Tag: gary lineker

Managing a fading star

As Gareth Southgate moves on from Wayne Rooney I’ve delved into the archives to look back at how other managers handled fading stars either easing them towards the door or trying to keep them in the room.

Bobby Robson & Kevin Keegan

When- 1982. Incoming England manager Bobby Robson felt it was time to put the nations favourite footballer out to pasture and decided not to select him for his first England squad.

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How did Kev take it?

Really badly. Neither The FA nor Robson told Keegan of the decision in advance so Keegan found out when the squad was announced. He gave an on the spot reporter an earful of his anger saying “What upset me is the way I heard about it. I mean a 10p phone call from the FA is not a lot to ask.” A few weeks earlier at St James Park, Robson had indicated to Keegan he would be in stating after the game “see you soon,” it’s fair to say Robson and the FA could have handled it a lot better. Meanwhile there was condemnation in Robson’s hometown of Newcastle over dropping the new Geordie Messiah, with hate mail sent to the new England Manager.

 

How did it work out

Not great, Robson stuck with his decision to leave 31 year old Keegan in the past but failed to qualify for Euro 84 despite a qualifying group that put ‘England on Easy Street,’ according to The Sun. It wasn’t the last case of hubris on the tabloid’s back page but nobody saw Preben Elkjaer and Denmark coming and they took the group whilst England stayed home.

From then until Italia ’90 Robson was a walking target for a critical press, an adversarial relationship that may just have started when the ever popular Keegan was dropped.

Wether Keegan would have made the difference is harder to say he was by that time playing in the Second Division with Newcastle before taking them to promotion and finally departing St James Park by helicopter after his final game just weeks before Euro ’84.

Graham Taylor & Gary Lineker

When- 1992. With 28 minutes left of the last group match of Euro ’92 England needed a goal to qualify for the semi finals. Taylor decided to take off Lineker and replace him with Alan Smith. Lineker had announced pre tournament he’d retire at the end of it meaning he’d never wear the Three Lions again if England went out.

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How did Gary take it?

He gave a surprised look when his number was called but trotted off without complaint. After Taylor’s untimely death earlier this year Lineker tweeted his sadness at the his former manager’s passing, when one tweeting twit suggested Gary should have hated him Lineker gave a typically sensible response stating ‘Why? because he subbed me once! he made me captain and I’ll always be grateful for that.’

How did it work out

Badly- Smith didn’t get a decent shot off and Tomas Brolin scored late to send England packing and the turnip was born.

Glenn Hoddle & Paul Gascoigne 

When- 1998. With Gascoigne struggling for fitness and Hoddle needing to trim his World Cup squad to 23 the manager decided to put on a Kenny G record and calmly tell Gazza he was out.

How did Gazza take it?

Liam Gallagher style. Gazza went bezerk allegedly trashing Hoddle’s room before being lead away in tears.

How did it work out

In footballing terms Hoddle was almost certainly right. By 1998 Gazza was a shadow of his former self, and a move to Middlesborough aimed at cementing his World Cup place had yielded only 7 appearances. Then a late night session followed by a stop at a kebab shop made the back pages and Hoddle made his mind up.

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However Hoddle handled Gazza’s delicate psyche very poorly.  Clearly Gascoigne thought he could do anything and still get in the side and Hoddle should have managed him better. The decision to cut the Gazza-esque Matthew Le Tissier from the squad two weeks earlier suggests Hoddle just assumed Gascoigne would be going to France ’98 and had no contingency if things went pear shaped.

It’s hard to believe the whole episode didn’t have a negative impact on morale as the squad headed for France particularly amongst the senior players who’d played with Gascoigne for years. In Hindsight reprimanding the wayward star earlier and trying to pull him into line with a credible alternative in the background would have worked better.

Steve McClaren & David Beckham

When- 2006, Steve McClaren names his first England squad and omits David Beckham. It’s seen largely as a press friendly move, the hacks of Fleet Street having spent much of the previous two years insisting Beckham was passed it.

How did David take it?

Beckham took the snub with his usual good grace insisting he would work hard to get back into the managers plans. McClaren perhaps noting the Robson/ Keegan fall out notified Beckham in advance to explain his decision.

How did it work out

Badly- for McClaren. England’s results went downhill and the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign quickly unravelled, unsurprisingly the press were no longer saluting his decision to drop Becks.

McClaren didn’t help his cause by explaining in a BBC interview that he dropped Beckham because he was looking for more pace and direct running at opposing fullbacks  from the right wing. A fair point, but for the fact he then played Steven Gerrard on the right of midfield nullifying his own point.

