Football / World Cup: England's captain concedes game is up

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE MAN they call 'Psycho' is not so daft, after all. Stuart Pearce, the England captain, sat beneath a painting entitled 'The Last Embrace' and cut through all the bull and wishful thinking to admit that he was about to kiss the World Cup goodbye.

Pearce, at 31, does not expect another chance to appear in the finals, and arrived in Bologna last night admitting that the trip they are calling 'Mission Impossible' will be his last hurrah.

Graham Taylor may be of the 'where there's life there's hope' persuasion, but the full-back he appointed to lead by clenched-fist example is a down-to-earth realist.

To clamber out of the grave they dug for themselves in Rotterdam, England need to beat San Marino by a seven-goal margin tomorrow night while the Netherlands are losing in Poland. Pearce would not wager a single lira on either result.

'If we needed to go to Poland and get a draw, we'd do it,' he said. 'We've done it before. I can't see the Dutch slipping up.' And England? 'We've got to go out and break our necks to get seven goals.' No, he was not prepared to say that they would do it.

He had not been in such a situation before, but raised a titter or two by likening it to Nottingham Forest's relegation last season. 'We needed to score about 130 goals to stay up, and we didn't manage that.'

At least he could joke about it. 'I won't be going to another World Cup at my age, so it's very disappointing, but I won't be slashing my wrists. Maybe it's experiencing the bad times that makes the good ones so good.'

Pearce had 'winced' at some of the 'unfair' criticisms he had read of Taylor, but said such things made little difference to the players' attitude, or performance. 'We are playing for England. That should be enough to drive anybody on.'

The weary recipient of the 'stick' his captain deems unfair is anxious for it to be all over. The fateful hour cannot come quickly enough. 'The quicker Wednesday night is here the better for everybody,' Taylor said. 'After that, it really is a case of que sera.'

Not for the first time, he appears to be making his excuses in advance. The constraints of the England managership made it a thankless task, he contended. 'It is about reigning as a king, but not being able to govern.'

The job had changed over the last 20 years - and for the worse, he said. 'I was at the Poland game in 1973 when we failed to qualify, but I didn't drive back up the motorway thinking they should sack Alf Ramsey. I think it's a shame that people in your profession are responsible for the lack of status the job now has.'

For all that, he could rival Saxa with all the pinches of the white stuff he had taken when potential successors asked to be ruled out. No one had ever refused to manage England, and he thought no one ever would.

Out on the training pitch - the only place Taylor enjoys the job - he had good and bad news yesterday. Gary Pallister was able to resume work, but Alan Shearer was still troubled by his back injury and was forced to withdraw from the squad.

In the absence of Tony Adams, the likelihood is that Des Walker will return to partner Pallister in central defence. Carlton Palmer would be the understudy in the event of the Manchester United man dropping out.

Shearer's place, alongside Ian Wright, will go to Les Ferdinand, who missed the 2-0 defeat in Rotterdam with a hamstring injury.

Phillips' chance to atone, page 38

(Photograph omitted)