Football: Taylor throws caution to wings

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The Independent Online
THOSE of us who peered into the future and saw Palmer and Deane and the dreaded long ball got it horribly wrong, after all. Favouring expansion rather than recidivism, Graham Taylor has indeed come up with a glimpse of the old Watford, but only in as much as the new England will attack on a broad front, with two wingers.

The changes needed after the dismal showing in the European Championship will see an attack- orientated team deployed along

4-2-4 lines against Spain tonight, with Taylor ditching his experiments with sweepers and third centre-backs and preaching the need to entertain, as well as win.

There are first caps for Paul Ince and David White, but the most intriguing selection is Nigel Clough, who must have thought his international career was over when he returned from Sweden without getting a game.

The choice of Nottingham Forest's subtle strategist as Alan Shearer's co-striker, briefed to play exactly as he does for his club, comes as welcome confirmation that Taylor's intentions are progressive. He would not be drawn on the pros and cons of the long and short game, but there would be no point in picking Clough for his canny distributive skills, then hoofing the ball over his head.

There is no question of that, Taylor said. The plan was to supply Shearer, the focal point of the attack in the post-Lineker era, not with long punts over the top, but via the flanks, where White and Andy Sinton provide a nice contrast in styles.

White, who is big, strong and fast, is equally happy playing through the middle, and his scoring rate is a match for most strikers. Sinton, who is small, neat and economical, is more of a wide midfield player than a rampaging winger, and in that sense 4-2-4 is something of a misnomer. Both Sinton and Clough are more link men than out-and-out forwards, and there will be occasions when the shape resembles good old 4-4-2.

Taylor, though, deserves the benefit of any doubt. He is anxious that everyone should put the European Championship behind them and, billing his third season in charge as a fresh start, he said he was mindful of England's responsibility to entertain. 'I am conscious that we have got to win, and have to have winning tactics. We have had that, up to a point, but what I don't think we've had in my two years is entertaining tactics.

'Sides I have managed in the past have wanted to attack, but I've been disappointed with that aspect of my time with England.' To that end, he had jettisoned Carlton Palmer, the midfield hustler, and overlooked Brian Deane, the attacking bludgeon, in favour of Ince and Clough, whose intelligence and dexterity make them a better bet.

On his appointment as manager, after the 1990 World Cup, Taylor said he had come to the conclusion that playing with two wingers would not work at international level.

Had he changed his mind, or did he mean the two wingers in use at the time - John Barnes and Chris Waddle? It was the former. The rethink had been brought about by the manner of England's dismissal from the European Championship, by Sweden. Taylor said: 'In that game, I saw a side come out with four forwards, get the ball to them and overrun us.

'I had been led to believe that you couldn't play that way in international football, but Sweden did for 45 minutes and knocked us out.

'It is very important that we start this second phase of my managership with a good result, but I don't want the players to be inhibited in any way. I'm telling them to be positive. Let's have a go at it.'

Spain, also going through something of a transitional phase, have dropped Butragueno and Sanchis. The break-up of the old guard has also seen Javier Clemente, the manager, draft in three of the defenders - Ferrer, Lopez and Solazabal - who helped the Olympic team win the gold medal in Barcelona last month. Lopez, of Atletico Madrid, is the only new cap.

The Spaniards' strongest suit is their midfield, where the experienced Michel and Martin Vasquez may know too much for Ince and David Platt.

The man who could change all that will be kicking nothing but his heels, but wait. Help is at hand. Gazza assures us he will be fit and ready in time for the first of the World Cup qualifiers, against Norway at Wembley on 14 October.

Wales' goal quest, page 29

(Photograph omitted)

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