Venables keeps his players on the ball

Football
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The Independent Online
First we have had the Christmas tree formation and a three-man defence; now Terry Venables has done away with an- other England tradition as firmly rooted as the square back four: no sex before matches.

Putting precedent roughly where his predecessor, Graham Taylor, shoved Gary Line- ker, the England coach will allow his players to go home to their families between matches during next month's Euro 96 rather than keep them locked away at a training base. Home cooking is just one of things he believes will keep his men happy.

"It was Terry's thinking, and that's the reason it was brought in," an FA spokeswoman, Claire Tomlinson, said. "England open the tournament on 8 June and then have a whole week before they play again.

"Players perform better when they are refreshed rather than cooped up in a hotel for weeks on end, and Terry felt that allowing them to go home would make sure that boredom did not set in."

Previous England squads for major tournaments have operated on the "hungry fighter" basis, and sex has been about as welcome as a first-round match against the Germans.

The players were locked away for weeks, with the traditional view being that it keeps players focused.

Sir Alf Ramsey kept a keenly puritanical eye on his men during two World Cups, and was rewarded by the ultimate success when England hosted the tournament in 1966, followed by a quarter-final place in Mexico four years later.

Bobby Robson did allow wives and girlfriends to visit the squad at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and his successor, Graham Taylor, maintained the same rules for the 1992 European Championship finals in Sweden.

But if Venables needed any justification for his relaxing of the rules during what could be a five-week separation for his players from their families, he need only point to the Danes. Four years ago in Sweden, conjugal visits were permitted in the Danish camp, and they ended the tournament as winners.

"I've nothing against letting wives into the team camp," Richard Moller Nielsen, the Danish manager, said. "Love is good for footballers as long as it is not at half-time."

Mark Wright, the Liverpool central defender, will miss the European Championship finals because of the knee injury he suffered during England's 3-0 victory over Hungary at Wembley on Saturday. Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, said yesterday: "A scan on his left knee reveals ligament damage and he won't be fit for at least a month."

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