Tag: UEFA

Farewell Wayne

 

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Imagine my surprise when the article I was writing about the merits of Wayne Rooney’s imminent England recall were torpedoed by the announcement Rooney was retiring from international football.

It’s the right decision for Rooney, for Everton and probably England too. Rooney has got himself in condition, found form and is rekindling his old flame with Everton, good luck to him.

The challenge of a 38 game league campaign plus cups plus Europa League is a sizeable undertaking for a 31 year old without the additional demand of internationals. If he ends  Everton’s 22 year trophy drought it will provide a final flourish to a glorious career.

Yet somehow Rooney has never quite become the loved figure his record seems to merit. As has been poured over this summer following his departure from Old Trafford, he left Manchester United with the clubs goalscoring record, a truckload of medals and accolades but never seemed to quite have the love of the Old Trafford faithful afforded Charlton, Best, Law & Ronaldo.

His England career will inevitably be summed up with this sort of sentence- He’s England’s record goalscorer and he never delivered in a major tournament. It’s the Rooney paradox.

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Rooney arrived with England to tremendous hype- the final piece of the golden generation jigsaw, the superstar to bring glory to England’s hugely talented side. Rooney’s first tournament with England was by far the best- setting Euro 2004 alight with  three stunning displays and 4 goals from the group phase. But then came the first metatarsal injury in the quarter finals and his tournament came to an abrupt end.

In 2006 he suffered another metatarsal break at the tail end of Manchester United’s season and the nation went into a month long ‘will he won’t he go debate’. What’s alarming looking back at the 2006 media furore is I can’t remember a single journalist or pundit giving serious consideration to what England would do without him. But it seemed the nation didn’t need to worry, Rooney was training and declared ‘injury free’ by Sven so it was panic over.

Of course the term ‘injury free’ was carefully selected and really meant he wasn’t match fit or even fully recovered. He was kept out of England’s opening game but brought off the bench in the next and it became evident quickly he was at best 50% fit, his frustration grew and ended in a red card in the quarter finals.

The biggest scar on Rooney’s England career (and many others) came in South Africa in 2010. Rooney arrived at the tournament England’s great hope, but left with 4 appearances no goals and no assists. Again a pre tournament injury meant he wasn’t 100% fit but that didn’t explain why he suddenly couldn’t trap a ball, his post match rant about supporters after an insipid 0-0 draw with Algeria didn’t help his standing.

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Fabio Capello kept faith with Rooney for Euro 2012 qualifying and Rooney rewarded him with goals, but in England’s final qualifier for Euro 2012 Rooney picked up his second England red cad- with a 2 match suspension slapped on as punishment. England started the tournament well picking up 4 points from 2 Rooneyless games, new manager Roy Hodgson brought Rooney back straight away but again a lack of match sharpness told. Alex Ferguson always maintained Rooney needed games to reach his maximum level and was not a player who could make an immediate impact, it’s hard to argue with his assessment.

And so to Brazil 2014, Rooney’s last chance to make a major impact at the World Cup, sadly the England squad of 2014 was a pale imitation of 2006 with few major stars. A tough draw did for Hodgson’s limited side but notably England’s only goals came from a Rooney cross against Italy and his neat finish against Uruguay, had he been in a better side maybe that would’ve been his tournament.

In 2015 Rooney became England’s record goalscorer by despatching a penalty against Switzerland in Euro qualifying. By the time England arrived at Euro 2016 a new generation of strikers were available to England: Kane, Rashford & Vardy. Hodgson shuffled Rooney into midfield with initial success but when England crashed into the Icelandic iceberg Rooney was heavily criticised.

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In 2016/17 Rooney’s form faded and new England manager Gareth Southgate wisely dropped him, Rooney to his credit took it professionally and got on with it. Ironically  Southgate wanted to recall Rooney this week when Wayne decided it was time to go.

It’ll be interesting to hear Southgate’s thoughts on Rooney at tomorrow’s squad announcement, was the proposed recall with the World Cup in mind or a reward for his club form this season? Southgate had always maintained he would recall Rooney if his form merited inclusion.

Part of the conundrum with England was his various England managers (he played for 6) had different ideas about where to play him; Sven saw him as a deep lying forward, Capello an out and out number 9, whilst Hodgson eventually put him in central midfield having previously played him as a striker, wide attacker and number 10.

