Venables' new system needs more time

Ken Jones argues that England must improve to match the flexibility of their coach
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The Independent Online
A feature of football today that I find irritating is the way people on the periphery of the game keep going on about systems.

It started here back in 1963 when Alf Ramsey went to a 4-3-3 formation for a match against Spain on a bitterly cold night in Madrid that provided the strategic impetus for England's subsequent World Cup victory.

Allowing for one or two tactical amendments - Bobby Robson's late switch to a sweeper system during the 1990 World Cup in Italy for example - nothing much had changed until the advent of Terry Venables as England's coach.

Venables has a lively mind that from his earliest days as a player with Chelsea has always been open to development internationally. An interesting thing is that when Venables coached Barcelona to the championship of Spain and then a place in the European Cup final he advocated a pressing game that his players at first found difficult to accommodate believing it too British in nature.

Realising the need to approach international football with more subtlety, Venables now seeks a collective method that is alien to footballers brought up in the Premiership.

The international game calls for more patience, greater cunning and individual sophistication than play in the Premiership encourages.

Perhaps the best way of achieving this is to employ British qualities - physical strength, high morale - within the sort of modern strategy Venables favoured last night but a lot of people still need convincing.

This does not apply to the men in Venables' squad. Their respect for his views on the game and the enthusiasm with which he puts them forward means that they will gladly attempt anything he asks of them.

Last night provided a good example. Any unfamiliar system requires a great deal of practice and studied application, more time than Venables now has available before England's opening game in the European Championship finals.

In fact, the return from injury of established defenders like Tony Adams, of Arsenal, and Manchester United's Gary Pallister would probably give England a more familiar look defensively. Sometimes when a crisis arose last night England looked a bit desperate, but Gary Neville handled the new method confidently.

Further forward things looked quite promising even though attackers were inclined to get in each other's way and England wasted opportunities.

In view of their promise to go at England, Croatia were a little disappointing. After an ambitious start that saw them fire in three shots before England managed to threaten, they settled on a policy visitors to Wembley for friendly matches invariably employ.

There was more of an edge than in some recent encounters but a draw seemed to suit Croatia nicely.

Doubtless they will be a handful for anyone in the championship and despite their displaying superior skill on the ball their teamwork was patchy and they seldom caused David Seaman, in England's goal, a great deal of trouble.

Comparisons in technique are as pointless as they are bound to be unfavourable. It is unusual for English players to prove superior technicians and although Paul Gascoigne and Steve McManaman sparkled occasionally, it was inevitably Croatia who looked the more artistic.

One area that must leave Venables with some doubt is midfield. David Platt had one header well saved by the Croat goalkeeper and sent the ball in from a centre in a patently offside position but generally his work was unconvincing.

Gascoigne had his moments but England's best efforts came when their attacks developed more along the lines of Premiership football. They threatened both with crosses and balls cut back from the byline.

Against Bulgaria last month Teddy Sheringham had the sort of match that looked to have established him as a fixture, but in an alliance with Robbie Fowler he looked less effective.

Plenty for Venables to think about and perhaps he would benefit from keeping the systems to himself instead of offering them for public scrutiny in pre-match press conferences.