McClaren back tracked and Beckham was recalled 6 months later a move widely seen as McClaren undermining his own authority. Beckham was by the resumption of qualifying playing for LA Galaxy and returned too late to save his beleaguered boss and England failed to make Euro 2008.

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Fabio Capello & David Beckham (again) 

When- 2008, When Fabio Capello took over from McClaren the first player the press asked about was Beckham (now aged 33 and playing in LA). Capello decided to retain Beckham but with a notable caveat- Beckham needed to be playing top-level football.

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How did David take it?

He spent the US offseason and start of the next season on loan at AC Milan. There was an irony to Beckham’s plight- Capello had been his manager at Real Madrid when Beckham was dropped by Real & England. Sensing his options in Europe being reduced to middle tier sides Beckham opted for his American adventure. Of course no sooner had he signed  a pre contract agreement with the Galaxy he was back in Capello’s team and he played a key role as the La Liga title followed 5 months later.  Now Capello wanted him back in Europe.

How did it work out

Pretty well, Beckham enjoyed a fruitful spell at the San Siro winning over a sceptical Milan fanbase and continuing his England career mainly as an impact substitute, providing calm ball retention as England looked to see out tight games.

It cost Beckham in LA with a chorus of boos upon his return to California but he soon saw out the storm and signed up for a second stint in Milan in the spring before the 2010 World Cup. This time disaster stuck, Beckham suffered a torn achilles and his World Cup dream together with his England career was over. Capello showing an unusually sympathetic streak brought Becks to South Africa in an unofficial capacity, not that it did England much good.

Roy Hodgson & Wayne Rooney

When- 2016 In the build up to the European Championships England traveled to a friendly in Germany without injured skipper Wayne Rooney. The ensuing 3-2 win inspired by new boys Kane, Alli & Dier got an excitable press suggesting England should move Rooney to the bench. Roy wasn’t having it.

How did Roy manage it?

He changed formation to try and accommodate Rooney, Kane, Alli and Vardy. First he tried a diamond with Rooney at the tip, Alli further back and Kane/ Vardy up front- this resulted in Vardy on the wing. He continued to tinker before deciding on 4-3-3 with Rooney and Alli together in midfield.

How did it work out

It showed promise in the Euro 2016 opener against Russia but got gradually worse, Alli was shunted further wide, Rooney played deep and gave the ball away and Kane was running on empty. We went out to Iceland and Hodgson’s decision to try square pegs in round wholes to accommodate Rooney was derided whilst the manager resigned on the spot.

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World Cup Memories- Mexico ’86

For me the summer of 1986 was about 2 things; finishing Primary School and watching my first World Cup.

In the pre Premier League era live football on TV was pretty much limited to the FA Cup final so for football mad kids the World Cup was heaven sent.  My last days of primary school were largely spent trading swaps from the Panini Mexico 86 sticker album; I vividly remember trying to trade endless duplicates of Pat Jennings in a futile attempt to acquire Brazilian superstar Zico.

The constant flicking through the sticker book also meant the image of World Cup mascot Pique remains indelibly printed on in my mind.

When the action kicked off I was quickly disappointed by holders Italy- much talked up by older kids who remembered Spain ’82, Paolo Rossi and all that, in 1986 it was the same players just 4 years past it. But two surprise teams bolted out of the traps in Mexico. First there was the now defunct Soviet Union who pummelled Hungary 6-0 in their opener, then midfielder Vasily Rats scored a stunning long range goal against France, and then came Denmark.

Unlike their victorious Euro ’92 side the Danes of 1986 were spellbinding to watch with star strikers Preben Elkjaer & Michael Laudraup rampaging through defences in the early days of the tournament. They also sported the perfect mid 80s pinstripe and chevron jersey.

Strangely both the Danes & Soviets crashed and burned in the last 16 against unfancied sides as I learned a great World Cup cliche: don’t peak too soon! Both clearly did but provided some great memories along the way.

Denmark’s rise was particularly surprising given they were drawn in a group with Germany, Uruguay & Scotland introducing me to yet another cliche ‘the group of death!’ It was from here the Scots introduced me to a further wellwarn cliche: Scotland will always find the unluckiest possible way to miss out.

