Venables on tabloids, tempo and Le Tissier
FOOTBALL: England's coach has had 11 months of tribulation since taking charge of the national team. Much of the spotlight has fallen on his activities outside the game but, as Glenn Moore discovered, his p assion for his profession remains as strong as ever
His Subbuteo pitch is still on the floor (Independent can exclusively reveal that it appears that England's next formation will be 2-1-7, though his grandson may have something to do with it) and the Football Association is working on finding a table forit. The personal mementos are limited to a framed set of caricatures detailing Venables' varied life, which is propped, rather than mounted, against a wall.
His first year as England coach has been an eventful one. His financial affairs have been the subject of investigation by Panorama, the BBC's flagship documentary programme, his lawyers have been kept constantly busy dealing with those of Alan Sugar, andone of his closest friends in football, George Graham, has been accused of malpractice in the transfer market. The bookmakers make Venables 6-1 to lose his job by this time next year.
Yet, at the end of all this, he blithely sat at his desk on the third floor of the FA's Lancaster Gate headquarters in London and said: "I've enjoyed it, it has been a very good year." Is the "chirpy Cockney" being blindly defiant or does he genuinely believe it? He believes it. While there are some aspects of 1994 that Venables could have done without, his main concern, the England team, appear to be progressing nicely.
As for the attentions of Panorama and Sugar, his erstwhile chairman at Tottenham, nothing has been proven, no charges have been laid. Very little has changed since last December and the lawyers can again look forward to a prosperous new year.
In many ways Venables is the ideal interviewee. Amiable and talkative, he bubbles with ideas about the game, but such is his enthusiasm he often ends so far from the question you are left trying to remember where he started. And, like, a wise politician,he cannot easily be manouvered into indiscretion.
Then again, given his recent experiences away from the football field, his caution is understandable. Even on some footballing matters, he has mastered the body swerve. Why won't he play Matthew Le Tissier? He won't talk about individuals.
Later he picks out Le Tissier, with Glenn Hoddle, as examples of exceptionally skilful players, but for now he makes it clear he has no intention of following Alan Ball, Le Tissier's club manager, who is building a team around the Southampton player. "Itis unhealthy - what happens when he is not there," Venables said.
It is apparent that Le Tissier is going to get a place only if he works for it and fits into the team. The same will apply to Paul Gascoigne, although his work-rate has never been faulted. Instead it is his enthusiasm for tackling that keeps landing him in trouble.
Gascoigne's expected return next summer will be a significant boost, but even when he is aboard Venables will be keen to keep anticipation under control. Like Bobby Robson, a predecessor in the job, he never makes the mistake of publicly underestimating
the opposition or raising expectations.
"There is no reason why we should be spoken about like Germany and Italy. It is an illusion. England have never been that successful, right back to the days of Matthews and Finney."
This is a campaign he cannot win. Such realism sits uneasily with the certainties required of tabloid journalism. Venables has found that, for many, a solid England win must mean the opposition were either not up to scratch or not interested.
"You slice the media in half," he said, presumably not literally - not yet. "You get the serious media, which does not jump to the obvious conclusion but looks beyond and tries to see what you are doing; and there is the hysterical side which you take with a pinch of salt.
"It is not in the interests of the more commercial newspapers for things to go smoothly. They are looking to sell papers. If you are sensible you take no notice, you follow people you have respect for and not bother reading the others.
"It is not just the press that need educating. The players and public do too, if England and its clubs are to be allowed to beat the Continentals at their own game. We have lost years. By the way we have gone about the game, taking tactical short cuts tosuccess, plus not being in Europe, has cost us. Liverpool learned a bit extra every year. We have been robbed of that experience.
"We have a fast, entertaining game and I don't think the crowds want to see a different game, but we have to be more patient. You cannot get as skilful as the top countries if you are playing three times as fast. The crowd like it open and end to end, but it is not like that at the top level. They have to understand that."
Venables illustrates the point by referring to a brief passage of play in England's last game, against Nigeria. With Robert Lee injured, England were down to 10 men, and so they played keep-ball -a concept about as familiar to most English footballers asmineral water and understanding a foreign language. After a couple of minutes the crowd began to whistle and, almost with relief, the ball was punted forward at Alan Shearer.
