Football: The realist with a real chance: Grand entrance: The streetwise qualities of Terry Venables will act as a restorative for England - Eamon Dunphy hails the best possible choice for the impossible job

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The Independent Online
ONLY three questions need be asked about anybody aspiring to manage in the international game. Does the candidate know the game? Will the players respect him? Is he big enough for the job? As far as these vital statistics are concerned England hired the right man when they finally appointed Terry Venables last Friday.

Managing or coaching England is a bitch of a job, as Sir Alf Ramsey will no doubt confirm should Venables seek advice from the most distinguished of his predecessors, but if it can be done, this survivor from Essex stands a better chance than most of restoring England to her rightful place in the world game.

Where exactly England ought to stand is a moot point. And that will be one of the first questions the new manager will have to ask himself. Being a realist with considerable experience of the European game, Venables will know the scale of the challenge he faces. He is unlikely to go to bed at night dreaming that his England team can win the European championship and inspire Brian Glanville to flights of poetic acclaim. Venables the realist will understand that technically and tactically England have declined while the Italians, Dutch, Germans and Brazilians have progressed. Unlike his predecessor, the wretched Graham Taylor, Venables is unlikely to travel to Oslo expecting to win employing tactics, pinched from the Boys' Own Coaching manual, designed to 'confuse' the Norwegians.

Waking from his slumber, Venables will not be drenched in sweat like the Taylor of Monday night's infamous television documentary 'The Impossible Job'. He remarked on Friday that managing England is not an impossible job; rather it is difficult for a variety of reasons, few if any of which the man concerned can do anything about. The domestic game is run by the Peters and Kens of this world, chaps who are more concerned with the Autoglass Trophy than the European Championship, in relation to which they have visions focused primarily on the number of tickets they can acquire for their friends.

Venables won't be able to reform the English League, which will continue to make excessive demands on its best players, rendering them unfit for international competition in the early summer months when major championships are decided. When, two and a half years down the road, Venables leads his men into battle for the first time in the 1996 European Championship finals, the players will be weary after 10 months of relentless competition.

Venables would be wise to come to terms with this handicap rather than whinge about it. The trick, and a facility for tricks is part of Venables' charm, requires a certain understanding of the human condition which, in this instance, leads to the conclusion that a footballer will only be as weary as you tell him he should be. A shrewd appreciation of the human condition is a prerequisite for success in international team management, a virtue there is every reason to suppose Venables possesses.

Sir Bert Millichip's observation that Venables should get the job because he was 'the best coach in England' is evidence merely of that gentleman's naivety. Coaching is not an option for international team managers. There's no time for that. Venables will be borrowing material formed elsewhere, men whose habits and disposition he may temper and inform but not, in any fundamental way, alter. English footballers will often arrive at camp feeling tired. The manager's task will be to persuade them that recovery is possible. We know it is possible by reflecting on the magnificent courage and resilience shown by Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland in Italy and Andy Roxburgh's Scotland during the European Championship finals in Sweden in 1992. This is a matter of common sense not coaching.

There is good reason to believe that Venables possesses the strength of character to stick to his own convictions rather than conform to the whims of conventional wisdom. Arriving in Barcelona in 1984, Venables concluded that his mission in Catalonia could best be accomplished by dispensing with the services of Diego Maradona, then regarded, correctly, as the world's greatest player. This brave decision testifies to qualities more profound than they teach you at Lilleshall. A real appreciation of how dressing-rooms work, in human rather than sporting terms, caused Venables to sacrifice Maradona for the greater good. This was a courageous decision, but an ability to identify false gods is not the least of the assets Venables brings.

Last Wednesday night, 48 hours before Venables' appointment was announced, BBC's Sportsnight provided a typical example of the media- induced propaganda those charged with managing a nation's dreams must resist. Peter Beardsley has been playing superbly for Newcastle, scoring and creating goals, and Sportsnight produced a series of glorious clips purporting to offer indisputable evidence that Beardsley's omission from the national team was folly. Kevin Keegan, the man England really wanted, lent divine substance to the Beardsley for England Campaign. It was easy to forget the reality of Beardsley's many innocuous - and often sullen - performances in an England shirt. There may or may not be merit in the argument for Beardsley; what matters is that Venables rather than the BBC or Kevin Keegan is judge and jury.

Bullshit, generated by the media, is a not inconsiderable fact of an England manager's life. I wouldn't doubt Venables' capacity to keep the popular, not to mention the serious, press at bay. On the contrary it could be argued that Venables' remarkable career as author, inventor (he invented The Thingamywig, a hat with artificial hair sticking out for women who needed to go out when they had their curlers in - it failed), businessman, wine bar owner, singer and TV pundit makes him the ideal candidate for the 'Impossible Job'.

Chaotic and indecent English football needs more than a good coach. An opportunist who knows the game, who can empathise with Paul Gascoigne rather than Charles Hughes, the mad ideologue of Lancaster Gate. English football has got a man who has been exposed to vice yet understands the essential football virtues. The task awaiting Venables might best be defined as injecting a measure of insolent optimism into a sport - and a nation - sickened by self-doubt.

A study of Terry Venables' cv offers reason for optimism. Forget the cloud of alleged misdemeanour hanging over his head. If all in professional football were subject to unrelenting scrutiny such as Venables has had to endure, the job of managing England would be vacant forever. Corruption is a way of life in English football and has been since day one, tarnishing all except those blessed with the innocence of Alan Sugar. Whatever strings attach to Venables' appointment belong elsewhere, in some museum to be precise.

The message of hope in this cv tells of a singular man possessing more energy, imagination and ambition than football could easily satisfy, a streetwise character brave enough to confront Maradona, smart enough to break the bank to buy the original Gascoigne, a man who sussed that we wouldn't always play on grass (the title of his prescient, early novel), a survivor who has displayed an uncommon degree of gracious good humour in recent, hard times. As fans of Crystal Palace, QPR, Barcelona and Spurs will readily acknowledge, Terry Venables has improved every team he has managed. He is essentially a players' man, a fact vouched for by the angry reaction in the Spurs' dressing- room to Alan Sugar's summary dismissal of him.

A players' man, but no soft touch. I recall, many years ago, travelling from London to Manchester with Venables to attend the AGM of the Professional Footballers' Association. On our annual journeys, this young Millwall delegate would talk passionately about the various reforms required to save our game. (Lamentably, many of these have been implemented to disastrous effect.)

Venables, then an influential figure in the PFA, would listen sympathetically, make approving noises and crack a joke. His heart was elsewhere, the PFA a means to an end, an item on some future cv He's smart and he's hard, as he will need to be.

Venables should relish the isolation of the England job. Let Sir Bert and Graham Kelly reform the Football Association, delegate in-house philosophy to Jimmy Armfield and hire Saatchi and Saatchi to handle the media. Venables should turn away, as Alf Ramsey did, from the clamouring mob, commit himself to working with and protecting his players. His task, far from being impossible, is simply to build a settled side that reflects both the strengths of the English game and his own irrepressible nature.

(Photograph omitted)

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