It’s often forgotten the Scotland team of 1986 was managed by a certain Alex Ferguson, who’d taken temporary charge after the tragic death of Jock Stein in their final qualifier. Defensively they were strong enough for Ferguson to omit Liverpool captain Alan Hansen, the midfield featured a wonderfully moustached Greane Souness and the creativity of Gordon Strachan whilst the forward line of Steve Archibald, Frank McAvennie & Charlie Nicholas didn’t lack firepower.

As it turned out, the Scots first ran into the Danish juggernaut and then faced West Germany, Strachan scored early to put them ahead but the Germans proved too strong and the Scots went down 2-1.

But still qualification could still be achieved with a win over Uruguay who’d just shipped six against Denmark, it couldn’t have started much better with Uruguay defender Jose Batista red carded in the first minute for an appalling foul on Strachan. What followed was 89 minutes of Scottish attacking and agricultural Uruguayan defending with Uruguay kicking their way to a 0-0 draw and a second round berth.

But my enduring memory of that game came in the aftermath when the BBC tried to get some post match reaction from the Tartan Army outside the ground and one angry fan barked “I hate Uruguay! I hate ’em so much I hope they get through and play England and I hope England win! That’s how much I hate Uruguay!!”

And so to England, drawn in Group F the tournament was a week old before we got started and it wasn’t a great start, England began against Portugal with high hopes and they dominated possession for long spells, looked in control but conceded on the break 15 minutes from time, 0-1 on dear.

If the first game was bad the second was a disaster. Against Morocco England should have eased to victory but Captain Marvel Robson succumbed to a shoulder injury and midfield partner Ray Wilkins was bizarrely sent off for throwing the ball (accidentally) at the referee. The game ended 0-0.

The knives were out for Bobby Robson, it was England’s worst start to a World Cup since the 50’s and he needed to rework his entire midfield and attack. His solution was to bring in Peter Reid, Steve Hodge, Trevor Steven & Peter Beardsley, dropping Mark Hateley & Chris Waddle. The reshaped team was a gamble but it took only 8 minutes to pay off with Gary Lineker turning home Gary Stevens’ cross, by half time Lineker had a hat trick and England were through.

Suddenly England had a star in Lineker and a team set up perfectly to maximise his poachers instinct with Hodge and Steven providing width and Beardsley able to provide clever through balls from his deeper forward role. 

Sadly for me we’d gone on a family holiday and I only saw the game next day (due to the late kick off times In Mexico) and found out the result from Derek Jamieson’s breakfast show. 

Onto the last 16 and I was still in Cornwall, most expected England to sneak a win and despite a shaky start England again won 3-0. Lineker now had 5 goals and was set for the Golden Boot.

And so to the quarter final and the most infamous moment in English Football history. In footballs ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot’ moment I was watching it on the telly with my dad. It wasn’t until full time that I realised it was handball, watching it live in realtime was very different to looking at the photo everyone remembers- he was devilishly quick!


Everyone knows what followed; Maradona scored a brilliant second, Lineker pulled one back and almost equalised. England were out whilst Maradona went on to lift the trophy.

I think the main reason the infamy of that goal has endured for so long is Maradona’s obvious pleasure in it, he’s never shown any regret at what he did, it’s hard to believe Pele or Cruyff would have reacted with such glee, nor was it Maradona’s only handball moment playing for Argentina (he would later handle the ball whilst clearing off his own line).

When Thierry Henry later handled against Ireland in a 2009 World Cup playoff, it was clear even on the night Henry was embarrassed and whilst never actually apologising for it he clearly would like to expunge the incident from his career, Maradona by contrast has often revelled in his.

The day before England played Argentina I witnessed my first great World Cup match; Michel Platini’s France against the Brazilian Samba boys. 1986 was probably the last chance to see the Brazil at their beautiful best, Brazilian sides since have concentrated on string defence combined with pace and power, back in ’86 it was all flair, tricks and samba soccer. Facing them The European champions and their dynamic midfield quartet of Platini, Giresse, Tigana & Fernandes.

The game ebbed and flowed, the crowd a sea of yellow & blue- Argentina may have had the best player but these were the two best teams. Amazingly only one goal apiece was scored with the French triumphing on penalties. 

Everyone expected a Platini/ Maradona final, Argentina made it but the French fell foul of another great World Cup cliche: German efficiency. West Germany made it almost unnoticed into the last four, perhaps France underestimated them or maybe they were exhausted from the epic win over Brazil, whatever the reason France were subdued in the semi and went down 2-0.

The final proved entertaining but slightly underwhelming (the second part of that assessment could be applied to every World Cup final since.) Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner 6 minutes from time after the Germans had fought back from a 2 goal deficit, Argentina were champions and my first World Cup experience was over.

