Football: Taylor walks termination's tightrope: Joe Lovejoy, Football Correspondent, suggests that after his team's World Cup debacle, the time has come for the resignation of England's manager

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IT WAS like an unarmed man holding up his hands to ward off machine-gun fire. The questions and accusations came in a wounding fusillade, finding Graham Taylor defenceless at what was a humiliating inquest into England's World Cup debacle.

Like his team in Wednesday's 2-0 defeat by Norway, Taylor surrendered. Mea culpa was his pitiful response to criticism of the most spineless England performance since the capitulation to the old Soviet Union at the end of the 1988 European Championship. He looked and sounded like a manager who had run out of words and ideas, at a loss where to turn next. After the 'headless chickens' of Katowice, the lame duck of Lancaster Gate.

Walking towards his customary debriefing at a London hotel, he found his path blocked by the paraphernalia of a television interview, and had to stand and wait while the man from The Sun said he should do the decent thing and resign. In that excrutiating, embarrassing moment he cut a pathetic figure. A broken reed.

Broken or not, he will not resign. He made that crystal clear. Nor is the Football Association about to sack him. The chairman of its international committee, Peter Swales, said as much during the grim retreat from Oslo. Grim was the word. At the airport, England ran into a hundred of the fans who, an hour earlier, had the Ullevaal stadium echoing to a chorus of 'We want Taylor out'. Time had not mellowed them. Quite the reverse. Manager and players alike were subjected to unprecedented vilification by supporters who left them in no doubt as to the working man's opinion of wealthy footballers who live like kings off the field and play like paupers on it.

Should he go? Unquestionably yes. He has made, and repeated, too many mistakes to deserve another contract. It is no longer a question of if, but when.

If the old buffers who make up the FA could see beyond their next junket, they would be considering two options. One is to pay off Taylor now and bring in a new broom to sweep out his dead wood in the hope that England might still qualify for next year's finals. The other, much more likely to appeal to them, is to delay the change until the qualifying series is over, in November, and make discreet inquiries in the interim, preparing the ground for a painless succession.

The positive move would be to bring in a quality stop-gap, who might just inspire the required improvement in the last three games. Terry Venables, who enjoys the universal respect Taylor is losing, would be ideal.

Instead, it seems certain that the FA will, as usual, settle for the easy option, writing off the 1994 World Cup and spending the next six months weighing up the respective merits of Trevor Francis, Gerry Francis and Glenn Hoddle, to name but three. For the time being, the party line, as expounded by Swales, is that the FA has 'every confidence' in the manager, and that England could beat the Dutch in Rotterdam to regain the lost ground.

Under the present regime there is more chance of Gazza joining Pinky and Perky, and the three piggies visiting Egil Olsen, who has been sighted somewhere over the moon.

That the players are not good enough is an old argument, with more than a grain of truth. That they are too tired because we play too many League games is a poor excuse.

Jack Charlton's Jolly Green Army is recruited from the same domestic competition, and you hear no talk of fatigue from the Irish as they power on from one impressive result to the next.

What England need is a canny operator like Big Jack - someone capable of extracting every last ounce from limited resources. It is a basic requirement of the job in which Taylor has been found lacking.

Not only has he been exposed, time and again, as tactically naive, he would also appear, on Wednesday's depressing evidence, to have lost the ability to motivate a team he takes great pride in calling his own. Why? There has been too much shilly-shallying over strategy and selection, too much criticism of the players and not enough buck-stops-here acceptance of managerial responsibility.

For a man who preaches the virtues of loyalty, continuity and clarity, Taylor can be strangely capricious. The lesson that major matches are not the time for experimentation should have been learned at last year's European Championship, when his flirtation with the sweeper system had the players muddled and confused. Yet here we are, 12 months on, going in against Norway, the Group Two leaders, with an entirely new shape and system, 'perfected' in the space of 48 hours.

For Keith Curle in Malmo, read Gary Pallister in Oslo - two centre-halves lost in unfamiliar territory when asked to man-mark in wide positions. Pallister was not alone in his disarray. Poor Lee Sharpe's delight at getting his first start will have been muted when he was required to play not in the role which gained him selection, but as a wing- back. No experience, no chance. Unsuprisingly, he was a fish out of water.

If the game plan was ill-conceived, the mental preparation was little short of disastrous. The players were still simmering after the shellacking they received in Poland - 'headless chickens' etc - when the team's linchpin, Paul Gascoigne, awoke on the morning of Wednesday's match to find that managerial criticisms of his 'refuelling' habits had seen him branded a 'boozer' on the nation's front pages.

It was not an experience he enjoyed, given the sensibilities of his Italian employers, and if he felt betrayed he was not short of sympathy in the hours leading up to the game.

In terms of man-management, it was a dreadful own goal - and this by a manager whose travelling entourage includes a pounds 30,000-a-year media spin doctor (David Teasdale) and a consultant psychologist (John Gardiner).

Too many cock-ups, too little success. Small wonder Taylor was a picture of contrition yesterday, when he told his critics: 'Whatever you are going to say, I won't be able to disagree. The performance last night was the greatest disappointment I've ever experienced.

'Over the last six months, I've been able to say: 'This is my team', and whatever shortcomings they've had, they've always had a passion and a desire to play for England. Last night that was so sadly lacking it was unbelievable.

'As the manager of that side, I have to take responsibility for that. I'm here to be shot at and I have no defence. It would be totally wrong of me to try to defend that performance. We can talk about formations and team changes, but if the other team wants to win more than you, there's only going to be one result.'

Where do we go from here? 'We have the US Cup starting next week, and we've got to use that to rebuild morale.'

The 'unthinkable' has been accomplished, in Poland and Norway. The impossible may take only a little longer. Defeat by the United States in Boston next Wednesday could see the FA staging a momentous tea party of its own.

Leading article, page 23

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