Venables faces up to a leadership crisis

fears that a lack of authority on the pitch is having a debilitating effect on England's performance
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The Independent Online
If there was ever a coach who should welcome Fifa's latest hare- brained scheme - introducing basketball-style time-outs - it should be Terry Venables. It has become a familiar theme of England internationals that their second-half performance far outstrips the first. Wednesday night's goalless draw against Uruguay at Wembley was no exception.

For 45 minutes the football was as sterile as anything England have produced under Venables. Faced with a side that committed only one man in attack, England's players seemed afraid to push forward, worried, perhaps, by pre-match warnings about the Uruguayans' speed on the break.

Then, after a talking-to at half-time, and injury-enforced reconstruction, they took the game to the South Americans, created a couple of clear chances, and should have won.

The biggest difference between Wednesday and the autumn matches against Romania and Nigeria was that then England had allowed the opposition space to play in the first half and been dominated. Only after the half-time lecture had they pressed their opponents and taken control themselves.

Last night they cramped the Uruguayans from the start but, so anxious to stop them playing, they failed to show enterprise themselves. Once again, England needed to be told to go out and seize the match.

While this says much for Venables' powers of analysis and instruction, it does not reflect well on the team. Uruguay's manager, Hector Nuez, criticised England for lacking leadership, for having no- one who could make things happen.

That was true but, equally, there was no-one on the pitch who could assess the pattern of the match and had the authority, and confidence, to adapt England's approach accordingly. The captain, David Platt, a regular in Serie A, and an intelligent man winning his 52nd cap, ought to be capable of doing this. Is he afraid of appearing to usurp Venables authority?

Since Venables did just that as a young Chelsea player under Tommy Docherty - once, in a European match in Italy, even designing an alternative strategy in advance and persuading the team to adopt it - he should be more receptive to such initiative than most managers.

Nuez's main point, about England's lack of creativity, underlined just how much they miss Paul Gascoigne. While Venables is clearly unsure if, after "two big injuries" he can be the player he was, he will get every chance to be so. Matthew Le Tissier may not be so fortunate yet, if ever a team needed his gift of seeing the unexpected option and his ability to execute it, it was England on Wednesday night.

Of those who did play, only Darren Anderton truly impressed and even his dead-ball crossing was poor. John Barnes played manfully through the boos but is clearly no longer an attacking midfielder. He did look comfortable when he moved to the holding role he has at Liverpool but, with Platt having a quiet match, there was no Jamie Redknapp-type bursting forward alongside him.

Teddy Sheringham linked well with Anderton and Peter Beardsley and won most things in the air but is unsuited to the lone striking role to which he was condemned. To be fair, few players are. Of the current crop of English strikers only Les Ferdinand might come close to filling it as well as Alan Shearer does.

But it was not just inappropriate selection and poor performances that were the problem. England's slow build-up allowed Uruguay to defend in depth and their lack of drive meant the ball was constantly being passed backwards.

It does take time to create a team capable of slick passing and movement but that is a commodity Venables does not have. He will gather another 22-man squad next month but, though the time will be valuable, there will be no match for them to play.

That means England will not play until June, when they meet Japan, Sweden and Brazil in eight days. That tournament should give us an indication of how Venables envisages his team for the European Championships the following summer.

We already know how the FA wants the team to look, after they unveiled their latest new strip on Wednesday night. Not since Don Revie did a deal with Admiral two decades ago has a kit been so obviously sold to commercial interests. Apart from the manufacturer's logo being both large and prominent, the traditional red trim has been replaced by a green tint remarkably similar to that used by England's new sponsors, Green Flag. Coincidence? Not likely.

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