Taylor talked for the best part of two hours. He said very little. Like a good Boy Scout he promised co-operation. He was optimistic. He would like to be given time before being judged and then he would like to be judged by results. To the listening football man, Taylor's two-hour monologue was singularly unconvincing.
He said little about football or footballers. He promised that his England team would entertain and co-operate with the media. Taylor was at pains to stress that he understood the media, or, as he coyly put it, 'you lads'. This was a public relations exercise. There was more than a hint of a man anticipating trouble, intent on 'building bridges'; more than a hint of ingratiation. Like one of those neatly dressed evangelists who prowl the suburbs with the Bible in search of converts, Taylor was too good to be true and too glib to be believed.
Time has not erased that first impression of England's manager as a chirpy, fairly cute lightweight, who talks a good game if you don't know the game. The most successful international team managers in these islands, Sir Alf Ramsey and Jack Charlton, have been bloody-minded men of conviction, men whom any sensible suburban housewife would refuse entry into her house, Bible or no Bible.
Conviction is the key to Charlton's success with the Republic of Ireland team. Graham Taylor's England lack conviction for the simple reason that this articulate Boy Scout has no real convictions himself, nor a clear idea of the England team he would like to play, or how he would like it to play. Tossing and turning on the prevailing wind of public opinion, he switches players and styles with bewildering effect.
Bewildered players are demoralised players. Of the team who face the Netherlands in Rotterdam , only David Platt and perhaps Tony Adams can be sure of playing two games down the road. The no full-backs experiment of Oslo last July has doubtless now been shelved, but who knows when it might be redeployed, perhaps with Carlton Palmer doing the honours at right-back?
Loyalty is a virtue of which Taylor has claimed to be especially fond. Yet, in moments of crisis, he has been less than staunch in his support of 'the lads' who matter. After England had rather fortunately salvaged a point against the Republic of Ireland in the qualifying round of the last European Championship, Taylor allowed his goalkeeper, David Seaman, to carry the can for the goal conceded to Charlton's side, who were by far the better team. The substitution of Gary Lineker in the dying minutes of England's embarrassing European Championship campaign was political, designed, it seemed, to make a point, which was not about loyalty. Ditto Taylor's references to Paul Gascoigne's 'refuelling' problems.
Taylor's inadequacies are well-documented. He has been too eager to please (that's why he got the job), the media and, one senses, his employers on the Football Association's International Committee; too eager to please and too anxious to explain. Taylor is not the first England manager to be afflicted by the desire to be understood. This disease is fatal. International team management is like leading your country. You must believe that you know best and confront the enemy within: the 'experts' of the media; the old players and your peers in management; and every fan who ever bought a ticket and picked his own national team in the bar. These alternative voices, clamorous and insistent, must not be appeased. The international team manager should, ideally, be more Margaret Thatcher than John Major. Taylor is not.
Comparison with Charlton is inevitable and valid. Another press conference, the one Charlton presided over the night he arrived in Dublin to take charge of the Irish team, serves to illustrate why the uncompromising Geordie is more likely than his Boy Scout compatriot to be travelling to the United States next summer. The scene is the Westbury Hotel, one of Dublin's most luxurious venues. There is a palpable buzz of anticipation. This is bigger than a sports story; the heavyweights of news broadcasting and print journalism are present. In strides Jack, cap in hand. A practised media performer, he soon has the assembled eating out of his hands. He is matter of fact. He promises nothing. Ireland must be realistic.
But, he allows, there is every reason to be optimistic. He has recently been to the Mexico World Cup, for this is 1986, and he has seen nowt to terrify him. If Ireland play to their strengths, they will do well. And he knows what those strengths are: guts, resilience and aggression, qualities that can make the difference in the international game.
