It's time to stop playing this brand of basketball

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The Independent Football

The party's over, the best team won and sadly England, once again, have been left to pick up the pieces on and off the field. The French, as we hoped and anticipated they would, finally provided the piÿce de resistance and if nothing else we must hope that Euro 2000 has taught us a humble lesson or two. The big question is whether we will have the good sense to absorb those lessons because if we do not, the future for our football is bleak.

The party's over, the best team won and sadly England, once again, have been left to pick up the pieces on and off the field. The French, as we hoped and anticipated they would, finally provided the piÿce de resistance and if nothing else we must hope that Euro 2000 has taught us a humble lesson or two. The big question is whether we will have the good sense to absorb those lessons because if we do not, the future for our football is bleak.

We must not simply shrug off what we have seen and say: "Well, it's not our game, is it?" It should be. When I played football and when I was coaching at Celtic I always stressed how important is was to be patient, to cherish the football, not to give it away. We must learn to love the ball, to be miserly with it, even if it means going back, going sideways and sometimes even going nowhere.

That was England's problem, because the way we like to play football in England is to take chances in getting the ball forward quickly. In many ways what we are playing is not football, but basketball. In basketball, one team attacks, shoots, then the other team attacks, shoots, and so it goes on. There's no real strategy, no keeping the ball to formulate your attack. The difference, of course, is that in basketball the other team can't take the ball off you because you've got it in your hands. At least in football you can tackle.

When the quality sides in the Premiership - Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool - meet teams who give the ball away they punish them for it, and that's what happened to England. We gave the ball away cheaply and it cost us dearly. True, we have teams who play attractive, entertaining and skilful football who are highly thought of in Europe. But they do have a large number of foreign players, and, apart from United, foreign coaches too. It doesn't need spelling out that the influence of the best overseas talent can be immensely beneficial if used to the right effect. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to shed our tactical insularity.

The result of the final, dramatic as it was, was good for the game because had Italy won people would have said: "Well, that's the way to play, free-flowing football can't work". France's victory was a triumph for pure football over cynical football and in Zidane they clearly had the outstanding player of the tournament, even though he did not have his best game in the final.

If we all agree that England's football was exposed as drab and sterile, how come players like Savo Milosovic, who was here with Aston Villa, and his compatriot Darko Kovacevic, ex-Sheffield Wednesday, were considered failures in English football and allowed to move on? Both moved to Spain and Kovacevic progressed to a big-money move to Juventus, and they're talking about a £21m move for Milosovic to Roma. Failures? What does that tell us about our game? But apart from the Slovenians Zatko Zahovic and Miran Pavlin, Euro 2000 didn't really throw up any new faces, certainly none that we didn't already know about. In fact, my Euro 2000 XI has not changed that much from the one I picked before the tournament ...

In goal I would have Italy's Francesco Toldo, a big man and a good shot stopper. Apart from giving that equaliser away against France in the final he had a great tournament. He handled the pressure and the ball extremely well.

In my back four I'd have Lilian Thuram at right-back, who despite being below his best is still the world's most capable all-round defender. I'd put his French partner Bixente Lizarazu at left-back; not only is he excellent at coming forward, he's a very good defender. Also because of his defensive qualities and man-marking ability I'd put Italy's Fabio Cannavaro in central defence alongside Holland's Jaap Stam. He didn't put a foot wrong in the tournament (except for one that blasted the penalty he should never have been taking into the stratosphere!) I don't think Frank de Boer is the best of defenders and Stam had a lot of covering to do.

In the attacking midfield roles I'd have Luis Figo of Portugal and, of course, Zinedine Zidane because they were the two best players in the tournament. Every time Figo played he produced something; Zidane is a man who has everything, poise, balance intuition, skill, the lot.

For the two defensive midfield slots I'd have my man Miran Pavlin of Slovenia, alongside Edgar Davids, who was simply tremendous for Holland. He's not the play-maker everyone seems to think he is. With a free role he is a very disciplined, hard-working, strong mid-field player who wins the ball and plays it simple.

Up front I'd pair Holland's Patrick Kluivert and France's Thierry Henry. I don't like playing two orthodox strikers but Henry tends to get out wide and move around yet still manages to score most goals for France. He did better than I expected, and Kluivert's pace will cause any defence problems.

The coach would have to be France's Roger Lemerre, as he seems to be the only one left standing. I was flabbergasted by the exit of Dino Zoff. Reaching the final was a plus for Italy and it ought to be considered a success for Zoff. If there's a consolation it is that he lost to the best team in Europe whose victory provided the dream topping for that tasty gateau.

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