World Cup Football: Doomed Taylor undone by his big-game failures: The England manager is staying put for the time being, but his reign is effectively over. Joe Lovejoy, Football Correspondent, looks back on a disappointing three years

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The Independent Online
HE IS not so much a lame duck as a dead one, but Graham Taylor is not about to walk away from the England managership without negotiating a handsome severance package from the Football Association, who pay him pounds 150,000 per year.

Taylor was widely expected to do the decent thing and resign in the wake of his team's failure to qualify for the World Cup, but there was no sign of him doing so last night.

Discussions were taking place 'internally' he said. An early announcement was unlikely. Talks between the beleaguered manager and his FA employers will revolve around the settlement of his contract which has eight months to run.

That he is going, there is no doubt. It is not a question of if, but when. By the time England's next match comes around - a meaningless friendly against Denmark in March - the new man will be in place. The smart money is on it happening much, much sooner.

As far as Sir Bert Millichip, his ultimate employer, is concerned, Taylor has been on borrowed time since the humiliating defeat by the United States in the US Cup last summer. The FA chairman squirmed with embarrassment after that debacle, and the nod-is-as-good-as- a-wink tone he employed during the retreat from Boston was back yesterday when he said, 'This is not a matter I intend to sleep on. It's not something I'm going to thrust under the table and forget about.'

Taylor still has supporters within the FA, but they are very thin on the ground these days, and the majority feeling is that his position is now untenable.

He put a brave face on it yesterday, but missing out on the most prestigious and lucrative tournament of all is the worst blow English football has suffered since Don Revie cocked up the 1978 qualifying campaign and left Ron Greenwood to pick up the pieces. It is fair to say that Taylor is about as popular now as the dastardly Don was then.

The latest inquest was the all too familiar mish-mash of cant and contradiction. Talk of accepting responsibility on broad shoulders hardly squared with unconvincing attempts at self-justification, and there was no sign of the failed general falling on his sword.

He intends to struggle on in the deep end where he has floundered these past three years, plainly out of his depth.

Had he let England down? 'It depends,' he wriggled. 'As far as I'm concerned, I look in the mirror, look at Graham Taylor and I see a fellow who can be a bitter or a better person. I know exactly what I will be.'

Typical. Much bluster and the question left unanswered. Clearly his managership had been a let down, but he was not about to admit it. 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but calling names will never hurt me,' he blathered. 'I know what real life is all about.'

From now on, it will probably be about Swindon and Southampton.

Failure? When I pointed out that Bobby Robson had taken England to the semi-finals of the World Cup as recently as 1990, he insisted his own international record was just as good.

Statistics can be made to prove anything - even that Wednesday's 7-1 victory over San Marino was a good performance - and Taylor came up with a fatuous comparison, entirely misleading. Of his 38 games in charge, he said, England had won 18, drawn 13 and lost seven. Robson's first 38 matches had produced 18 wins, 11 draws and nine defeats.

The difference, of course, is that Taylor owes his success rate to worthless friendlies. In competitive fixtures he has beaten no one stronger than Poland and Turkey. Robson, better when it mattered, lost just one qualifying tie - World Cup or European Championship - in eight years.

Taylor is fond of suggesting that the system is really to blame, and that greedy clubs need to become less self-centred, and play fewer games, if the disturbing decline in domestic playing standards is to be reversed.

Here, he has a point. A less congested fixture list would give manager and coaches more time to work on improving individual techniques, but can we be sure that the opportunity would really be put to good use? At the moment, clubs fill every free date by jetting off to play remunerative friendlies and the pipe dream of directors everywhere giving up these nice little earners in favour of coaching master classes is precisely that. Sheer fantasy.

Proof that profit comes before progress came when the FA and the founding fathers of the breakaway Premier League agreed that its optimum size should be 18 clubs, only to have the reduction from 22 blocked by chairmen unwilling to lose precious gate receipts.

Television contracts having made football big business, Mammon is worshipped more religiously than ever in boardrooms up and down the country, and the purists can forget about their extra time on the grass.

Whether Taylor would put it to good use, anyway, is open to question. No England manager has had his players together longer before matches, but the hard-won five-day preparation has produced a succession of disjointed performances from teams playing like a bunch of ill-assorted strangers.

The best example was the shabby surrender in Oslo, when England, having been together for more than a week, were undermined by muddled deployment and a confusing game plan. Taylor, on his own admission, made a 'pig's ass' of picking the team, and Norway won convincingly, easing up.

Lee Sharpe and Gary Pallister played out of position that day, and quirky selection has been one of Taylor's most infuriating traits. There was an early indication of the irrationality to come when for his third match he dropped Paul Gascoigne, then at the height of his powers, explaining that Dublin was no place for a brittle passing game. Gazza's replacement? Gordon Cowans, a playmaker of a less robust and less gifted type.

Keith Curle, an accomplished central defender, was required to play at right-back during the ill- fated European Championship in Sweden, David Rocastle has never been more Rocky than as a novitiate wing-back in Czechoslovakia, and then there were the one-cap wonders. Whatever happened to Andy Gray, David White and Mark Walters? Gone into the same black hole that is Stuart Ripley's destiny.

At least they were given a chance. Taylor has made more rods for his own back than Miss Whiplash, but the one with which most of us will always belabour him is his treatment of talented 30-somethings like Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and Mark Hateley.

These three, all proven internationals who are still performing well at the highest level, have had just four starts between them. Contrast that with the 17 starting opportunities given to the unlamented Geoff Thomas, Dennis Wise and Tony Daley.

In all, Taylor has called up 79 players for his 39 games - testimony to the indecision of a manager who lacks the courage of his convictions.

Once a long-ball man, always a long-ball man. The leopard tried to change his spots, flirting with quasi-sweeper sophistication, but when the chips were down, as they were in Rotterdam and Bologna it was the dreaded Carlton Palmer or the stratospheric cross launched optimistically towards the good old target man.

The abiding memory of Wednesday night will be of San Marino's part timers passing neatly and supporting the man in possession while England ran away from Ripley or Andy Sinton when they had the ball, in anticipation of the all too predictable up and under to the far post.

'Taylor must go' and 'We're so shit it's unbelievable'. The poor, suffering supporters were right on both counts. That said, though, the FA are not exactly inundated with attractive options.

Terry Venables would be the best man for the job, given his experience on the continent and the esteem in which he is held as an innovative and imaginative coach. If the FA are scared of flying mud, and its adhesive qualities, Howard Wilkinson would be a safe, if uninspiring, alternative.

Taylor, of course, feels he should have been allowed to groom his successor, in the way that Andy Roxburgh brought on the new Scotland manager, Craig Brown. It will surprise no one that the FA are not falling over themselves in the rush to appoint the No 2 he hired - Lawrie McMenemy.

As with so many of his players, Taylor picked the right man at the wrong time. It would be an ideal epitaph.

(Photograph omitted)

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