Football: Venables extols the Ajax way

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The Independent Online


Terry Venables returned from Dortmund yesterday preaching the gospel according to Ajax and seeking further converts.

The England coach was an impressed spectator as the Dutch and European champions strolled to a 2-0 European Cup quarter-final first leg win at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. Afterwards, he said the English game, and his national team, should be striving to emulate Ajax. He also said it was an attainable goal.

"It is amazing that they are the best club team in the world, but no one copies them," he said. "It can be done. The intelligence comes from the coach, the information is passed on. It is like a teacher at school.

"We can do it. We do not reach for perfection. Yet, if you do that, you get excellence. If you aim for half, you do not even get that.

"I have no doubt you can do it fairly quickly. If you change something, you need success early on. I was fortunate at Barcelona. I changed everything and my first result was 3-0 away to Madrid. From then on they thought I was right - before they thought I was mad."

The Ajax way, in which players are inculcated in the club philosophy from the age of eight, is well known but Venables noted that Jari Litmanen, the Finn, and the Nigerians Finidi George and Nwanko Kanu "have been there only two years. The Portuguese, the Spanish, the Italians are equally technically blessed, but strategically the Dutch are ahead. They know the game."

That point was superbly illustrated by Ruud Gullit during Sky TV's coverage of Monday's Newcastle-Manchester United match. The Dutchman raised the often discredited art of football punditry to a new level.

Gullit's career also exemplifies another Venables observation on the Dutch: "They have skill and intelligence, and they want to put that `dirty' word in: hard work. There are not many great players who do not work their socks off: look at [Dennis] Bergkamp [who practised volleys for 20 minutes after training last week before scoring from one against QPR] and Gullit. It is not an accident they keep producing these players.

"We live in a society where there has been the minimum amount of work, while expecting the best and actually falling behind. We get a lot of television money and what do the clubs do with it? They give the players three times as much - but they have not got any better. We have got to strive to achieve."

He is encouraged by meetings with the managers who had been in Europe to discuss what went on in other games. "Clubs have tried to change a bit and it is only for the better that we get together. As soon as you ask the questions `are we good enough?' and `can we improve?' we are on the way to doing so. In the past we felt we were good enough.

On a similar theme, Venables said he had found his get-togethers, in which he has time to impart his ideas without the pressure of producing a victory at the end of it, more useful than the matches.

Venables said he was still looking at systems for Euro 96. "I want us to be able to play in two or three ways, so I can change it if things are going wrong. I do not think anything is beyond this group of players."

Also in Dortmund was Berti Vogts, the German national coach, who watched gloomily as Borussia were dissected. Venables described Borussia as "prehistoric" - a phrase which was only slightly updated by another national manager, Switzerland's Artur Jorge, when talking about England.

Jorge, who has recently taken over from Roy Hodgson, said of England's 3-1 win over the Swiss in October: "When they played ancient football they played very well and they gave the Swiss a lot of problems. When they tried to play European style, they were not difficult to contain."

Kidology - or genuine? Either way, Venables is unlikely to be diverted from attempting to turn English artisans into Dutch masters.