The Matt Holland Column: Pure skill factor overpowers the week of rhetoric

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The Independent Online

There must be something wrong with football. Events this past week have made me really think about the game and its current state. Anyone who likes football, enjoys watching, playing and discussing its finer points, had two, if not three, extraordinary performances to dissect, detail and enthuse over. And yet all week I have read about strikes, possible re-negotiation of domestic TV rights and that a German businessman is holding our national broadcasters to ransom over the TV rights to next summer's World Cup.

There must be something wrong with football. Events this past week have made me really think about the game and its current state. Anyone who likes football, enjoys watching, playing and discussing its finer points, had two, if not three, extraordinary performances to dissect, detail and enthuse over. And yet all week I have read about strikes, possible re-negotiation of domestic TV rights and that a German businessman is holding our national broadcasters to ransom over the TV rights to next summer's World Cup.

The common denominator has been money and while I am not naïve and appreciate its importance – after all I consider myself extremely fortunate to be very well remunerated for playing a sport I love – it has started to dominate.

I cannot speak for all players but what I can do is describe the past week at Ipswich Town and what issues the players have been talking about. On Monday we had a meeting with our chairman, David Sheepshanks, in which he explained the position of the Premier League in relation to the ongoing squabble with the player's union, the PFA. There is an excellent working relationship between the players, management and chairman at the club so he did not try to bully us into not striking. Instead he calmly outlined their beliefs and why the offer of £ 10m they had made to the PFA was a good one.

On Thursday we had another meeting, this time with a PFA representative, Mick McGuire, and he explained the PFA's argument, namely that figures being quoted by the Premier League were a little erroneous and that the PFA looks after members until they die. That means a lot of 60-year-old former players needing help with medical bills and so on. After both meetings the players chatted among themselves, but not with any real interest or passion. The general feeling is that no one wants to strike and with so much money in the game, there is a point where both sides will be satisfied if they can drag themselves away from rhetoric and start to negotiate calmly.

However, when I walked into training on Thursday morning there was a buzz in the dressing room and on the pitch. The players couldn't stop talking and I can assure you it was not about money, TV rights or strike action. The major topic of conversation was Juan Sebastian Veron and three passes he had made in a five-minute spell of the second half against Olympiakos. I had not watched the game but after an hour at training I felt as if I had, such was the detail and enthusiasm of the descriptions from the other players. Remember: players are fans who play. Throughout training the chat moved on from Veron to David Beckham and to the way he had single-handedly scraped a draw against the Greeks and automatic qualification for the World Cup.

These were the performances that I referred to at the start of the piece and what I would expect true lovers of the game to be talking about. The players at Ipswich certainly have and the aspect that impressed us all was the timing of the performances. Both sides, England and Manchester United, desperately needed a result and they both got them primarily because of those two players.

There are many good players in this world but very few great ones because to be great, you have to dominate the big matches. Without doubt Beckham and Veron have proved to be great players.

One factor that was apparent during the England-Greece game was the need for a left-sided midfielder to give England balance. I have deliberately said left-sided rather than left-footed and although Nick Barmby has done reasonably well in a difficult situation, I believe there is one right-footed player who would transform the left flank – Kieron Dyer. He has pace, plenty of energy and is very skilful and I feel that he could develop a good understanding with the left-back, Ashley Cole. Beckham and Gary Neville are so effective on the right for two reasons: Beckham is one of the best players in the world and the uncanny understanding these two friends have developed.

I appreciate that a left-footed player would be ideal on the left but without any stand-out candidates, England have to develop a partnership between two players. Ashley Cole is wonderful when attacking and naïve about positioning or committing himself to tackles, but he is very talented and will learn. Dyer ahead of him would make England's left a real threat, if a little poor defensively, but that can be worked on.

Solving the problem left side is a real test of Sven Goran Erikkson's art as a coach. I would work hard with Dyer and Cole and weld discipline, both mental and positional, on to their undoubted skill. Of the few options available this has the most potential, although Dyer needs to get fit.

I experienced a little of the frustration that injured players have when I was rested for our Worthington Cup match against Crewe last week. After 223 consecutive matches for the club it was weird to walk around the dressing room in a suit and watch from the stands and I must apologise to the man sitting in front of me. Not being the calmest spectator, I kicked every pass and won every 50-50 tackle, and he must have the bruises on his back to prove it.

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