'Judge me on Euro 2000 results' - Keegan

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The Independent Online

At least hospital porter Robert Hipkiss could have sympathised. For there he was on a television screen above Kevin Keegan's head, stuck on the £64,000 question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

At least hospital porter Robert Hipkiss could have sympathised. For there he was on a television screen above Kevin Keegan's head, stuck on the £64,000 question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Just like Keegan, who had relied on the professionalism of Sweden and the lack of Scottish finishing prowess to secure his place at the Euro 2000 finals, two of his lifelines had gone.

Just as he was phoning a friend to ask which Sunday follows Whit Sunday, Keegan, however oblivious he may have been to the drama on the inaudible TV screen, was having similar trouble in finding a solution to his own problems.

And after Robert had secured the answer he needed - Trinity Sunday - the England coach was left to struggle on his own.

How could a team which played with so much spirit and focus at Hampden Park be so bereft of ideas at Wembley? How could he solve England's Achilles heel on the left flank?

Indeed, just how was he proposing to find a system or a settled side which would bring the best out of his five or six individual talents and make the most of his remaining run-of-the-mill international performers?

Keegan was imbibed with optimism but full of honesty and quick to admit that he had problems. Finding the answers to them was another matter though.

It was, therefore, a predecessor's example to which he turned - Sir Alf Ramsey, who similarly struggled to find the right tactics to employ in the run-up to the 1966 World Cup.

"If you're honest, Alf never intended to play the way he did a year before the World Cup," observed Keegan.

"Nobody could believe it when Nobby Stiles suddenly found that role there. Nobody could believe there were no wingers and he got decimated for it.

"He came up with a system and stuck to it and got a lot of stick for that but he won a World Cup. And it might be something like that for us.

"At some stage in the next three friendlies before the finals, I've got to just go along with what I think is right and stick by it. I know I've got seven or eight players in my mind but there are three places up for grabs."

At the moment, the similarities between Ramsey and Keegan end there, however. For Ramsey was a master tactician whereas Keegan is still an apprentice.

Ramsey had the immense talents of Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Gordon Banks. Keegan has the experience of David Seaman, Tony Adams and Alan Shearer but only the promise of David Beckham and Michael Owen.

Ramsey had not just come through a qualifying campaign that questioned the ability of England players to string together two consecutive halves of football, let alone two matches, or regularly pass to someone else wearing the same coloured shirt.

Keegan undoubtedly has talent there. He also has a relatively strong central spine to his side but, Beckham excepted, there is an inherent weakness on the flanks and therefore a measure of confusion in the England coach's mind as to which tactics to settle upon.

His heart tells him to play 4-4-2 with a diamond-shaped midfield, but his head warns him to wait until he sees which players are available in an era of overblown club fixture programmes and then make the best of it.

One thing is for sure. Apart from hoping, however wistfully, for a fit-again Darren Anderton, Keegan seems to have resolved to play a left-footed player on the left flank.

That may not sound too controversial to the uninitiated but failed experiments with Steve McManaman, Ray Parlour, Tim Sherwood and Jamie Redknapp litter the recent England past.

So it is to Steve Froggatt or possibly Steve Guppy that Keegan will turn against Argentina in February, with Graeme Le Saux as a wing-back or even Robbie Fowler in a converted wide role also in his mind.

"I can start to try other players in an atmosphere where it's not the be-all-and-end-all whether we hang in there and get something," he explained.

"I'd like to have a look at Steve Froggatt. I don't care what anyone else says, he's done very well again in training and I've got to give him a chance to take that out onto the pitch.

"There's time for experiment now and the time to judge us is when we go to Euro 2000 - on the results there on the big stage. I'm quite happy to be judged on that.

"It all depends on the players I've got available. You pick a squad, you lose four or five and then you think 'which system can I plan for these players', rather than saying 'we're playing this way and I don't care who you are.'

"I'm looking to get the best out of them even though I haven't done that yet. I think I've got a decent team but getting it to play together has been difficult."

Indeed, one of the greatest mysteries of Keegan's reign so far has been the Case of the Disappearing Form from the Training Ground.

Time after time, Keegan has emerged after disappointing displays to insist that the players had been world-beaters at Bisham Abbey only to fail where it really mattered - on the pitch.

For that both he and them must share the blame. If the spirit is right, as it undoubtedly is, then it cannot be entirely Keegan's fault if the players suddenly forget how to pass the ball once the whistle blows.

"I can't tell you why this player couldn't pass it or why that player couldn't muster up enough energy to quite make that run when we needed it," he admitted.

"It the poor quality of passing has been the biggest disappointment of my nine games in charge."

England may well have shown spirit and commitment in each of their games under Keegan but, with the finals looming, even he was forced to admit: "That won't be enough.

"It's a good starting-point but that's all it should be."

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