James Lawton: Charlton happy to see England defend – even if it isn't his cup of tea

I'm not saying we’ll win next summer but I do feel we’ll have a good tournament

An old reservation seeped into the bones of one of only nine living Englishmen who know how it is to win the World Cup as Fabio Capello's re-cast young team first beat World and European champions Spain, then produced the first victory over Sweden in 43 years.

Yet who knows better than Sir Bobby Charlton that there are times in life, as in football, when sometimes it is necessary to curb your most natural instincts? Charlton was asked to do this by his England coach Sir Alf Ramsey on the eve of the 1966 World Cup final and his first instinct was the same one he expressed yesterday after watching Capello's rigid tactics close out an unbeaten year with two notable and maybe psychologically vital wins. "I don't suppose," said Charlton, "I'll ever believe that defensive football is England's cup of tea.

"I don't think we are born to do it but it's true that sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand, sometimes you have to say, 'look, this is our best chance to get the results we need at this time.'

"When you suffer the kind of humiliation England did in South Africa it is necessary to take a look at what you're doing. I think Capello has done this and we are beginning to see some impressive results. For me, though, the most significant thing is the emergence of some very impressive young players. The coach is putting his trust in talented youngsters and I think it bodes very well for the future.

"I'm not saying we're going to win the European Championship next summer but I do have a feeling we're going to have a good tournament. I think we're going to be able to say, 'look, we have a good young team who have proved that they can compete at the highest level and who could have a big future'.

"When Capello first came in I was very impressed with the authority he displayed, the way the players seemed to be listening to him. What happened in South Africa was a terrible jolt but he does seem to have re-established a lot of that first authority. In the games against Spain and Sweden he has received an excellent response."

None of this, however, was enough to suppress an old surge of Charlton doubt last Saturday night when he saw an England team come out prepared to pile bodies behind the ball and live on any scraps that might be dropped from the table of the world champions.

There was also a touch of déjà vu. Charlton, who 45 years ago was celebrated across the world as one of football's most naturally creative talents, was stunned when Ramsey sat down beside him in the old Hendon Hall hotel and said, "Bobby, I want you to do a very important job for me tomorrow."

Charlton nodded in anticipation of a routine job assignment, more of that wonderfully fluent mobility in midfield and the kind of firepower that had so lifted the England campaign with the sensational goal against Mexico in a group game.

Instead of which, Charlton was told, "The biggest danger to our chances is Franz Beckenbauer. We can calculate and deal with all the other threats from some fine players – but not Beckenbauer and that's why I want you to stick with him every second of the game. I want you to go wherever he goes. You shut down Beckenbauer and we win the World Cup."

Charlton admits that it was just about the last thing he wanted to hear. He had lived for this moment of walking out on to the stage of the World Cup final and he wanted to express himself as never before, This was his moment. But no, Ramsey explained, it wasn't. It was England's moment.

As it happened, Beckenbauer revealed some time later, the German coach Helmut Schö* had issued to him almost precisely the same instructions. '"I was very frustrated," der Kaiser declared. "I wanted to play my game."

What happened was that the game's most naturally gifted players ran and played each other to a standstill, leaving the outcome to be shaped elsewhere, and most notably by Alan Ball and Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, the young players Ramsey turned to in the final year of World Cup preparation, with the legendary goalscorer Jimmy Greaves becoming the most conspicuous victim.

The great striker has never quite recovered from the pain of his rejection – and at the time was occasionally heard humming the tune of "What's it all about, Alfie?" What it was about was the pragmatism of a winning coach, someone ready to balance the kind of industry provided by a Hurst, and a Roger Hunt, against the possibility of the Greaves genius.

It may be a stretch, and perhaps we shouldn't be too careless with the word genius, but there seems little doubt that Capello is currently involved in similar calculations. Certainly it seems increasingly arguable that there is much of a case for retaining the rump of the old golden generation, with the claims of such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard fading against the impact of such as Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones and Jack Rodwell.

Charlton has never been slow to celebrate the arrival of new talent and it is here that he has been made most exuberant by England's winning year. "I know Capello is a strong and experienced character," he says, "but I'm not sure that in the long term he would have the nerve to impose outright defensive football on England – and I'm certainly not sure it would work anyway. But then I do think these results are extremely valuable in what they do for the confidence of a young team and you can't question the fact that his tactics got the result against Spain.

"In playing both Barcelona and Spain, English football has had to take a lot on board recently. We have had to look at ourselves in a very hard way, and I think we are going to benefit from the process.

"The great thing is there are young players around who have shown that they can play without fear." It may be too soon to talk of Capello's Revolution but as testimonials go that will probably do for a start.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering