Le Tissier lacks discipline of disciples

Ian Ridley explains how a move could help an enigma's international ambitions
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The Independent Online
WHILE managers are quick to insist on consistency from referees and their own players they are not always so good at showing it themselves. That might be hardly surprising, given their own largely volatile natures and the vagaries of circumstances. Minds are, after all, for changing. That is why Terry Venables still retains the benefit of the doubt, the more so after the rudely interrupted exercise in Dublin last month, despite a week open to question.

There was the dropping from the England squad of Paul Ince, when his case of common assault was pending, even though Dennis Wise had been selected for a previous squad in a similar situation. Then there was the omission of Matthew Le Tissier on grounds of form when Robert Lee retains his place though he has been performing moderately, scoring two goals in 26 matches as opposed to the 11 in 11 that first earned him his call-up.

The England coach has always been a believer in the adage that class is permanent but form temporary, so clearly there is more to Le Tissier's exclusion from the squad for the match against Uruguay on Wednesday. All managers want disciples and Le Tissier is not one. So often his languid running style gives - if falsely at times - the impression of insouciance, something Venables's teams work feverishly against. It is one for all and all for one; the most gifted will be accommodated but only if they accommodate themselves into the framework.

Comparing the performance of Le Tissier with that of Peter Beardsley in the match between Southampton and Newcastle last Wednesday was instructive, and surprising. Le Tissier received possession 58 times to Beardsley's 38, surrendering it 18 times to 11, which undermines the argument against him that his work-rate is suspect. It was a night when he was not at his best but still contributed much to the team's win, something he had failed to do at Nottingham Forest the previous Saturday.

But Beardsley, who matched Le Tissier for moments of the unexpected, made five tackles to one, beavering back to help out on the left flank while Le Tissier loped, waiting for the ball to come back. "There's no doubting Matt's ability," Beardsley said. "Maybe he's got to be a little bit more determined. Maybe what has happened will give him the right kind of shock."

Let us hope so, for the fulfilment of Le Tissier's talent and that of the national team. He probably did deserve better than being discarded after the inconclusions of Dublin - at the least a heart-to-heart with Venables and the chance to redeem his failings in training - but it will not do for him to respond with "well, that's me", and to lament the inconsistencies of managers as previously mourned England mavericks have.

A bout of self-examination is called for, and probably a move to a club where life may not be so comfortable but more educational. A sympathetic Newcastle United springs to mind.

An irony is that a move from Newcastle has kick-started Andy Cole's international career, though that move was to the equally intense environment of Manchester United. Now, says Venables, the replacement in the squad for the injured Alan Shearer is adding link play to his game.

That new perception could see him go straight into the team, especially with his old supply line of Beardsley to ease him in. Cole's greater pace should give him the advantage over Teddy Sheringham as the attacking spearhead in front of midfield players expected also to be strikers from deeper positions, a pattern with which Venables hopes to persevere despite Shearer's absence.

That, though, depends on availability. Injury and illness have disrupted preparation so far, with six players in doubt this weekend, including the probable first-choices Darren Anderton (tonsillitis) and John Barnes (thigh strain). "At the moment, no, I won't be changing patterns of play but I will take stock again on Sunday," Venables said.

Barnes trained yesterday and though Anderton did not he is improving. Steve McManaman (calf strain) is the most doubtful and also missing yesterday were Gary Pallister (hip), Sheringham (calf) and Rob Jones (stomach). Graeme Le Saux sustained a knee injury yesterday.

The composition of England's opposition is scarcely more certain, though such established figures as Enzo Francescoli, Ruben Sosa and Daniel Fonseca, the last enjoying a productive season in Italy with Roma, remain in their picture. Under a new coach, Hector Nunez, they are building for the Copa America, which they host in July.

The Uruguayan league was suspended for a period last year and remains beset by financial problems. So far this year the national team has played two matches, a draw against Spain last month and last night's match against the United States in Washington. That is already double the number of last year. In the year of a World Cup, for which the Uruguayans failed to qualify, several nations were unwilling to arrange fixtures against a nation whose approach has been, shall we say, uncompromising.

It was a word Venables used about them. "They are tough, uncompromising but also full of artistry, with clever players," he said. "They have kept some of the star-quality older players but have a new group that they are very excited about. They see it as a new era."

England's era under Venables will no longer be seen as new after this week, which will mark a year since his first match in control. We hope for, and expect, this month 90 minutes of football and an opportunity to judge more accurately the results of the coach's selection policies.

ENGLAND (possible): Flowers; Barton, Adams, Pallister, Le Saux, Anderton, Platt, Venison, Barnes, Beardsley, Cole.