Football: Waddle has chance to burn Taylor's ears

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The Independent Online
NOW that football has become so subservient to television, what could be more appropriate than to have the FA Cup Final become a repeat of the Coca-Cola Final, which today offers Arsenal against Sheffield Wednesday, also to be featured at Wembley on 15 May?

The worst that could happen is that in a month's time an awful lot of people will say 'seen it' and not bother to turn on the telly. The hope is that two teams of different styles will produce two matches of absorbing interest, but what we all want to know is whether Chris Waddle will make Graham Taylor look a real twerp.

If the contest is to be worth a second viewing, Wednesday's Waddle and John Sheridan-inspired ingenuity must be equal to Arsenal's power. The semi-finals of the FA Cup gave several clues as to the outcome of today's final and the bigger one to come. Arsenal overwhelmed Tottenham in a way that seemed ominous for Sheffield Wednesday, whose style is not dissimilar to that of Spurs.

Wednesday, in their much more entertaining semi-final against Sheffield United, were inspired by Waddle, who proved beyond doubt that he should never have given the England manager cause to doubt his commitment, nor wasted so many opportunities to become the playmaker even before Paul Gascoigne had become a regular at Newcastle.

Although Taylor has to say the opposite, the fact that Waddle has not been included in the squad for the World Cup match against the Netherlands virtually eliminates him from all future consideration. Taylor will not even be at Wembley today, preferring to visit Italy to talk with David Platt, who the manager says is to be captain until at least next season.

The controversy over Waddle's omission is accentuated by Taylor's insistence that John Barnes is included. He maintains that Barnes is the only player presently offering England the left wing service he wants, although, of course, Waddle has plenty of experience of playing on that side. The core of the matter is that Taylor is not prepared to use three individualists. He even goes as far as to suggest that no successful team has ever won anything with off-the- cuff football not linked to proper organisation.

Arguing in his own defence and against the inclusion of Waddle, Taylor says: 'I can't convince myself that we wouldn't lose something on the pitch. We are looking for continuity and I'm not going to treat the Dutch as a one-off.

'We have a highly individual player who is causing us a few problems and has to prove his consistency (Gascoigne). We've got another highly gifted individual player on whom the public have turned their back, and I can understand why (Barnes). The inclusion of a third highly gifted player starts to put the whole thing in the melting pot.

'We've got to have stability. We're looking to the future and I'm not too sure that we are yet as stable as I would like us to be for us to bring another one in. It may not be the time for Waddle to add something to what we've got, but it may be that there comes a time when he has to replace someone. But the time is not right.

'Paul Gascoigne has got to convince a lot of people that he is there permanently and John Barnes has got problems. But if we lost them both, I would not say that Waddle would come in automatically. 'I could have made him a substitute, but it would have looked as if I was uncertain about what do and was trying to appease everyone. I'm not in the business of keeping everybody happy. I know people will say I'm trying to avoid the Coca-Cola Cup final, but I owe it to my captain to have a chat before the Holland game.'

It could be that far from having to sit through the embarrassment of seeing Waddle destroy Arsenal in the way that he confused Sheffield United, Taylor could miss seeing the people's choice having one of those anonymous games he all too often produced when he did wear the England shirt.

Arsenal have tended to be underestimated this season. Once their defensive near-invincibility of previous years had gone, it seemed that anyone could give them a run for their money, but in spite of weaknesses in midfield, they have recovered their essential solidity in central defence, although the absence of Lee Dixon on the right side could be more important than a lot of his detractors would believe.

Over the last few months Dixon has been impressively efficient and more careful with his distribution. Much as it would be a pleasure to see the more elegant David O'Leary win back a place, the defence needs Dixon's bite.

At least Tony Adams is in splendid form and will make life difficult for David Hirst and Paul Warhurst and look for opportunities to get his head above the rest in the Wednesday penalty area. His goals against Tottenham and Ipswich Town in the FA Cup were decisive, and in spite of so many out-and-out goalscorers on the field this afternoon, he remains the most likely match-winner.

If the entertainment value of what promises to be a fascinating game is largely in the hands of Waddle, the resourceful Wednesday midfield player Sheridan and Arsenal's Paul Merson have it in them to control the whole event. Should neither grip the match, the strongest influences are likely to be Adams and Carlton Palmer.

For all of his limitations in terms of awareness, there is currently no better destroyer of attacks than Palmer. His move into central defence and out of midfield has emphasised his octopus- like ability to draw attackers into his clutches. His performance against Manchester United last weekend was outstanding.

If Waddle has the opportunity to make Taylor look foolish, it ought to be kept in mind that in Taylor's favour the three players he was so often criticsed for including - Dixon, Adams and Palmer - have repaid his confidence, but we will have to await the Dutch match to see whether they perform against players of much greater talent.

If Waddle was ever going to win back an England place surely it had to be against the Netherlands, which could be the watershed in Taylor's reign. Having been omitted, theoretically Waddle should be in a mood to show Taylor what England are missing, but his moods have always been unpredictable.

He can be as exasperating as he can be exciting, but the chances are that he will not be despondent over his international rejection. Not that Arsenal are going to let him have anything like the space Sheffield United offered.

Wednesday will be encouraged by the fact that this season Arsenal are the Premier League's lowest scoring team and even Ian Wright now seems to have lost his touch, although cup competition usually brings out the best of his scoring skills. Alan Smith says this is the best Arsenal forward line he has played in, yet personally he has never had a more unproductive season.

What he does not say is that the offerings from midfield have been meagre, for apart from Merson when he plays behind the front two, the rest are the sort of fighters who would see Nottingham Forest out of trouble, but would not be selected for Manchester United or Aston Villa.

If Arsenal's midfield fails to hold Waddle this afternoon, the anguish on the faces of the defenders will be nothing compared with the burning sensation being felt on the England manager's ears.