Weighty words of praise

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The Independent Online
England's tango-ing of the Dutch yesterday prompted Sir Walter Winterbottom, England's first manager, to break a 34-year long silence regarding his international successors on the eve of the spat with Spain.

"Absolutely sparkling," was the 84-year-old's verdict as he compared Terry Venables' side with the team that he built to try to win the 1958 World Cup - a team good enough to outplay Brazil.

"You could see the belief building through the side. It was just like the team I had going into Sweden," Winterbottom, the father of the modern England during his 139-game reign from 1946-62, said. "They were thrashing teams all over the place. We beat Brazil 4-2 at Wembley, when we should have had six, we won 3-1 in West Germany, and beat France 4-0.

"I had people like Duncan Edwards, striding like a Colossus through games, and it was an amazing situation to feel that in young lads. They were getting so confident they were almost cheeky and showing off. We had to work hard to calm them down. Then it was all taken away by the Munich air crash and we were capping people from nowhere."

The Manchester United disaster claimed the lives of Edwards, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor. A young Bobby Charlton survived and England, who ultimately lost 1-0 to the USSR in a group play-off, had to wait for Sir Alf Ramsey and the boys of 1966 to win the World Cup for the one and only time.

Edwards, capped at 18, could have been the Paul Gascoigne of his day. As different a character as is imaginable on and off the pitch - tall, powerful, strong at either end of the park - Edwards had the hardest shot Winterbottom ever tested and also had that rare ability - like his 1990s counterpart - to galvanise a team.

Winterbottom, who led England to a record 78 victories, believes another era of pre-eminence is around the corner. "They've shown us and each other that they can do it: close passing, tackling, supporting each other, closing down, quick to the ball. It was all there," he said.

It is Venables' coaching and the shared experiences of the past month, good and bad, which is helping England in their quest to be the best in Europe. "Keeping a team together gives them time to grow and knit together," Winterbottom added.

"I have always said I would not comment about England managers because it is not fair. But I did enjoy that the other night. Such euphoria!"