Another issue was Rooney’s lack of tactical discipline, he always seemed to follow the ball rather than hold his position, the worst example coming in 2014 against Italy where he wad deployed on the left of a 4-2-3-1 but failed to provide Leighton Baines with cover and Italy cashed in.

All that being said Rooney was a fine player for England lighting up Euro 2004, many a night at Wembley and dragging England’s chestnuts out of 1numerous qualification fires. While he was never quite the Leo Messi he was once hailed but he was a great international player.

I’ve said before he reminds me of former Spain & Real Madrid striker Raul- a creative forward with an eye for goal who left the Bernabeu with a bookful of records and a suitcase crammed with medals. For Spain he enjoyed a hugely credible career playing 100+ times and setting a new goal scoring record but was never quite the  national saviour he was hailed and never got beyond the quarter finals of a major tournament- sound familiar?

Interestingly Rooney’s resignation statement ended with this reference “One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan – or in any capacity” referring to the possibility of England winning something. Is he hinting at a coaching career? Maybe not but it’s important Rooney passes on his knowledge of international football to England’s next generation and remains visible at St George’s Park perhaps helping the juniors or even just giving talks about his England career.

Rooney was a great servant to England and Gary Lineker was probably right in saying we have under appreciated him. But it’s the right time for England and it’s most famous player to move on.

 

 

 

 

 

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England’s 10 greatest qualifiers

For all England’s tournament woes they remain Europe’s leading qualification experts- 1 defeat in their last 46 (and that was a dead rubber) is an enviable qualification record.  I’m counting down here their 10 best qualification performances I’ve witnessed;

10. England 3-0 Poland (Sep 1993/ World Cup 1994)

The game that almost saved Graham Taylor, after the infamous loss in Norway Taylor’s England needed a win at home to Poland to keep the campaign alive. Taylor looked to have finally found the winning formula with a strong physical side with Gascoigne providing the flair, Lee Sharpe the pace and Les Ferdinand the power upfront. And for one night they resembled a Jose Mourinho side, Ferdinand powered home a header after 5 minutes, Gascoigne scored a clever second and Stuart Pearce lashed home a free kick early in the second half. Sadly Gascoigne (not for the first time) picked up an untimely suspension and Ferdinand got injured meaning England arrived for the decisive game in Holland with Carlton Palmer back in the side and all that was left was for Taylor to utter his timeless catchphrase and our dreams of a summer in the States were over.

9. England 3-0 Scotland (Nov 2016/ World Cup 2018)

Currently the stand out performance from Gareth Southgate’s brief tenure with England. England started well and Daniel Sturbridge headed a poachers effort in mid way through the first half. Scotland rallied after the break and should have equalised when first James Forrest and then Robert Snodgrass missed presentable chances, moments later Adam Lallana headed in a second and it was game over. With the pressure off and Scotland disheartened England played some neat and tidy football finishing with 68% of possession and added a third through Gary Cahill. How Raheem Sterling missed from 2 yards out for a fourth is anyones guess, but a biggest win over Scotland in 4 decades isn’t a bad way to introduce yourself as England manager.

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8. England 3-0 Russia (Sep 2007/ Euro 2008)

Steve McClaren’s one good night as England manager- yes he did have one! England were playing catch up when Guus Hiddink’s talented Russian side rocked up at Wembley. With Rooney absent McClaren gave the much maligned Emile Heskey a recall hoping he could rekindle his old partnership with Michael Owen, it worked wonderfully well on the night. Heskey’s power and pace caused havoc in the Russian defence and Owen was at his predator best scoring twice in the opening half hour (his final goals for England). The Russians had a goal wrongly chalked off for handball and showed plenty of verve in attack, but always looked like conceding more and Rio Ferdinand drilled home a third late on. It was a performance of calm confidence and authority, qualities sadly lacking in Moscow the following month or against Croatia when a brolly entered England folklore.

7. England 3-1 Poland (Mar 1999/ Euro 2000)

Call it destiny, call it fate but England had an uncanny knack of drawing Poland in the 90s- in 5 consecutive qualifying campaigns the 2 countries were drawn together. This was Kevin Keegan’s first game as England manager and he quickly discovered he had a player similar to himself (only with red hair and no perm); Paul Scholes. Scholes gave a masterly display of attacking midfield play scoring twice in the opening 22 minutes. He completed the hat-trick in the second half and King Kev was up and running. Sadly under Keegan that was as good as it got, but when it did go well Scholes was always in the thick of it.