Mexico ’86 had everything, great games, brilliant players, colour, atmosphere and controversy. It was a heady cocktail that cemented my love of the beautiful game and it’s biggest event.

A year later my local library got a Mexico ’86 book recapping the  tournament in A3 size prints of the matches, the book spent much of the following year on loan to me. I remember very clearly the last picture in the book- of 2 fans in the Azteca stadium after the final whistle of the tournament, both stripped to the waist with their backs printed, on the first fan ‘Adios Mexico ’86’ on the other ‘Ciao Italia ’90’. The summer of 1990 couldn’t come around fast enough.

 

Remembering the Managers- Graham Taylor

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When Graham Taylor sadly passed away earlier this year English football paid him a heartfelt tribute. It was well deserved for a man who by all accounts was honest, decent and gave so much of himself to the game.

As a club manager Taylor achieved minor miracles taking Watford to the FA Cup final and Aston Villa to second in the league. He was one of the early champions of black English players nurturing the careers of John Barnes and Luther Blissett. But it’s hard not to think part of the reason the media praised him so much in death was their vilification of him life.

As England manager he suffered a torrent of abuse from the tabloids that went far beyond constructive criticism of his teams. But criticism of his selections and tactics were justified. He arrived as England manager in the summer of 1990 on the back of England’s most successful World Cup since 1966, initially Taylor stuck closely to Bobby Robson’s blueprint that had worked well at Italia ’90. Robson had switched to a 5-3-2 formation at the World Cup, Taylor’s first few friendlies followed the same formation and he only made minor personnel tweaks- replacing the retired Peter Shilton with Chris Woods and handing debuts to Arsenal fullbacks Lee Dixon & Nigel Winterburn.

But Taylor was a devout 4-4-2 man who’s sides usually played long ball tactics. By the time England played Ireland at Wembley in the autumn of 1990 England had riverted to type and things started to slip. Creative players most notably Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley were overlooked and in came Arsenal target man Alan Smith, one dimensional   wingers Andy Sinton &  Tony Daley and most bizarrely jobbing midfielders Dennis Wise, Gordon Cowans & Geoff Thomas.

In the 1991 FA Cup final Taylor suffered a hammer blow when man of the moment Paul Gascoigne suffered a cruciate ligament injury to the knee. Without Gascoigne Taylor’s side lacked any creative spark and England laboured through qualifying relying heavily on the predatory instincts of Gary Lineker. Eventually a Lineker goal in a 1-1 draw with Poland saw England reach the finals in Sweden.

England arrived in Sweden having lost only once under Taylor’s management but his squad selection for the finals caused dismay. Unsurprisingly he left out Beardsley and Waddle but leaving out golden boot winner Ian Wright shocked fans and critics alike. He also suffered poor luck with Gazza still injured John Barnes was also crocked together with his first three options at right back; Dixon, Paul Parker and Gary Stevens. His solution to the right back crisis was to play centre half Keith Curle in that position with no other option selected in his squad.

Curle lasted an hour of the tournament at right back, narrowly avoiding a sending off against unfenced Denmark, England drew 0-0. In the second game against France England were again solid but unspectacular- not a surprise for a team who deployed Carlton Palmer as the midfield general. A late Stuart Pearce free kick smashed the French crossbar but England again drew 0-0.

It was now all or nothing against hosts Sweden, a win and England were through anything less and Taylor was a dead man walking. It started well with England finally scoring a goal courtesy of David Platt. But a half time tactical switch from the Swedes saw England overwhelmed, in need of a response Taylor made the most infamous substitution in England’s history. He took off Gary Lineker (who was retiring at the end of the tournament) and replaced him with Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith, needless to say it didn’t work and England were beaten 2-1. The knives were out and the turnips adorned The Sun’s from page

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Taylor’s response was to go more direct for the World Cup qualifying campaign, a tournament Taylor claimed he was aiming to win (not the smartest statement to make when you’ve called up Brian Deane.) If the tactics and relationship with the press were bad unbeknown to everyone Taylor had agreed to let a film crew follow his every move through qualifying.

Qualifying got off to shaky start as England were pegged back by Norway at Wembley, a similar followed in the spring of 1993 as England let slip a 2 goal lead against Holland. By this stage Stuart Pearce & Alan Shearer were out injured and England faced a tricky away double header to Poland & Norway in the summer qualifiers.

