Football: Working on the Wright approach

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IN A RECENT match at Highbury, an otherwise promising 17-year-old in the 17th minute of his first senior appearance personified everything that is unattractive about the attitude of so many young players who are being produced on the conveyor belts of most professional clubs. An opponent legitimately turned his back while in possession and was brought down by the muscular youth. It appeared that at no time during his caution did the teenager look at the referee or give any impression that such behaviour was not a part of the way he had been trained to play.

Even one of Arsenal's coaches has admitted that he is concerned about the amount of off-the-ball violence that is now accepted as 'part and parcel' of the Premier League game. Football is no harder than it was 20 years ago but it has a repellent cynicism and cultivates what could be called second-phase aggression - players' intervention when the rule-breaking is not of their making nor when they are the victims. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Vinny Jones voicing his views on video about 'Soccer's Hard Men', second-phase violence comes across strongly, with Jones being one of the worst culprits.

Arsenal have a team with an above average number of players who fail to control their tempers and seem to think that cautions are an inevitable part of the trade. So, presumably, England's manager, Graham Taylor, had to think long and hard about whether to include any of them in his first World Cup squad for the match against Norway a week on Wednesday. Never mind the fact that the toothless FA would not murmur if he chose Vinny Jones himself, Taylor has to justify his selections in his own mind and whatever other criticisms may have been heaped on the guy, he is not known for encouraging ruffians. On the other hand, it would be absurd to think that he has such a strong potential squad that players who persistently bend and sometimes abuse the laws can be disgarded and have no part to play in England's future. Jones he can do without, and in spite of complaints about gestures to the crowd yesterday, Ian Wright is still expected to overlook his latest alleged transgressions and will play next to Alan Shearer in the England attack.

Unlike Jones, Wright may not make money and attract publicity for himself by championing football's tough guys, but he is no paragon, and the same can be said of those other Arsenal players, Tony Adams and Lee Dixon, who are also in the squad. So it seemed appropriate to ask Taylor how he came to terms with the risk of having England dragged down to the same level of indiscipline that we have all seen in the Premier League this season.

Wright is merely one of dozens of players prone to joining in arguments that have nothing do do with them. Continental referees would send them off for nothing worse than their perpetual threatening glances. But Wright scores goals, lots of goals. Taylor admits he has been critical of Wright's sense of responsibility and had doubts about his own ability to talk sense to a player with a short fuse. He said: 'Since I became the England manager I have firmly believed the standard of behaviour on and off the pitch is important and that we do have a responsibility, all of us, and there is an honour in playing for your country and with that goes responsibility for your standard of behaviour.

'Having said that, I don't say to a player after one mistake, 'What do you think you're doing?' There are occasions when referees see things in different ways. I'm not talking about the occasional booking but when it becomes consistent. What I know about Ian is that he plays on a short wire and he lives on one. He's up and down, and I can't change people. On the other hand I'd like to think, if you live on a short wire or not, you have enough sense to realise, if there is something you desperately want, you don't make it difficult for yourself or for me. In fact it may be taken out of my hands. I have a contract with the Football Association and I'm responsible for selection and I am not allowed to select people if the FA decide their behaviour is not becoming of a person representing the country. I didn't argue with that clause in my contract because I happen to believe that that is right.

'I understand Ian Wright and I know there is no nastiness in him. And I know he has got a phenomenal goal-scoring record since he joined Arsenal. People say, well OK, why didn't you take him to Sweden? There are two words: Gary Lineker; and I could only take a squad of 20. I couldn't see them playing together. I've looked at his disciplinary record and it fills some pages. Only one referee has cautioned him twice so he can't even argue that someone has got it in for him. But I've no problem with him. I don't see it as a risk because in five internationals he has not been a risk from that point of view. He's going to get fouled but he's got to learn not to get involved. He's not the first player to try to be the referee. I'm not defending that but there's been many top players who think they are also top-class referees.'

The trouble is that 17-year-olds are now coming into the game at the top level but a long way from top class and yet they are convinced that the referee is there to be conned and that their manager will not be impressed unless they show aggression which, today, is all too often confused with the word commitment.