World Cup Football: A manager found wanting when the luck ran out: So how will history judge Graham Taylor? At times he was unfortunate, argues Ken Jones, but mostly he was muddled

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The Independent Online
IN THE early hours of yesterday morning, hoarse and at times just slightly emotional, Jack Charlton could be heard expressing sympathy for the British managers who will not be sharing his experiences in the United States next summer. 'Football can be a cruel game,' he said. 'I feel for them all.'

You could sense that Charlton felt most for his former Leeds team-mate, Terry Yorath, whose hopes of reaching the World Cup finals with Wales were dashed by Romania in Cardiff, but as an Englishman, and an English hero at that, he could imagine what Graham Taylor was going through. 'Think about what happened when England lost last month in Rotterdam,' Charlton added. 'But for a bad decision by the referee they might have defeated the Dutch and gone on to qualify.'

On their arrival from Belfast a few hours earlier Charlton and his players had received a tumultuous welcome, thousands flooding the airport and its precincts. 'But it could easily have been a different story,' he said. 'I send on Alan McLoughlin who hadn't scored for us in 14 games, and he puts us level with almost his first kick. Luck, you see, can be so important.'

Not many people will be as generous as Charlton when assessing Taylor's stewardship. For the majority, luck does not enter the equation. They see only three years of muddled management compounding the technical decline evident in British football. Especially when considering what Charlton has achieved with players from the same system, they see a failure.

Sir Alf Ramsey, the feted hero of 1966, was fired six months after failing, unluckily, to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Thrilling accomplishment was of little consequence when set against acute disappointment and the public's arrogant refusal to accept that England were no longer entitled to think of themselves as one of football's great powers.

Going back to 1950, when England first took part in the World Cup, some of the game's greatest players were available to the manager, Walter Winterbottom: Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Billy Wright, Wilf Mannion, Bert Williams. Yet they were humiliated 1-0 by the United States and quickly eliminated from the finals.

In Switzerland four years later, England, shell-shocked after twice being overwhelmed by Hungary, fared no better. The tragic loss of Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne and Eddie Colman in the Munich air disaster crippled their chances in the 1958 World Cup when they were put out by the Soviet Union. In spite of the difficulties imposed by an autocratic selection committee (comparison invalidates Taylor's complaints) that demanded concession to ludicrous regional bias, Winterbottom qualified again in 1962, resigning immediately afterwards.

A kindly academic, Winterbottom's legacy was a structure that inspired the progress of such notable coaches as Bill Nicholson, Ron Greenwood, Alan Brown, Dave Sexton, Don Howe, Malcolm Allison and Charlton. A good question is where did it go wrong?

On his appointment in 1962, Ramsey demanded absolute independence; his policies, his team. 'I suppose I'd better inform those people,' he said typically one day in the west of Scotland, making off towards a group of powerless senior officials with belated word of the team he had picked.

Interestingly, Charlton adopted Ramsey's policy of concentrating entirely on the senior national team. 'What happens beneath that is not my responsibility,' he said.

Ramsey gave way to Don Revie (Joe Mercer was briefly in charge as a caretaker) whose credentials appeared perfect: gifted international player; successful club manager. After barely a year in the job, Revie was beginning to express disenchantment. 'I overlooked the fact that at Leeds I wasn't relying entirely on English-born players,' he said. When it became clear to Revie that he was unlikely to qualify England for the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, he scandalously took up a coaching appointment in the United Arab Emirates.

Greenwood's appointment was inspired. Although by then well into his fifties, he was an outstandingly innovative coach and respectable. But for injuries to Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking he might have taken England further than the quarter-finals of the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

Bobby Robson almost did. The first England manager to have his private life exposed in the tabloids, he first had to survive a crisis in the 1986 World Cup when some members of the team rebelled, demanding a change in strategy.

Frequently morose, a natural worrier, Robson had to endure savage criticism before reaching the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup against West Germany, losing on in a penalty shoot-out. Careworn, ageing perceptibly in the job, Robson resigned to be replaced by Taylor.

The marriage between Taylor and the press, one that initially saw much massaging of egos, was brief. The divorce was rancorous. Ridiculed for England's collapse in the finals of the European Championships, stumbling from one grotesque error of judgement to the next, in the end he did not have any good fortune either. 'Strange that,' Charlton said. 'Graham once told me that he was a lucky manager.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- HOW TAYLOR COMPARES AS ENGLAND MANAGER ----------------------------------------------------------------- Success P W D L F A rate Walter Winterbottom (1945-62) 139 78 33 28 383 196 68 per cent Alf Ramsey (1963-74) 110 67 26 17 224 98 73 per cent Joe Mercer (May-June 1974) 7 3 3 1 9 7 64 per cent Don Revie (1974-77) 29 14 8 7 49 25 62 per cent Ron Greenwood (1977-82) 55 33 12 10 93 40 71 per cent Bobby Robson (1982-90) 95 47 30 18 154 60 65 per cent Graham Taylor (1990- ) 38 18 13 7 62 32 64 per cent -----------------------------------------------------------------