A late equaliser from Ian Wright salvaged a draw in Poland but England then lost 2-0 in Norway. What everyone remembers from these games was the darkly comic documentary footage of Taylor and his staff on the England bench “It’s made for Wrighty to come on score I say it’s…” ,”Nigel just play it as you see it” and “Gazza’s f@$ked” were the moments that entered documentary legend whilst Taylor’s England headed off for a summer tour of the US where things got even worse.

A year removed from the World Cup England played a warm up tournament against the USA, Brazil & Germany. The first game was against the unheralded US, England produced another listless performance and and went down 2-0 with even Alexi Lallas managing to score, the low point cam when the live feed was temporarily lost by ITV and back in the studio they could at least confirm for Ron Atkinson the Americans hadn’t scored a third. ‘Yanks 2 Planks Nil’ roared The Sun and so it went on. England did play better against Brazil and Germany but finished last in the tournament. By now Taylor’s Spitting Image puppet was portrayed captaining a team on ‘A Question of Sport’ having selected to play “A watering can and a packet of cereal!”

In the autumn England hinted at a comeback, in Les Ferdinand Taylor had found a striker who had the power and pace to thrive in his direct system. With Gazza back to form England crushed Poland 3-0 at Wembley. It all rested on getting a draw away to Holland, but crucially Ferdinand was injured and Gascoigne suspended. We all know what happened next; Ronald Koeman should have been sent off for hauling down David Platt but stayed on the pitch and scored the decisive free kick. Taylor wandered the touchline like a lost child and berating the fourth official, England went down 2-0 and all that remained was for Pearce to concede the quickest goal in World Cup history to San Marino and Taylor’s reign was over.

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Taylor blamed the poor refereeing for the loss in Rotterdam and therefore failure to qualify. It’s true the referee was awful in that game but failure to qualify was down to England not holding onto their leads at home to Norway & Holland- win those games and the Rotterdam game would’t have been relevant.

In keeping with his high character Taylor resigned rather than waiting for the sack and a big cheque. He’d failed, he admitted it, he tried to move on. Soon after the infamous documentary aired and the phrase “Do I not like that!” entered footballing folklore.

Taylor did restore his reputation by eventually returning to Watford and helping them into the Premier League for the first time since the league was formed. He worked as a World Cup pundit for the BBC, providing some insightful analysis and picking up an OBE before retiring, his passing was marked with respect from all quarters

Looking back it’s hard to separate Graham Taylor the manager from the documentary star. Taylor came across as a nice guy out of his depth and cracking when the pressure intensified. Broadcast in the days before Sky Sports News it provided a shocking window on the relationship between managers and journalists.

Watching it again it’s striking how loutish the press appear and how little support Taylor got from his coaching staff or the FA. It’s unfair to judge the contributions of Laurie McMenemy & Phil Neal on the small amount of footage we got to see but neither seemed to offer much in the way of insight or tactical opinion. Neal in particular was lampooned for simply repeating Taylor’s instructions to the players from the dugout whilst sat beside him. The FA meanwhile seemed to consist of a set of old school blazers sat behind a highly polished board table. In the aftermath of England’s failure and the documentary they were rightly savaged by the press.

Looking back I think the worst part of Taylor’s time was Euro ’92 when he picked a starkly dull squad whilst better players were simply ignored for not fitting the system, with the right back shambles showing the often repeated mistake of England managers of placing square pegs in round holes. His selections did get better although at the time I was annoyed at the constant exclusion of Matt Le Tissier, a player who later on neither Terry Venables nor Glenn Hoddle could fit into their teams, so he was probably correct on that one. One ongoing problem I saw with his teams was an over dependance on a talisman (Lineker early on, Gascoigne later). The plan always seemed to be have a disciplined organised team and wait for Gazza to produce a moment of magic, when it didn’t happen or he was injured (as was frequently the case) England lacked a plan b.

Of the 9 permanent England managers I’ve seen come and go (and last longer than 67 days) three were clearly better than Taylor and 3 were definitely worse. What makes the Taylor era look so bad was it was sandwiched by England’s run to the semi finals of Italia ’90 and Euro ’96. Indeed many of Taylor’s players from 1993 would go on to play for England through to the end of the 1990s.

Perhaps the best way of putting it is to say Taylor was simply employed by the FA at the wrong time- his old school tactics came just at the time England were starting to employ a more progressive approach, surely they knew what kind of football Taylor would deliver, didn’t they? I’ll remember Taylor has a decent, likeable figure and a manager who gave his all but came up short, and at the time I did not like that.