Ferrin keeps feet on the ground for heady encounter

Uruguay's manager embodies the national passion for English football. Neil Clack hears how he plans a lesson in love
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The Independent Football

The English gave Uruguay football. All Uruguayans know that. They learn it at school: how a group of sailors were the first to put down jumpers for goalposts and started kicking a round-shaped object around the port of Montevideo, sometime in the 1860s.

Legend has it that those Ingleses Locos played in their lunch breaks, in the heat of the midday sun, but when the locals began to copy them, a new style of football developed - the rock-hard pitches of Montevideo demanding tighter ball control and dribbling, the opposite of those long and high hoofs of the English. Well, that's how the story goes - part true, part myth?

"It's a classico," said the Uruguay manager Gustavo Ferrin when we metto discuss tonight's match against England. "There's always been this idea of the pupils taking on the masters."

Ferrin, 47, guided the Uruguay Under-17s to the World Cup final last summer, where they finished runners-up to Brazil, and he takes takes charge of the senior team for the first time tonight. He is keen to express his admiration for the English.

"It's not just the vertigo style of [English] footbalI I like but the complete package: the clubs, the traditions, and all the passion." Vertigo? Does he mean long ball? "No, no. Some decades ago English football lost a lot but it's changed and is in its rightful place now... For me, it's the best league in the world. They've maintained the excitement and the spectacle, the vertigo football, but there's much more co-ordination in the play now. It's how we say here redondo ["rounded"], with much more circulation of the ball.

"We've always admired the English players, but they have chosen the foreign players very well. Technically gifted foreigners have given English football another dimension, a mirror for youngsters, and now you are seeing the results of that with the national team."

He laments the lack of mirrors in Uruguayan football today. "All our best players go abroad... Play well in the Uruguayan league for six months and you're off. Finished with Uruguay."

It's for this reason Ferrin finds himself in charge of the national team following Jorge Fosseti's resignation when Uruguay finished fifth in the South American World Cup qualifying group and then lost to Guus Hiddink's Australia in the play-offs. "The majority of the players were with me in the youth set-up," Ferrin said. "Diogo, who's at Real Madrid now, Pablo Garcia of Atletico Madrid, Fabian Estoyanoff at Cadiz, Sebastian Viera at Villarreal. They were all with me."

Uruguay have a proud history: Olympic gold medal in 1924 and 1928; winner of the first World Cup when host nation in 1930, and then in Brazil in 1950. Not a bad record for a country with a population of just two million.

Uruguay's record against England is very good - two defeats in 10 encounters - but the last time the two countries met, in 1995, it was a scoreless bore. Terry Venables' team were unable to break down the packed Uruguayan defence at Wembley. It is due to their reputation as a defensive counter-attacking unit that the FA has chosen Uruguay for this friendly. Paraguay, whom England will meet in their opening World Cup match, are thought similar.

"I don't see it as another 0-0," Ferrin said. "This Uruguayan team is in transition but we're not just going to sit deep and hope to surprise the rival. I do believe we can win the match."

Ferrin confesses to thinking constantly about the match. What formation will the opposition play? He weighs up the merits and weaknesses of each system, lines and arrows filling a note pad. "Will it be cold?" he asks. "Will it be raining? And how on earth do you stop Wayne Rooney?"