Football: Time for the FA to act

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The Independent Online
RESPONSIBILITY has been a key word in all the postmortems on England's doleful performances in the last fortnight. Graham Taylor, it is said, has not taken his share of the blame, choosing instead to shift the responsibility on to his players.

The ultimate responsibility, however, lies neither with Taylor nor his team, but with the Football Association. The FA appoints the England manager and its priority should be to ensure that the national team perform to the best of their ability on the international stage. The FA should now take whatever action it considers necessary to give England the best chance of qualifying for next year's World Cup.

After the miserable displays in Poland and Norway and the humiliation in Foxborough, it might seem absurd to talk in terms of England playing in the United States next summer.

The fact is, however, that the outcome of England's qualifying group is likely to be decided by one match, when they play away to the Netherlands in October. Provided England beat Poland at home and San Marino away, the likelihood is that even a draw away to the Netherlands would ensure qualification. Remember that only six weeks ago England, after a world-class performance, would have beaten the Dutch at Wembley but for Des Walker's uncharacteristic late blunder.

That match demonstrated that England have players of true international ability. What the last fortnight appears to have proved is that, for whatever reason (and confusion over tactics appears to be at the root of the problem), the players are not responding to Taylor's management. And there is little reason to believe that the situation will improve come England's final three qualifying matches in the autumn.

If Taylor is to go, the time is now, or at least immediately after the current US trip. What English football needs is inspirational leadership, someone to lift the team for the three matches this year that matter. Several names come to mind, most notably Kevin Keegan, Terry Venables and Ron Atkinson.

The appointment need only be until the end of the qualifying campaign and should not even require the incumbent to give up his day job. Meticulous planning has done little to improve England's recent fortunes. Perhaps what is needed now is less science and more inspiration.

A team of the best English players, drawn largely from what remains one of the strongest leagues in the world, and led by a charismatic figure for whom players want to play, should still be a match for any opposition.