What English crowds expect, they invariably get: a percussive game in which it is almost impossible for individuals to flourish
Thursday 08 June 1995
Revie's enthusiasm waned with the realisation that his success at Leeds had been achieved with players from England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. "I got carried away," he admitted. "Our technical standards blinded me to faults in English football. Internationally, we aren't good enough."
Twenty years on and at a similar stage of stewardship, Terry Venables, too, can hear the hounds baying. It is a familiar sound, and we make a mistake if we think that condemnation of the England manager is not traditional. "Managers get too much credit and too much blame," Ramsey said sharply. The hero of 1966, Ramsey was vilified and sacked when England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals.
Bobby Robson, who took England within a penalty shoot-out of the 1990 World Cup final, had been less than two years in the job when he was jeered off at Wembley in 1984 after a heavy defeat by the Soviet Union. "Robson's indecision is final," one critic wrote. Recently, Robson spoke graciously about the past when guest of honour at the football writers' annual dinner. "From a 'plonker' to this," he smiled.
Faith in the qualities of English football was still strong enough in the 1970s to have provoked Brian Clough's arrogant pronouncement that it ought not be difficult to assemble a successful national team from around 2,000 professionals then at work in the old Football League.
Typically glib and unquestionably mischievous, this ignored the fact that the majority were not good enough, some were past the age of consideration and others simply were not available to the England manager.
Let us come forward in time and look at the task confronting Venables now that the honeymoon is over. The problems are more or less those that caused some of his predecessors to seriously question their sanity.
To begin with, there is the dearth of talent, especially in midfield. Naturally optimistic, Venables argues otherwise but it was clearly apparent in the dismal performance England gave against Japan last week in the Umbro Cup. Then there is the philosophy that continues to prevail in English club football, essentially joy through physical strength, frenzy and commitment.
In the Premiership, poor technique guarantees that if you lose the ball you will get it back quickly. Thus possession becomes secondary to effort. Internationally, this puts English football at a serious disadvantage. Even Japan, at their early stage of development, had an edge in control and passing.
What English crowds expect (previous generations of supporters, the majority working class, demanded better) they invariably get: a percussive game in which it is almost impossible for individuals to develop and flourish.
In this context a case is being made for the inclusion of Matthew Le Tissier of Southampton, perhaps the only English footballer capable of matching the spectacular feats most commonly associated with Brazilians. The case against Le Tissier is that he gives the ball away too frequently for his talent to be accommodated internationally.
At this point a suspicion may have crossed your mind that has certainly crossed the minds of those who are beginning to doubt Venables: that because of his ebullient personality he is getting an easier ride than his predecessors. But in fairness he is entitled to be judged in more competitive situations. Not much can be read into what are no more than exhibition matches, when a number of established players are not available.
By all accounts, Venables has established a better relationship with his players than any England manager since Ramsey. He is respected not merely for his reputation but for the practical things he preaches. "Football should be fun but the players must take their responsibilities seriously," Brazil's veteran coach, Mario Zagalo, said this week. "As for criticism, the coach has to live with it. Even winning the World Cup last year did not make us safe from complaints. Some wrote that we played safe. That we did not fully represent the traditions of Brazilian football. That's life."
Venables has not yet got things right, but to suggest that the tumbrel should be wheeled out is nothing short of ridiculous.
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