6. Switzerland 0-2 England (Sept 2014/ Euro 2016)

After the disastrous World Cup campaign of 2014, England arrived in Switzerland for their Euro 2016 opener expected to lose or at best salvage a draw. What followed was a masterclass in counter attacking football, with a new midfield triangle of Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson & Fabian Delph controlling the game. In the second half Arsenal new boy Danny Welbeck got a deserved opener and as Switzerland pressed for an equaliser Welbeck sprinted forward for a stoppage time second. The most difficult fixture from a simple group negotiated England went on to post their only 10 wins from 10 qualifying campaign. The less said about the finals the better.

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5. Italy 0-0 England (Sep 1997/ World Cup 1998)

‘Hoddswallop’ was the verdict of The Sun after Glenn Hoddle’s first big qualifier ended in a 1-0 loss to Italy at Wembley. But slowly Hoddle rebuilt belief and England went on to win every other qualifier whilst the Italians suffered costly nil nil draws in Poland & Georgia, it all meant a draw from the final qualifier in Rome would send England to France and Italy the playoffs. England produced an excellent defensive performance largely on the back of a solid defensive trio of Adams-Campbell-Southgate and a busy midfield display from the tigerish pairing of Paul Ince & David Batty and Ian Wright harassing the Italian backline, the sort of thing you hope to see in a Champions League quarter final second leg (Man City take note!) Wright went for glory at the death, when the corner flag was a more logical option and Christian Vieri almost nicked it in injury time but England hung on for a deserved point and their World Cup tickets.

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4. England 5-1 Croatia (Sept 2009/ World Cup 2010)

After their hammering a year earlier in Zagreb a sombre Croatia showed up at Wembley 2 years on from their great triumph over the Wally in the Brolly. England needed a point to ensure qualification, Croatia were struggling to make the play offs. In the 8th minute England won a penalty which Lampard stroked away and when Gerrard headed home the second 10 minutes later it was clear this was to be an execution. Bilic cut a dejected figure on the sidelines as Capello’s England exacted vengeance for the humiliation of 2 years previous. Three more goals followed in the second half as England completed a flawless qualification (8 played, 8 won, 2 to play). Had the World Cup been played that autumn they may have made the final, how quickly things changed.

3. England 2-0 Turkey (Apr 2003/ Euro 2004)

Turkey were on a high entering this Euro qualifier having finished 3rd at the previous years World Cup. Tensions were high at The Stadium of Light following a series of controversial games for English club sides in Turkey (in particular against Galatasaray). Sven gave young forward Wayne Rooney his first competitive start but initially Turkey looked dangerous with a series of neat passing moves, but Rooney dropped deep and began causing their defence problems. In the second half England pushed the Turks deeper and deeper into their own half and got a richly deserved goal through superstitute Darius Vassell. Turkey lost their cool and gave away a late penalty, Beckham duly dispatched and when Gerrard (accidentally) pushed a Turkish player with his arm while celebrating he received a shove in the back to which he got the repost of Steven celebrating in the players face- that’ll learn ‘yer!

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2. Croatia 1-4 England (Sept 2008/ World Cup 2010)

Rarely have England turned up for a qualifier so unfancied. Croatia had done the double on them in the previous qualification campaign and had an imperious home record. But Croatia were soon put on the blackfoot by Theo Walcott, the Arsenal winger drilled a low shot from the right home to give England the half time lead. Croatia grew frustrated and a violent elbow to the face of Joe Cole saw them down to 10 men. England then simply hammered home their numeric advantage with Walcott adding a second, Rooney a brilliant third and despite pulling a goal back Croatia had no answer to Walcott  who duly completed his hat-trick. The final session of keep ball was reminiscent of that famous Leeds- Southampton game from the 70s, Croatia really didn’t know what day it was. Stunning.

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1. Germany 1-5 England (Sept 2001/ World Cup 2002)

Never any doubt this was number 1. After falling behind to Carstan Janker’s early strike England found their rhythm and a goalmouth melee saw a swift equaliser through Michael Owen. England were excellent throughout the first half but Germany almost went ahead on the stroke of halftime through Sebastian Deisler’s point blank effort he somehow smashed straight at David Seaman, England broke, won a corner, Gerrard hit a volley and the rest is history. With England ahead a pedestrian German side tried to dominate possession but were repeatedly caught out, Scholes & Beckham shredded the German backline and Owen smashed in 2 more, when Emile Heskey runs through your defence for the 5th you know you’ve been hammered. A memorable night and a result that genuinely shook the football world, qualifying never gets better than this (that late free kick against Greece a month later only made it sweeter.)

