Football: Taylor strategy lacking focus: Joe Lovejoy insists that England's setback in Spain is not a resignation issue

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BREAKFASTING on headlines which pilloried him as 'public enemy No 1' did nothing for Graham Taylor's digestion yesterday, but the England manager quickly dismissed the more hysterical reaction to his team's latest defeat as an irritating by-product of the tabloid circulation war.

It was one of his better decisions. To resign now, which is what they would have him do, would be to run away. Football is rarely black and white, as some would have us believe, and losing an experimental friendly when fielding a half-strength team is an area as grey as they come.

After two years in charge, the manager should be further down the road towards a successful, settled side, but the circumstances surrounding Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Spain in Santander were such that 'Adios Taylor' and 'Why He's Got To Go' were more over the top than the Spanish tackling.

Deprived by injury of so many good players, Taylor was always up against it in pursuing the rejuvenated performance needed after the disappointment of the European Championship.

Portrayed variously as a vegetable or a witless ditherer, he deserves a measure of sympathy to go with the sackcloth and ashes. But he needs to convince everyone, and not just his critics, that he is following a clear-sighted strategy, rather than stumbling in haphazard fashion from one game to the next.

Over the last half a dozen games he has given us three centre-halves, the sweeper system, 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and now 4-2-4. If the players are as confused as the public, no wonder it all came apart at the seams in those successive defeats by Sweden and Spain.

The latest innovation, 4-2-4, lasted just 45 minutes.

Invited, more than once, to expound on his long-term strategy, he could do no better than say that he would have England playing like the Netherlands, but for the fact that they did not possess the players to do so.

He would love to be the new Rinus Michels, but instead portrays himself like the harassed secretary of a school Old Boys side, reduced to ringing all and sundry to raise an XI when his best men cry off.

Pondering the first of the World Cup qualifiers, at home to Norway on 14 October, was a pointless exercise, he said. 'We can talk about it if you like, but I won't know who is going to be available until. . . when? In Spain I hadn't even got four midfield players in the squad, had I wanted to play a solid 4-4-2.'

He admitted that the danger of lurching from one expediency to another, getting ever further away from the original game plan, had become reality. 'After my first three months as manager, I came to a decision,' he said. 'So much was going to be out of my control that in every game I was going to have to look at the players who were available, and tailor my tactics accordingly. I think I've been very decisive, but it doesn't look that way because of all the changes forced on me.'

Taylor had been as disappointed as anyone by the outcome. 'I was looking to come out of Sweden with a settled side, but that's something we haven't got.' Without it, England would go into the World Cup qualifying programme with an attack-orientated approach, 'trying to be positive'. The alternative, Taylor said, was 'to collapse under the weight of it all'.

He was not about to do that, but some of his players had been found wanting, and even those in whom he had most faith had let him down in Spain. 'I've got two centre-halves (Mark Wright and Des Walker) with almost 100 caps between them, and I looked at them and wondered: what's happening here? They were letting people come off them left, right and centre instead of closing up tight.'

No prizes for guessing the player England continue to miss most. 'It would have been nice,' Taylor said, 'to have someone capable of slowing things down, altering the point of attack now and then and giving other people the chance to make some runs.'

Paul Gascoigne needs only to prove his fitness with Lazio to be welcomed back with open arms for Norway's visit next month.

Without Gazza to provide light relief, Taylor expects to continue to be to the back page 'what the Royal Family are to the front'.

At least the man the Sun are depicting as a turnip ('Swedes 1, Turnips 0') can still laugh about it all. The headline 'Spanish 1, Onions 0' had him wondering 'what the bloody vegetable in Norway is'.

For him to find out, the Norwegians will need to win at Wembley, in which event silly caricatures will be the least of his problems.

(Photograph omitted)