Sitting nervously on either side of Jack are the worthies of the Football Association of Ireland. Alas, as everybody present except Charlton knew, he hadn't been the favourite candidate. A plan to appoint Bob Paisley had gone wrong, and Charlton had claimed the job by default. Half an hour into the press conference, the football questions dried up. A couple of journalists challenged the president of the FAI about the selection procedure. This gent wriggled with embarrassment. Sensing a story, a brave minority pressed for clarification.
Charlton started to fidget. Then, the colour rising up his face, he erupted. We had no business pestering Mr President. What the bloody hell was all this about? Freedom of the press, a stout voice ventured. Charlton stared icily at his adversary. A brief row ensued. Jack then invited the persistent journalists 'outside, and we'll settle this'. Wisely, I'm sure, I refused. And that was the end of a beautiful friendship.
Charlton has never courted popularity. Since coming to Ireland, he has bullied journalists and players and ignored his critics in the Irish game. When David O'Leary sensibly refused to interfere with family arrangements to travel with an Irish squad from which he had originally been omitted, Charlton scandalously banished O'Leary for over two years, preferring the journeyman Mick McCarthy.
Pragmatism is another indispensable quality Charlton has brought to the international game. When vital players are injured there is no crisis in the Irish camp. One of the most remarkable victories of his reign came at Hampden Park against Scotland in 1988. Deprived of a number of key players, he improvised: Mark Lawrenson, then the best central defender in Britain, played in midfield. Paul McGrath, the second-best defender after Lawrenson, played right-back, and Ronnie Whelan was moved from midfield to left-back.
Ireland won, logic and lounge-bar critics nil.
Tough, convinced and pragmatic, Charlton has created a team in his own image. Those, like this observer, who argue that his convictions are too narrow and are unworthy of the talent at his disposal, can only speculate, and we can do so until the cows come home. Charlton can point to the record which proves, undeniably, that his Irish team is one of the most formidable propositions in the world.
Charlton has afforded his players the priceless gift of certainty. He has broken through the mystical facade of international football, is contemptuous of the notion that foreigners are somehow magically endowed with gifts beyond the understanding of our heroes from the Football League. Like Ramsey, Jack is an Englishman and proud of it, proud of virtues like courage and bloody-minded persistence which are no longer fashionable in his homeland.
Unlike Graham Taylor, he doesn't check out current form. You only have to prove yourself once. And to only one man, who betrays no doubts about himself, his methods or his players. In international football, where insecurity is endemic, certainty such as that is hard currency.
The English players charged with getting a result in Rotterdam this week are handicapped before they begin. They will be playing for their places. Playing the Netherlands for the prize at stake would be hard enough. Not, however, as difficult as history might propose. As the pre-eminence of Norway suggests, the Netherlands should not intimidate. Van Basten and Gullit will be absent; their coach, Dick Advocaat, is no more popular or self-assured than Mr Taylor. All is rarely well in the moody Dutch camp, the kind of democracy that would terrify Charlton being rampant in the dressing-room. The point England need is eminently gettable, well within reach of any decent side with World Cup aspirations. Taylor would do well to take a sedative and pass the bottle round to his players and the travelling press. His nerves are showing and that will colour the mood in the dressing-room. England travel apprehensively, thinking more about the recriminations ahead should they fail than about the task in hand. For those of us who can afford the luxury of objectivity that task can be completed if Alan Shearer exposes Koeman's desperate lack of pace, if Paul Ince snaps aggressively at Rijkaard's ankles, and if Adams and Gary Pallister can avoid being left alone with Bergkamp.
Should England qualify for the World Cup finals they will face embarrassment or worse. The United States next summer will be no place for players wearied by a cruel domestic season and led by a talkative Boy Scout who likes to build bridges. If England fail this week, Graham Taylor will go. His epitaph might contain the words: plausible (to some), platitudinous (to all), pious and reasonable and willing to learn. A harsher judgement would argue that international team management is no place for Boy Scouts.
When they post the advertisement for Taylor's successor, it should read: 'No reasonable man need apply.' For this is a very unreasonable job, best-suited to those unwilling to learn.Reuse content