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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.

 

7 Premier League Rule Changes that should happen

The new season is almost here, but all is not necessarily well in the beautiful game so I’ve come up with 5 rule changes that should happen;

  1. Loan players can play against their parent club. This is bloody obvious! whilst it’ll be fascinating to see how Chelsea’s young loanees get on this season the fact they won’t be allowed to play against Chelsea is going bring them an unfair advantage in the title race. Thus far Crystal Palace, Stoke, Huddersfield, Brighton & Swansea have Chelsea players on loan (that’s 10 games) in which Chelsea will face weakened opponents in the league. Of course others are loaning around the division too, notably Man City. I like the loan system and think those young players on loan will benefit from the experience but I don’t buy they have conflict of interest argument  of them playing their parent club, if anything wouldn’t they be more motivated to play well against a team they’re trying to break into?1004070fd5fe7631dc09855ab0c97288
  2. Restrictions on age of loan players. Whilst young players going on loan is an essential part of their development veterans being loaned out is daft. What’s the point of Joe Hart going on loan? Maybe it’s understandable going on loan to foreign leagues, but ultimately West Ham will learn nothing from loaning Hart they don’t already know, that should be a permanent deal. I propose limiting loans between premier league clubs to Under 23s.
  3. The transfer window closes at the start of the season. This is a no brainer, the summer window should close at midday the day before the season kicks off. The days of blockbuster deadline day deals seem over so why keep it open for 3 weeks after the season starts? Worse still this season it closes on an international week causing yet more disruption. 25 man squads should be finalised before the season starts and then the whole business stops until January.
  4. Winter Break. That old chestnut- people often say the lack of a winter break is just an excuse for England to fail in the summer, fine remove the excuse! There are plenty of ways to accommodate a 2 week break in January, most obviously play the League Cup Final before Christmas, keeping the competition clear of the January- May half of the season. Removing the March International friendly fixture in tournament years would be another (see point 7 for more on that). It would also reduce the Africa Cup of Nations issue every other year in the Premier League. Given the way English sides have generally performed in the later rounds of the Champions League it’s hard to argue clubs wouldn’t also benefit from the break. Of course it would need to be policed by the Premier League to ensure nobody uses it as an excuse to go on a money making tour. Oh and if we haven’t got time for a Winter Break why have we got time for a post season tour by every big club each May. Bonkers!
  5. Friday night PL games for European participants. Most other European participants play their game preceding a Champions League encounter on the Friday night before the Tuesday night CL match. In England this never happens with teams often playing on the Sunday before the Tuesday night game. It’s daft and only happens for TV ratings, but surely in a league where Middlesborough or Burnley seemed to be on every Monday Night we can find another 2 games on Sunday and televise a Friday night match for a CL team?
  6. Post match referee interviews. The manager, the players, even the fans give a post match reaction and the refereeing decisions are usually a talking point- so why aren’t the referees ever interviewed?
  7. Midseason international friendlies abolished. As an England fan I find the friendlies ever more tedious, made worse by the fact once prestigious fixtures are now a regular occurrence- England have now played Germany & France in back to back seasons, we also play friendlies against Italy & Holland with tedious regularity. I would propose scrapping the mid season friendlies concentrating mid season internationals on qualifying and on current Friendly designated match days simply have England squad training and get together sessions- as pioneered by Terry Venables in the Euro ’96 build up. Then play friendlies in the summer in either a friendly tournament as previously seen with the Rous & Umbro Cups or major tournament build up matches. Of course 2018 will see the UEFA League of Nations kick off- we’ll have to see if that works better, could it be worse than friendlies?

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.

New Season- England manager’s to do list

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With a season to go until the World Cup Gareth Southgate has plenty to do. Here’s the key things he chronologically needs to sort out before the World Cup.

