Football: Taylor's trial of Wrights and wrongs: Joe Lovejoy peers into a smokescreen in search of the shape of England's next team

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The Independent Online
GRAHAM TAYLOR approaches his third season as England's manager a changed man, which was probably inevitable. The changes his team are about to undergo are much less easy to predict.

Taylor this week was a very different animal from the gregarious chatterbox who took on the job two years ago. His appointment owed much to his public relations expertise, and at the time there was talk of round-the-clock access, the England XI belonging to the nation, not to the management, and the need to maintain a proper perspective, and take his responsibilities very seriously, himself much less so.

Impressive stuff, but it lasted only until he ran into the sort of criticism which, for all his protestations to the contrary, comes with the territory. If he really believes his bad press to be unique, he should consult Bobby 'In the name of God go' Robson, or scan the files on Don 'Judas' Revie.

That a grudge was being nurtured, and PR forgotten, was evident when Taylor objected to the presence of the journalists who accompanied him to Oslo for Wednesday's friendly between Norway and Sweden. A witch-hunt is under way at the Football Association to determine who leaked details of his travel arrangements to 'the enemy'.

What a difference a failure makes. In similar circumstances in the past, he has welcomed the company, and enjoyed a convivial post-match meal with the hacks. This time, he made it plain that he preferred his own company. The press were shunned.

That goes with our territory, of course. The point is that first principles had deserted him at the whiff of gunsmoke. Access was denied, the England team (or at least his thoughts on it) were no longer to be shared with the nation. Taylor was taking himself too seriously.

He no longer talks to the critics, but his apologists provide ample proof of a persecution complex. In one such interview he wailed: 'Where are the laughs now? Most of the time I'm on my own, treading water.' In another he spoke of 'vultures gathering', and added, melodramatically: 'There is nowhere to hide. It is not possible to stop them from drawing blood, but they won't kill me.'

Paranoia with schizoid tendencies, judging by some other recent statements. Justifying his use of the sweeper system at the European Championship, he said it was time to try the Continental approach because 26 years of 4-4-2 had won England nothing, yet just two months later he was saying: 'Trying to play outside our culture is wrong. We're next to useless at the slow, square passing game. We have to be true to ourselves.'

His strategy for the World Cup qualifying campaign, which starts with Norway's visit on 14 October, has also been clouded by prevarication and double talk. He now denies that he suggested, before retreating from Sweden, that he would be embracing the long ball game as the short cut to success, yet every one of the 30 English journalists present drew that inference from his remarks.

Judge for yourself. Asked if the long ball reputation he had gained at Watford had inhibited him from implementing his ideas as England's manager, he replied 'You could say that.' He then referred to other teams being physically stronger, and Sweden beating England by playing a pressing game, 'more English than the English.'

His concluding statement was: 'What I have learned here has confirmed a lot of my thinking. Working with the England team and seeing this particular tournament has confirmed a lot of what I always thought, but what a lot of people are not prepared to admit.'

That long ball is best? Apparently not. Taylor told one of his mouthpieces: 'This long ball thing really annoys me. It is a cross I will have to bear for the rest of my professional life, but even if I wanted to play in a direct, long ball fashion with England, I would need to be able to work with the players on a day-to-day basis. I can't do that, so the whole thing is a non-starter from the word go.'

Jack Charlton seems to have managed it with the Republic of Ireland, while still finding plenty of time for fishing, but then that is another can of worms.

Long or short? Kick and rush or pass and move? Clear as mud. An early indication will come on Tuesday, with the announcement of England's squad for the preparatory friendly against Spain in Santander on 9 September. The presence, or otherwise, of two players, Geoff Thomas and Brian Deane, will provide the first clue as to Taylor's intentions.

Neither was selected for Sweden. If either, or both, returns this time, it will be reasonable to expect a reversion to the power game.

Thomas, presumably, will only be back if Taylor elects to use his successor as the midfield dog, Carlton Palmer, in central defence, where a vacancy has been created by Martin Keown's knee injury.

Deane, bullish (or should that be Bull-ish?) and increasingly prolific, is a throwback to the traditional English centre-forward. As such, he represents a powerful, Tayloresque alternative to Ian Wright as the search begins for Gary Lineker's replacement.

To begin at the beginning, Chris Woods would never be among the top three goalkeepers if players were judged solely on club form, but he has served England well and will retain his place. Cover will be provided by Nigel Martyn, who has edged ahead of David Seaman and Tony Coton, and if there is to be a third goalkeeper, it could well be David James, who has made such an impressive start with Liverpool.

Rob Jones, damaged shins repaired, and Stuart Pearce pick themselves at full-back, with Tony Dorigo in reserve, but the situation in central defence is less clear cut.

The impression in Sweden was that Mark Wright might never play for England again, such was the irritation caused by the will- he-won't-he saga which preceded his withdrawal from the tournament without kicking a ball.

No Wright, then? Not necessarily. So many of the impressions given in Sweden have since proved to be false that his inclusion would be no real surprise.

Des Walker will be there, of course, Wright maybe, and Keith Curle, played out of position against the Danes in Malmo, deserves a chance in his proper place. Otherwise, if Palmer is not to be deployed at the back, and another centre-half is needed, what price the dependable Steve Bruce, who has made a better start to the season than his Manchester United partner, Gary Pallister?

A personal preference would be Portsmouth's Andy Awford, the best young centre-half in the country, who has a second string to his bow in his familiarity with, and success in, the sweeper's role.

In midfield it is largely a case of rounding up the usual suspects, with the welcome exception of the resurgent Gazza, who will perform a useful function as camp jester, and may even get on for 20 minutes or so, fitness permitting.

Eighteen-year-old Chris Bart- Williams is very much in Taylor's thoughts, but Trevor Francis, his manager and mentor at Sheffield Wednesday, is more aware than most of the pressures of travelling too far, too soon, and is said to be counselling against his selection.

For the forward positions, just about everyone is advocating Ian Wright and A N Other. Everyone but Wright himself, that is. Last season's leading scorer - an inexplicable omission from the squad in Sweden - has been on target in each of his first two appearances this time around, but says he is not fully fit, and 'not playing as well as I should be.'

Steve Coppell of Crystal Palace, an impartial judge, says his front two would be Wright and Sheffield Wednesday's David Hirst, while Dave Bassett, the Sheffield United manager, would go for Wright and his own Brian Deane. Significantly, no mention of Alan Shearer, Britain's most expensive footballer, at pounds 3.3m.

Shearer, it is true, did not look the part in Sweden, and is never likely to be as prolific as Wright who, alone among English strikers, has the flair for the unexpected which can wrong-foot the best defences.

When it comes to replacing Lineker's goals, he is the man most likely to - given the opportunity. That he will get it is by no means certain, for he, like his namesake, would probably figure down among the untouchables of the press if Taylor was drawing up a cast list with a final 'e'.

The manager feels he has been wronged enough. Two Wrights would only make another one.

POSSIBLE SQUAD: Woods (Sheff Wed), Martyn (Crystal Palace), James (Liverpool), Jones (Liverpool), Pearce (Nottm Forest), Dorigo (Leeds), Walker (Sampdoria), Curle (Man City), Bruce (Man Utd), Awford (Portsmouth), Batty (Leeds), Palmer (Sheff Wed), Platt (Juventus), Sinton (QPR), Clough (Nottm Forest), Steven (Rangers), Daley (Aston Villa), Merson (Arsenal), Shearer (Blackburn), Wright (Arsenal), Deane (Sheff Utd), Hirst (Sheff Wed), Gascoigne (Lazio).

(Photograph omitted)

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