Platt keeps country in dreamland

Ronald Atkin talks to a promising candidate on a steep learning curve
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The Independent Football

David Platt breezed into Wembley Stadium on Thursday evening, a pair of football boots in his right hand, on the way to captaining an England XI in one of those charity occasions they are squeezing in before the grand old arena takes upits appointment with the wrecker's ball.

David Platt breezed into Wembley Stadium on Thursday evening, a pair of football boots in his right hand, on the way to captaining an England XI in one of those charity occasions they are squeezing in before the grand old arena takes upits appointment with the wrecker's ball.

He plonked himself down for a chat, to be confronted by a PR girl anxious to circle his wrist with one of those plastic VIP bands. "Will you be watching the game?" she asked the former England captain. "I think I'm playing," he smiled. "Actually, I know I'm playing."

What Platt also claims to know is that any mention of his name in connection with a job that fell vacant in this verystadium a fortnight ago isdecidedly premature, though that hasn't stopped it happening. "I have been quoted as low as 4-1, which is ridiculous," said the 34-year-old Platt, who is still embarked on a steep learning curve at Nottingham Forest, his first English managerial post.

"People ask for my reaction if I was offered the England job. That's hypothetical, because I don't believe it's a possibility, so it is stupid for me to say, yes, I would listen, or no, I wouldn't. It doesn't fit for me at this time in my career. But it's nice to be quoted in the betting, don't get me wrong. Once I became the captain of England I got very confident and I have gone into management thinking, well, I have done it as a footballer so I have got to aim for the top as a manager, too.

"In golf my ambition was to get down to scratch and I did it. To me the pinnacle of anybody's career is to manage his country and, for me, that remains a goal, a dream, an ambition, whatever you want to call it. If my name was raised now I would say it is too soon." Then he grinned a mischievous grin. "The flip side is I would still do it."

Despite the signals from the FA selection panel, Platt feels strongly that Terry Venables would be the only realistic appointment. "On the question of whether the new man should be English or foreign, I think we should widen it. But if we are not going to be judgemental on whether he is foreign we shouldn't be judgemental either on what off-the-field situations people might have. To me, the single issue is, who is the best man? There is only one, and that's Venables. Teddy Sheringham says 80 per cent of the players are behind him. I think it's higher than that."

Platt considers such as the Frenchman Arsÿne Wenger and the Swede Sven Goran Eriksson worthy contenders, but offered this caution: "If you went foreign with the appointment there would be a change in the manager very quickly. Not because you would get rid of him necessarily but because it is their mentality to move on quickly." This is an area, of course, with which Platt is familiar as he made his own meticulous preparations for managership. He played in Italy for Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria and spent a brief spell in charge at Sampdoria which was terminated by the technicality of his coaching badge being the wrong sort.

So Platt came to Forest, where a string of managers have failed to measure up to the mark left by Brian Clough. "People won't let you forget it," Platt said. "And why should they? But it doesn't worry me that there are pictures on the wall of the European Cup, it doesn't worry me there is a bust and a stand in the name of Brian. That's justifiable, as long as it is combined with a realism that we are not in a European Cup-winning mode now.

"Unfortunately, with some people, that isn't there. It's always, 'We used to do this and that...' I'm sorry, but that's not realistic."

What is realistic, Platt insists, is the possibility of hauling the club back into the Premiership this season. That was what he said last year, too, when he took the job, only to preside over a deeply disappointing season which picked up only at the end with a seven-game unbeaten run.

"I've learned a great deal over the last 12 months," he admitted. "Maybe I shouldn't have chopped and changed the side as many times as I did. I was searching for the perfect formula and maybe I wasn't patient enough. I allowed a couple of bad results to affect me to the stage where I thought I had to get rid of two or three and we never got any consistency. But you could argue our only consistency was bad results, and you can't keep playing a side who are losing.

"Things needed changing more than I thought, and when that happens inevitably you are going to have a dressing room that's not harmonious when certain individuals are aware they are not in your plans. Now the players know what I'm looking to achieve, so everybody is pulling in the right direction."

So then, can he get Forest back up this season? "Yes," was the straight answer. "Expectation levels are high among the supporters. I am not blowing my own trumpet but you would struggle to find somebody with a higher expectancy level of himself than me. So I don't mind other people having expectations."

Platt trotted out the statistics to support that confidence. Including that seven-game run which concluded last season, Forest have lost only four times in 20 matches, including yesterday's 2-0 defeat at home to Watford, and could have been fifth but for the postponement of two home games because of international calls. Five of the next seven fixtures are at home - all his confident, settled side need to do now is play as well at home as they are away, and dodge injuries and suspension. "There is a good spirit running through the club, so we have something to hang our hat on."

Then David Platt picked up his boots and, still wearing his VIP bangle, went off to play. Perhaps by the time Wembley is rebuilt this ambitious man's hat will be hanging on theEngland peg.