Venables attempts to forge Dutch masters

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The Independent Online


Terry Venables may wear his heart on his sleeve when England host this summer's European Championship finals, but his head will rule in all things emotional. It is the lesson he learned from his bitter experience at Tottenham and the reason why he will not change his mind about resigning as coach, whatever the outcome in June.

Emotional pressure from Tottenham fans had tempted him into the ill-fated partnership with Alan Sugar and he would not make the same mistake again. "At Tottenham I made a heart decision not a head decision and I got over- stretched trying to repair my own damage," he said candidly. "I vowed then that I would always make decisions in future with my head. Once is a mistake, twice is foolish."

Even being back among his players this week at England's training camp at Bisham Abbey has failed to prompt a U-turn. But when it comes to football tactics Venables has never been averse to a change in direction, which is what he intends to make in the case of Euro 96.

If you can't beat them, join them, seems to be his attitude. Consequently the three-day get-together with his players down by the Thames this week was not so much about all things English as all things Dutch.

The Netherlands, whom they play last in their group, could stand between England and the latter stages of the finals, if not ultimate victory itself, and Venables believes that if they are to remove that obstacle they will have to beat them at their own game.

Hence the decision to base much of this week's practice and theory on how to counter the unique threat of Guus Hiddink's side and, at the same time, give the opposition a taste of their own medicine. Like the Dutch, Venables has been concentrating on playing with just three flexible defenders as opposed to the popular English ploy of three centre-backs while deploying a central attacker with two wide players to stretch the opposing trio.

It all sounds uncannily like the old "WM" formation, but we are reliably informed that it is, in fact, revolutionary. Of course, it's going to take more than Tony Adams in dreadlocks to play like the Dutch and Venables emphasised the need for English players to prove they can be adaptable. "I always believe every time you go up a notch, you've got to achieve more things," he said. "If you're going to play against world-class players and world-class thinkers you've got to open those minds up."

Apparently, it wasn't all double Dutch to the players, who seemed to take on board the new ideas. To a certain extent, some of them, such as Aston Villa's Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, are already familiar with the tactics, while Sol Campbell and Gary Neville have proved their versatility at Tottenham and Manchester United respectively. "I got a very good feedback," Venables said.

Copying Dutch masters, whether it be Van Gogh or Van Basten, is, of course, easier said than done, as Venables would be the first to admit. "Apart from Barcelona under Cruyff, I don't think anyone in the world can play the way they play," he said. "There must be a reason for that because people like to copy success. You've got to know it exactly right. I think in certain areas you could actually improve on it."

A clear case, if ever there was, of the heart ruling the head.

Italy beat Wales,

Last night's results, page 23