Football: Win not enough for England

European Championship: Doubts remain over Hoddle's tactical choices but Wales manager answers his critics
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The Independent Online
THE HOSTILE reviews which greeted England on their return from Luxembourg yesterday morning may have provoked the response that points win prizes, artistic impression and technical merit are irrelevant.

In the normal run of things that would be a valid observation but, after the shambolic display in Sweden and the ponderous one against Bulgaria, it is impossible to view in isolation England's toiling performance in the Ardennes.

It was not that the scoreline was inadequate, in the context of France's 2-0 home win over Andorra it was respectable. The problem was it flattered England, who barely forced a second-half save from Paul Koch in the Luxembourg goal. The faults which were so evident against Bulgaria at Wembley, an inability to make things happen through movement or imagination, either through a lack of confidence or fear of failure, remained, despite three days of work on those very features.

The training session at the Stade Josy Barthel on Tuesday night included two exercises. One of them involved players making over-lapping runs and sending in crosses. This aspect of play was only occasionally seen on Wednesday night, but it did bring the third goal.

The other exercise was designed to get players running at, and committing, opponents. The outfield players were split into two grids playing mini- matches of five against four, with Glenn Hoddle and John Gorman being the fifth player for whichever team was in possession. The idea was to keep possession through dribbling and passing.

Watching Gorman's group, all you heard was the Scot saying: "Take him on, take him on." All you saw was passing. Hoddle's group was harder to assess - Football Association security barred anyone from getting close - but it appeared passing was the order. It was high-quality passing, but not what was required.

The basic problem was that the grids were too small for the intended purpose. This was exacerbated by the English game's distrust of the dribbler, an attitude illustrated by Steve McManaman's peripheral role in Hoddle's England, and often combined with the belief that dribblers are selfish and thus incompatible with the teamwork ethic of the English game.

In Gorman's group there was also an apparent disregard of his instructions. Better, it seemed, to disobey and pass than to fail in the dribble and suffer your team-mates' ridicule.

After a few early dribbles the match went the same way. Quick passing led to the opening goal but, by the second half, the Luxembourg team had got wise to it and simply allowed England to pass across the midfield. By then the buck was being passed as well as the ball.

Meanwhile, on the bench, Hoddle was experiencing one of the most frustrating aspects of coaching, watching a team forget, or ignore, your instructions and being unable to do anything about it apart from shout at them.

Afterwards, in a dimly lit corridor, he said: "Players at this level are motivated within themselves, if they weren't they wouldn't survive. They are also motivated by the coach and the style of play they are being asked to play. They have to take on board what is being asked of them as a team and as individuals."

A warning? It could be that players who are perceived to being unhappy in the 3-5-2 system Hoddle has wedded himself to may find their international careers truncated.

It may have been no co-incidence that the players who appeared to follow the script best were two of the freshest faces: Rio Ferdinand and Phil Neville. The more senior players seemed jaded and fearful. They are often accused of thinking they are better than they are. At present it seems the opposite - they no longer believe in themselves.

With this in mind, Hoddle said he would be taking the opportunity to introduce "new blood" in the forthcoming friendlies, against the Czech Republic on 18 November and opponents to be arranged in February. "We'll see if we can nurse people along the line a little bit further as we did with Rio here," he said. "There are people we can look at who may be able to come in and play a vital part."

Ferdinand's West Ham team-mate, Frank Lampard, is the most likely candidate though, given the paucity of left-sided defenders, the Everton teenager Michael Ball may also have a chance. Then there is Emile Heskey, who already has 14 Under-21 caps, Darren Huckerby, Ray Parlour - if he is ever fit at the right time, Ugo Ehiogu, who is having a good season at Aston Villa, and, at some stage, Darren Eadie of Norwich, who has been in Hoddle's mind for 18 months.

Hoddle added: "The first half was good, we looked as if we could have scored at will, the second half was not so good, possibly because of fatigue. It was a heavy pitch and several players said they felt tired."

Given that nine of the Luxembourg team were part-timers, this was an extraordinary claim. Hoddle insisted that his players had to work harder because it more demanding running with the ball than without. True, but England rarely ran with the ball - they passed it and Luxembourg chased around covering.

It was not physical tiredness that did for England, it was mental tiredness. They were short of ideas and short of confidence in themselves and their coach. Having secured victory, they could not lift themselves to do it in style and ease the pressure on Hoddle. Maybe some of them did not want to.