the ball into the box. He's playing regularly now, but he's been injured and what people forget is that he's missed two pre-season training periods and losing that bank of fitness is more important than they realise.'

In retaining Barnes, Taylor is not only making a statement against strident, ugly voices but is being practical at a time when skill on the ball, particularly on the left side, is in short supply. If the youth tournament in Australia is anything to go by, the skill level after the present generation is not getting much better. Taylor probably knows that Barnes has had his day as one of England's first-choice players, yet to let the baying mob have its way would have been unforgivable.

While clever, patient Nigel Clough may like to think of himself as a replacement should Paul Gascoigne not be available for any future games, that event would probably persuade Taylor to re-establish Barnes in a central role behind the attack. Bearing in mind Gascoigne's potential to self-destruct, Taylor may have a case for continuing to think that way.

Readers of a popular football magazine were recently asked to say whether Barnes should play for England again. Sixty-six per cent said 'no'. Perhaps they will have their way but from everything Taylor has said, those who have been in the last couple of squads are the unshakeable backbone of the World Cup campaign.

The only exception this time is Steven, who played so superbly for Rangers against Bruges but has had several injuries and at the moment can probably do without the extra pressure of trying to gain a regular international place.

The other alterations can be explained through injury, leaving as the main debate whether Taylor should be swayed by the current form of older players who have not endeared themselves to him by their attitude or have been tried before and were not huge successes.

The argument for Waddle is persuasive without being conclusive. It was not so long ago that, like Barnes, he was criticised for being a player whose contribution to England was insufficient. His form is certainly good enough to command a place and Taylor says the door is not shut. However, the chances of seeing him in an England shirt ever again are remote. The squad is established wihout him and the same goes for Hateley.

The question is whether Taylor can afford to dispense with players of any age who are in form when for the moment England have a crisis. Alan Shearer is out and Ian Wright in doubt. Hateley would be effective against Turkey but what player of his size and strength would not, thus the inclusion of Paul Warhurst. Better to think ahead, allow the existing squad to consolidate and let Platt again take the striking role he enjoys.

By far the most important concern to England in the long term is the fitness and future of Gascoigne. His performance against Milan last Sunday was reassuring. He weaved through the defence beautifully and it was encouraging to see that he kept active in the second half whereas a month ago he would have been struggling for breath. If there is still a debate over who should be in the cast, there is no doubting who is the only star.