"But the Nigerians got dispirited. At the end we made chances through this," Venables said. "If you give in to the crowd you will never be successful."
Venables, an acknowledged expert on European football, is keen to dispel notions of English supremacy. "Why is it that in Spain, Italy and France if you score 16 to 18 goals, you are a superstar, yet here we are into 40 goals? Are our strikers that much better? They are no worse, but they would find it more difficult in Spain or Italy. Not because their players are better, but their game is not as open, they are more careful. They give nothing away at the back, they play slower, they change the tempo, they quicken it up.
"This is the education we have to give our young players, to know how to change the tempo and, when that chance comes up, to take it."
Venables is at his most passionate when he is talking about coaching tomorrow's internationals. As a youngster he had coaching at Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham and Chelsea. Although today's boys have schools of excellence all over the country they have rarely experienced the sort of environment that allowed children to grow up playing in the streets the way Venables did.
"Coaches have got to be better," he said. "Players should know at a young age skills such as how and where to receive the ball, whether to run in straight lines or at angles. This should be implemented at the age of seven and if it is not done by 12 it can be too late. By the time players are 18, coaching should be about intelligence of movement, not technique.
"When I was at Barcelona I used to watch youngsters - very young - and what they were doing was not happening in this country. Other countries have gone ahead of us.
"A lot of times skilful players like Hoddle and Le Tissier come through in spite of the system not because of it. They have seen Brazil on television and want to emulate that. They have done it themselves. There are schoolteachers who have been good coaches but there are not enough, which is why the clubs must have that access to players - but the clubs themselves must know what they are doing.
"It is up to us at the FA to give them information. Club coaches are in the risk result business, they have not got time. It is up to us to gather information and give it to them. It is no good me talking to players for three days about sports science and diet and technique if it is not continued when they go back.
"This is why by the end of next year I would like to talk to managers as a group - I have already spoken to one or two individually. There is a lot of good about our game but we have got room to improve. If we want to reach the top standard we have to set ourselves top standards."
Unlike previous England managers Venables has been prepared to use players well over the age of 30 and, belatedly, he feels players are looking after themselves better.
"Players like Ray Wilkins and Gordon Strachan are great examples," he said. "People are now starting to think about diet. In Spain players know this [football] is a big opportunity to earn a lot of money - and they know when they are finished there is a lot of life left. So they try to maximise the years available. I don't think players here from school onward are open-minded enough to that.
"I think young players should have a trade. At Crystal Palace I tried to get each vice-president to take a player into his business in the afternoons. People say they should concentrate on football but what is that? Playing snooker, being in the pub or the betting shop. The Swedes and Danes do it [business training] and their football does not suffer. Football is a high-risk trade. I believe part-time football is good for the players as much as the clubs. If players earn 350 to 400 quid a week they cannot have a great standard of living and they have nothing to take them on at 32. Their football ability has not been any use. If he drives a cab for 500 quid a week and plays football for 200, his football has been a bonus and when he fails or finishes hestill has his taxi. And if he is a really good player he will still emerge."
Venables and Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, have already embarked on a long-term strategy to overhaul the coaching structure, but neither intends to stop there. In Venables, the FA has got more than a coach, it has someone interested in the gameon the widest level.
Whether he becomes the new technical director or not - he is not looking beyond the European Championship for now - Venables seems sure to be involved with the FA in some way beyond 1996.
For the moment, though, Venables' mind is focused on the present: the next game, against the Irish in Dublin on 15 February and the summer's international tournament. His is only too aware of the game's avalanche of bad publicity in the last three months, but remains resolutely upbeat about its future. Although the rise in club power and ambition has been an obvious consequence of the Premier League and satellite television coverage, Venables argues that both have been good developments.
"Football has a wider audience than it has before, more women and families are into it. It is getting bigger and bigger - no game can compare worldwide. You don't need a lot of money to play it and, unlike a lot of American sports, if you are good enough, you are big enough.
"It is absolute nonsense to suggest recent events can damage the game in the long term. It is not going to go under."
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