Football: Time to pass flame to positive thinkers: Bologna is a fine opportunity for rebuilding. But will Graham Taylor take the chance? Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
ENGLISH football has had a wake or two these past few weeks, and the atmosphere is unlikely to rise much above the funereal on Monday, when Graham Taylor rakes over the ashes of a spent World Cup campaign to produce his last squad as manager of the national team.

As ever, he will try to put a brave face on it, and point out that it is still possible for England to qualify - if they put at least seven past San Marino in 10 days' time.

Unfortunately, the other part of the equation requires Poland to beat the Netherlands the same night which, on current form, must be about as likely as Terry Venables and Alan Sugar entering the two- man bob.

From the realistic viewpoint, the tie in Bologna looks like a moribund non-event. The only way to breathe life into it would be for Taylor to dispense with some of his failures in favour of a young tyro or two, but don't hold your breath. The team may change - rather too often for most tastes - but the basic framework of the squad stays the same, and we can expect another round-up of the same old suspects.

Conventional wisdom has it that while there is still a chance of getting to the finals, however remote, it would be irresponsible to take unnecessary risks by gambling on new faces.

Too timid. Hidebound ideas have brought us to the stage where England are outplayed by little Norway and Manchester United are tipped out of the European Cup by the unsung Turks of Galatasaray.

Change is long overdue, in strategy as well as personnel, and the sooner the better.

Admittedly, the last match of a qualifying series, with just three days for preparation, is no time to embrace a whole new ball game, but a few fresh faces could only invigorate the team, militating against staleness and the debilitating feeling of anti-climax.

If Ian Wright was serious during the retreat from Rotterdam, and really believes he should make way for Andy Cole, why not oblige him?

Conservative by tradition, England have a frustrating tendency to overlook strong candidates for promotion when their form warrants selection, on the basis that they are 'not quite ready', then pick them when the purple patch has passed.

Cole deserves his chance, now, and his pace would terrorise the part-time Sammarinese. Ditto Ruel Fox, whose penetrative wingplay for Norwich City must make him a better bet than Trevor Steven or - heaven forbid - Carlton Palmer, who sank without trace on the right of midfield in the Feyenoord stadium.

Cole and Fox could slot into the team with minimal disruption to Taylor's basic design, but results have demonstrated that a more cultivated approach is needed. Fundamentally, foreign sides are beating ours, at club as well as international level, because they pass the ball better.

Norwich are an obvious, and honourable, exception, and it is hard to believe that the creativity of an unimaginative England midfield would not be enhanced by the conductor who makes the Canaries sing.

Without Gazza - words which go together like Newcastle and Brown these days - there is a manifest need for someone who can deliver clever, unexpected passes rather than the telegraphed dross which is meat and drink to foreign defenders.

Turkey's Tugay was a paradigm in Galatasaray's two games against United, his control, vision and perceptive distribution giving him a marked edge over more celebrated opponents like Robson, Keane and Ince.

Rodney Marsh, whose cheeky- chappie skills would have made him a sensation today, lamented that: 'We give away possession so easily.' George Best's soulmate and stage partner recalled meeting Florian Albert, the legendary Hungarian, when they were both coaching in the United States. 'He explained the difference between the countries by saying: 'In Hungary, we make love to the ball. The English eat it'.'

Ian Crook is one who is guided by his heart, not his stomach, and is worth a try to see if he can reproduce his influential club form on the international stage.

There would be no risk in blooding him, along with Cole and Fox, against San Marino, who conceded seven at home to the Dutch, and lost 10-0 in Norway and 6-0 at Wembley. Newcomers are hardly likely to 'freeze' in front of a crowd more suited to Barnet than Bologna.

In the long term, it is the system more than the players that needs updating. English football has flirted with Continental innovations - sweepers, wing-backs and the like - without ever consummating the marriage. Invariably, it is quickly back to the old flame,

4-4-2, as if to say: 'There, we've tried it. We always knew it wouldn't work here.'

Sadly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that 4-4-2 will bring only limited success anywhere else. The world game has moved on since 1966, and Alf's wingless wonders.

A generation later, failure to get to the United States will serve a valuable purpose if it brings about the climate for change. The clubs are notoriously reactionary, but Norwich represent a persuasive example, outmanoeuvring much bigger, wealthier rivals by adopting flexible tactics, based on sound, passing principles.

If others are tempted to follow their lead, the next England manager will receive a worthwhile inheritance. If not, the job will again be a poisoned chalice.

By way of antidote, Taylor could use his valediction to test a few candidates for Euro '96. He could, but will he? Dream on.

(Photograph omitted)