Football: Venables calls for mobility: Ian Ridley says that Romanian skill exposed English discomfort on the ball

Click to follow
NOW and again - and again and again it sometimes seemed under Graham Taylor - an international team comes to Wembley and inflicts on English football the painful pleasure of realising the potential of the game it was given by its hosts. To the list headed by Hungary can be added Romania.

While theirs was never the stunning to the senses of the magisterial Magyars of more than 40 years ago, Romania's display of technique last week did compare with a night six years ago when Colombia's delightful patterns prompted one of those bouts of self-searching to which the national game is periodically prone.

The temptation for downcast spirits is to throw up hands. England, out-thought and outmanoeuvred, still cannot compete in comfort on the ball or the passing of it. Players who stand out in club football stand bemused when confronted by teams of such mobility. Paul Ince, for example, the heartbeat of Manchester United, was often reduced to a scurrier, fortunate, like Gica Popescu after his baulking of Alan Shearer, to stay on the field following two trailing tackles that reflected the struggle to cope.

But, even when they are beaten on points at Wembley, England draw. The sheer stickability of the English player able to eke out 1-1 results against Colombia and Romania has always been the base for Venables on which to build the tactical sophistication that the Romanians possess. 'There is no reason why we can't blend the two together,' he insisted.

There is, though, a technical divide. 'We have got to relax a bit more and be more confident on the ball,' Venables said. 'When we can't go forward we have got to keep the ball and run them out. If we can be direct, we have got to be, that's number one; but we have to pull them around with mobility and flexibility. It's no good playing to their strengths.'

Of Romania's skill, he added: 'It comes young but we are making moves in that direction.' Indeed, the present mood of the Premiership, after a lost generation, coupled with the instructions to officials to encourage attacking play, has fostered a climate of admiration for the ball player. A large part of the problem, however, lies in the intensity of the English autumn programme and while Romania's players have also endured a crowded period, all but three came to Wembley less harassed by the pace of the game in the countries in which they play and more familiar to each other, luxuries rarely afforded home players.

Take, for example, the Blackburn players Graeme Le Saux, probably England's best player although still learning to defend at this level, and Shearer; their club understanding was one of the few cohesive components of the performance. In the last seven days they have also played matches against Newcastle and Liverpool and trained for three days; Le Saux was speaking of his weariness even before the international.

Because of players' fatigue, Venables had only one full day on Tuesday to implement a game plan to combat the Romanian pattern honed through a month-long World Cup. The FA says it will look again at the possibility of weekend internationals next season that would make players available to Venables for longer in midweek.

Further mitigation, rather than excuse, came with injuries, however much they go with any national coach's territory, and might even have been of benefit to Venables in enabling him to look at Robert Lee and Matthew Le Tissier. England just did not look as authoritative without David Platt, despite Lee's replica equalising goal, or as bright without Peter Beardsley. Sometimes there are good games to miss.

Venables could issue only faint praise on the newcomers. While the game often passed Lee by, Le Tissier at least showed touches of class though undermined by carelessness of pass. He was as eager to please as a puppy, and his early skip over a tackle, by Gheorghe Hagi of all people, and volley just over the bar were a nine-minute wonder. But while the ball is likely to be returned a few seconds after being given away at The Dell, against such as the Romanians, who remain a sound argument against a long-ball game, it can be a long time coming back.

Soon after Romania had scored through Ilie Dumitrescu - leaving England's supporters perhaps to wish that Alan Sugar had stopped the visitors' coach Anghel Jordanescu rather than Venables from watching Spurs' players - they assembled a move containing 13 passes.

Of more concern was Ian Wright, too easily diverted into positions of minimum opportunity. One was left with the feeling that if he was not going to fit in under Taylor, he will not now in a system where the long ball played into his stride is rare.

Too often, until Teddy Sheringham's introduction, there resulted the isolation of the estimable Shearer, whose development is illustrated by his discomforting of the excellent Miodrag Belodedici in a way he had not done against the similarly gifted Rune Bratseth of Norway.

'There was support but the quality wasn't there,' Venables said. 'Shearer had to reach for a lot of things.' Indeed, the crossing of Rob Jones did not match that of Le Saux from the other flank while Lee and Le Tissier were preoccupied elsewhere.

It could mean an end to the experimentation, save perhaps for Andy Cole, if fit, replacing Wright in the next squad. Venables is aiming to have a settled side in time for next June's four-team tournament against Brazil (if the price is right), Japan and Sweden, and has only the matches against Nigeria next month, one in March, probably against Portugal, and an away game in April to realise that. There may be 19 months to go to the European Championship finals, but suddenly how late it seems, how late.

Last week's was a match that helped Venables greatly - in satisfying the demand to play Lee and Le Tissier, in lowering expectations without losing an unbeaten record - and taught him much, not least some political restraint. What was his response to the public rebuke from the chairman of the FA, Sir Bert Millichip, that he should keep private in future his comments about Alan Sugar? 'I would say the same about me and Sir Bert,' he replied.

Comments