Venables wants versatility

Glenn Moore@GlennMoore7
Sunday 19 May 1996 23:02

England (1) 3 Hungary (0) 0

Anderton 38, 62

Platt 52 Att: 34,184

The Swiss journalist alongside had come to Wembley to run his eye over England, Switzerland's opening European Championship opponents on 8 June. Before the game he was in a gloomy mood. "We are not optimistic. We have injuries, we have changed our style, no-one expects Switzerland to do well," he said.

Half an hour later he was positively beaming as England, also weakened by absences and adapting to a new style, struggled to penetrate a poor Hungarian side. "Nothing to frighten us so far," he said.

One hour and three England goals later, he was less ebullient but still far from tremulous. "We beat Hungary 3-0 in qualifying," he said. "They are a poor side."

Indeed they are, and some have wondered why England bothered with such a light test on Saturday. They might as well have copied Bobby Robson's old trick of playing Aylesbury.

However, England have played plenty of good opponents and with Euro 96 just three weeks away it was time for some gentle confidence-boosting. The mission was duly achieved with their best win under Terry Venables for two years and England will fly to China this morning in good heart.

There will, however, be one empty seat on the plane. Mark Wright will not be travelling after injuring a medial knee ligament after 16 minutes. While he has not been written off, he is very unlikely to start the tournament and may not be in the squad.

He is England's fourth centre-half to be injured. "That position seems to be jinxed," Venables said in despair. "It is a shame as he had fallen into the position beautifully."

Wright will stay behind, receiving ultrasound treatment at Liverpool and pondering his fate. Before the 1986 World Cup he broke a leg, he was injured in the last game before the 1992 European Championship, and even his hour of triumph, Italia 90, followed an injury scare.

Fortunately for Venables Gareth Southgate filled in with relative comfort - though Venables could probably have played there himself given Hungary's lack of potency.

Southgate is becoming a typical Venables player: intelligent, composed in possession and, most importantly, capable of filling several positions. He is seen as the first-choice cover for both Wright and Ince. Sol Campbell, who made a brief but satisfactory debut appearance, is cover for Southgate.

Then there is Gary Neville, who can play at right-back, centre-back or right centre-back. Rob Lee and David Platt are versatile in midfield, as are, in a different way, Darren Anderton and Steve Stone. Flexibility and adaptability are Venables' watchwords - and one hopes England will avoid the square pegs in round holes of the last European Championship, when Keith Curle and David Batty both played at right-back.

If this were the Dutch team that paragraph would not have been written. In the Netherlands, as in many European countries, players grown up learning a variety of positions.

"I always think players can do much more than they have ever thought about," Venables said. "I could say to people like Nayim 'Left-wing today, or centre-forward' and he'd say 'Fine'. Because of our upbringing we say 'I'm a this, or I'm a that'. What we have done has proved players can do a lot more than they think."

Yet it was one of the specialists who made the initial impact. Jason Wilcox probably played his way into the Euro 96 squad in the first 45 minutes. He is the first player under Venables to have the philosophy of an old-fashioned winger: as soon as he gets the ball he is thinking about crossing it.

It did not take him long to get involved, albeit in unexpected fashion as he headed Lee's cross against the bar after 90 seconds. He then went back to the wing and sent over a stream of crosses - not all good ones, but the idea was there. He faded in the second period but gives the squad a useful dimension.

Even so, Wilcox could not be exonerated from England's bad start because it was, said Venables, partly because the wide men were too deep. That meant Lee and Platt came in and the route to the forward line became so blocked that Teddy Sheringham began making a claim to play at centre-half. Only when Venables told Wilcox and Anderton to push up was space created for England to attack into.

Ince was first to use it, building up a head of pressure which forced a goal seven minutes before the break, touched in by the alert Anderton at the far post from Sheringham's cross.

The second, from Platt, followed a sharp free-kick by Ince. Steve McManaman had nearly scored from a similar move in the Croatia game and it was a sign that, after two years' waiting, Venables is about to introduce some of the free-kick routines which helped him make his name.

It was Platt's 27th goal in 58 internationals, a phenomenal record for a midfielder and, these days, his main claim to a place. Anderton underlined the value of goalscoring midfielders with another, his fifth in 10 games. It followed a neat passing move and a traditional - but legal - challenge on the goalkeeper by Les Ferdinand.

England should have had more - Sheringham hit the bar - and will go to China in good heart. They should also have gone with a better send-off, but the Football Association's greedy refusal to cut prices left 46,000 seats empty. Among interested spectators were Glenn Hoddle, the England coach in waiting, and his assistant to be, John Gorman. Ferenc Puskas was there too, wondering how his country's football has fallen so low.

And then there was my Swiss friend, whose quiet perhaps suggested that he was more worried about 8 June than he liked to let on.

ENGLAND (3-1-4-1-1): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Wright (Liverpool), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Ince (Internazionale); Anderton (Tottenham), Lee (Newcastle), Platt (Arsenal), Wilcox (Blackburn); Sheringham (Tottenham); Ferdinand (Newcastle). Substitutes: Southgate (Aston Villa) for Wright, 16; Campbell (Tottenham) for Ince, 64; Walker (Tottenham) for Seaman, 64; Wise (Chelsea) for Platt, 64; Shearer (Blackburn) for Ferdinand, 76.

HUNGARY (1-2-4-1-2): Petry (Genclerbirligi); Banfi (Eendracht Aalst); Plokai (Kispest Honved), Sebok (Ujpesti); Mracsko (Bekescsaba), Urban (Gyori), Hahn (Kispest Honved), Nagy (Ferencvaros); Balog (Charleroi); Horvath (Fehervar), Vincze (BVSC Dreher). Substitutes: Illes (MTK) for Balog, 60; Egressy (Ujpesti) for Vincze, 80; Aranyos (BVSC Dreher) for Nagy, 80; Telek (Ferencvaros) for Mracsko, 80; Lisztes (Ferencvaros) for Horvath, 80. Referee: M Merk (Germany). Man of the match: Ince. Attendance: 34,184

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