Football: Venables' key to revolution is flexibility: England seek surprise

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The Independent Online
THE burgeoning belief that England can become a respected international force again was reinforced yesterday when Terry Venables, who announces his first squad on Monday, spoke enthusiastically of his plans to restore faith in the elite rank of the national game.

B fixtures, games against Continental clubs and the blending of old and young players in a cohesive, committed unit all form part of this brave new world but arguably the most revolutionary element to Venables' tactical thinking is his insistence that any player he considers must be 'adaptable'. The new England international will possess the brains of Baresi and the heart of Batty. Which, encouragingly, points to Peter Beardsley.

'I found that when I was working abroad, players were open to change,' the former Barcelona coach told a Football Writers' Association lunch in London yesterday. 'Nayim would play on the left side, on the right side, in defence, or in attack. We've got a mentality here of people playing in one position. From the age of six or seven, players say 'Oh, I'm this sort of player, or that sort of player'. Abroad, they are more broad-minded.

'I might try people in different areas. Players have got to be adaptable.' Alan Ball's role in England's 1966 World Cup success proved the virtue of flexibility, Venables argued. 'Alf (Ramsey) played (John) Connolly and (Terry) Paine as wingers but found they were too easily marked. So Alf played Ball, originally a central midfielder, out wide because he was someone who could tuck in and pass the ball rather than show a trick and try to go past his full-back. Martin Peters was also very teachable.' The rest was history.

Traditional English strengths will not be ignored. 'We don't want to give up what we've got. We have spirit, a never-say-die attitude which other countries don't have. Look at Lazio against Milan last Sunday: for the last 25 minutes they looked sickened when they were behind.' The implication being that a Venables would fight to the last.

'We're not necessarily going down a Continental route. I'm not looking for the team to play fantasy football: I want to give people what they want to see but I don't want to commit suicide.'

With Paul Gascoigne as flag- waver, ringmaster and chief clown, the Venables' variety show which awaits Denmark on 9 March has already captured the public's imagination: Wembley reported yesterday that tickets were going 'very fast'.

With no competitive matches until 1996, England's line-up against the European champions will be experimental. 'I don't want to change for the sake of it and I might find that there's no need - that we'd be better off with what we had originally. But I'll only find that out by trying and we have to be ready by the time real competitions come round.

'I must have the strength not to be upset if we lose games as long as we learn. We've seen Brazil and Germany lose and said 'Oh, look, they've gone over the top'. But they always seem to be ready when the big competitions come round.'

Venables has his thoughts on how best to catch up the Rais and Riedles. Frequent squad 'get togethers' and friendlies against other countries or Continental clubs are planned, although Venables acknowledges League clubs' inherent resistance to losing their employees, even for a short training break.

Importantly, the neglected B international programme will be revived. 'They are a must,' Venables added, 'players go missing after the Under-21s and we have got to bridge that gap.'

The bridge work may begin on Monday if Venables decides to promote notable Under-21 attacking talents like Chris Sutton, Darren Anderton and Andy Cole to the full set-up. But it will be anything but a Lads' Army. 'It's all about trying to get together a blend of experience and youth. If you have younger ones in there you need experienced players to help them develop. Look at players like Baresi (33). The way (Arrigo) Sacchi wants to play his system, Italy would be sorely lost without Baresi.'

If this vocal support for the thirtysomething brigade will revive the hopes of Chris Waddle and Beardsley, particularly the latter in his search for a 50th cap, Venables also encouraged those pros whose own contributions and value is often overshadowed by more visibly impressive colleagues.

Venables' much maligned predecessor, Graham Taylor, used this strategy against San Marino when he called up Stuart Ripley to supply the bullets for his Blackburn team-mate, Alan Shearer. 'I think using blocks of players can be advantageous,' Venables added. 'Italy have used a block of back-four players from one club (from Milan) and let creative players play upfield.' Manchester United could certainly provide three-quarters of the defensive back- bone.

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