Football / World Cup USA '94: England have a lot to learn

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The Independent Online
MEANING no disrespect to the Netherlands, I imagine there was a general feeling of elation when Brazil advanced to the World Cup semi-finals.

Definitely, bias comes into this. In the absence of national attachment, people want Brazil to succeed because traditionally they represent the highest standards. It is 24 years since their last success in the tournament and they are being urged to remember the deficiency at every moment.

Recently, while working here as a radio reporter, the Luton manager, David Pleat, remarked on what he considered a matter of historical importance, and to my mind, indisputable. 'The big difference is that Brazil love the ball more,' he said, meaning that a majority in British football are not as devoted.

Pleat has returned home but being big on technique, doubtless he is following Brazil's progress avidly. They don't match up to the virtuosos of 1970; and if they succeed, sound defence and admirable stamina will have a great deal to do with it, but a game never passes when they don't quicken the pulse.

Even in crisis, they are up to a mischief on the ball that with some rare exceptions - Paul Gascoigne and Glenn Hoddle are names to bear in mind - is beyond British-born players, in fact the majority in Europe.

Culturally speaking, Alf Ramsey understood this. Clarity in communication was not one of Ramsey's strengths. Interrogated on his return from the World Cup in 1970, when England may have contested the final but for the loss of their goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, Ramsey clumsily invited villification by declaring that he had learned nothing from the Brazil of Pele, Tostao, Carlos Alberto, Rivelino, Gerson and Jairzinho.

I have this in mind when thinking about a hypothesis that embarrassed the current England manager, Terry Venables. When Venables began with two victories at Wembley, it was stated that he would not only have qualified England but marched them through to the final. It was an example of the loose thinking that Venables fully expects to come up against.

In consideration of this, how might England have fared? Not Venables' team, which is in the process of developent, but the England of his misguided predecessor, Graham Taylor?

To begin with, no conclusion can be drawn from results under Venables. They defeated Denmark who had failed to qualify, Greece, unquestionably the most inept team in the tournament, and were held to a draw by Norway who failed to survive the first round, predictably gaining no marks for artistic impression.

Far from being missed, England have only been the subject of facetious reference as they were this week-end in the Los Angeles Times. Considering the World Cup to be 'as deliciously whacky as a Keystone Kops movie', the veteran Jimmy Murray, raciest of American sportswriters, a Pulitzer Prize winner no less, wrote: 'It's too bad that the Brits (he has trouble with our cultural differences) didn't qualify. They would have brought another dimension - hooliganism. This seems to mean an excess of rooting that leads to raucous, dangerous, aggressive advocacy. Ruffian behaviour. Root for their team or they break your kneecaps. They should have come anyway. They could have gone to (Los Angeles) Raider games.'

Technically, it is impossible to speculate on how England might have fared although the presence of seven European nations in the quarter-finals suggests at least participation in the second round.

To suppose that only bad direction prevented England from cutting a swathe through the tournament is arrogantly to ignore history. Only twice, in 1966 and 1990, have they progressed beyond the quarter-finals.

Last week, I fell briefly into conversation with the chief executive of the Football Association, Graham Kelly, who has been representing Fifa, the game's world governing body, in the San Franciso area. 'It's a shame that we aren't here,' he said. This ignored the fact that I am Welsh, but no matter.

Kelly was not thinking clearly. If England had made it, Venables would not be in the job which strikes me as important.

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