  1. Pick a captain. The importance of the captaincy is of course massively overstated, it seems to be important to some of the press and fans (expect Five Live phone-ins to be lit up with black and white cab drivers insisting it’s the biggest decision the manager will ever make) but ask any player or anyone associated with football outside of England and they’ll say it’s not important. However it’s daft to have Wayne Rooney; a player not currently in the squad listed as captain. Harry Kane appears the most likely option as the current Tottenham captain and one of only 2 players guaranteed a place in the side (the other being club mate Dele Alli). Southgate can save himself a lot of grief in the press by picking his captain before the Malta game this September.
  2. Qualify. Obvious and the absolute minimum requirement for an England manager as Steve McClaren, Graham Taylor and even Sir Alf could all testify. England’s remaining away games are against the two weakest sides in their group (Malta & Lithuania) whilst the only sides who could realistically beat England to top spot (Slovakia & Slovenia) both have to visit to Wembley. If England win both their games this September they may find themselves needing only a point from the two October games (Slovenia Lithuania) to ensure qualification. Given the issues to resolve within the team before the World Cup Southgate would benefit from using the final qualifiers as glorified friendlies. England really need to avoid the playoffs given the at least two from Italy, Spain, France, Holland & Sweden will be there with the likes of Croatia, Portugal and Ireland currently sitting second in their qualifying groups.
  3. Decide on a number one. Joe Hart’s tenure as automatic first choice goalkeeper is surely over despite Southgate public backing his man. England have two highly talented young keepers in Jordan Pickford & Jack Butland but neither has played a Champions League game (although Pickford will play in the Europa League this season) and 4 caps between them (all Butland’s). Southgate’s problem is he has to choose between these 2 players quickly in order to give one of them enough caps before the World Cup. Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton complete England’s current complement of ‘keepers, the number one will be largely decided by club form but Southgate has to get it right.
  4. Find a centre back pairing. England has struggled in central defence at their last two tournaments, Southgate needs to find the right combination for a back 4 and preferred trio when flexed to a 3-4-3 formation. At present Gary Cahill is the only guaranteed a place even in the England squad despite ongoing concerns over his international pedigree. John Stones is a hugely talented playmaker but needs a much improved second season at Manchester City whilst Michael Keane made a good start to his England career but must adapt to a new team at Everton. Chris Smalling & Phil Jones appear to be fading down the Manchester United pecking order, England under 21 trio Callum Chamber, Alfie Mawson & Rob Holding will all press their claims and Harry Maguire may come into the equation following his move to Leicester. England have plenty of options but must blood combinations that will work.
  5. Central Midfield conundrum. England’s central midfield places look wide open. Only holding midfielder Eric Dier and the often injured linkman Jordan Henderson look squad certainties. The other veteran options are Jack Wilshere (perma-crock), Fabian Delph (Man City B team), Michael Carrick (turns 37 next July), Jake Livermore & Danny Drinkwater (neither international class) whilst Southgate clearly doesn’t trust Ross Barkley. That may lead Southgate to look at his youth options: James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Cook, Will Hughes, Tom Davies & Harry Winks are all possibilities but all will need to get regular starts for their clubs and take their chances when they come. At the moment it’s anybody’s guess who will make it.
  6. Promoting Youth. Unlike 2006 or 2010 when players were more or less guaranteed places year in advance this squad will likely contain surprisesI’ve mentioned numerous young options above in England’s problem positions, however I’d estimate only 10-14 players are locked into the squad, that leaves plenty of opportunity for up and coming talents, especially with a former Under 21s manager now in charge. Kieran Trippier, Nathan Redmond, Demarai Gray, Tammy Abraham & Dominic Solanke lead a lengthy list of young players who may just breakthrough the International glass ceiling.

Under 19 triumph keeps the momentum going. Premier League it’s now over to you.

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‘Another trophy added to the cabinet’, is not an expression England fans are used to hearing. And yet England have won 3 trophies this summer from the 5 youth tournaments they entered. It’s a staggering haul made even more impressive considering the 2 tournaments they didn’t win saw England make a final and semi final in both cases only going out on penalties.

Keith Downing will rightly get praised in the same way as Paul Simpson for establishing a team that swept a tough looking group aside and then closed out 2 tightly contested knock out games to win the trophy.

The under 19 team were defensively disciplined (conceding only twice in 5 games) and showed the creativity to unlock defensives in the final third. Ryan Sessegnon was inevitably the star man but Downing had confidence enough in his 18 man party to rotate his side and keep winning.

As I blogged before it’s unlikely any of these players will go to Russia 2018 but the European Under 21’s of 2019 for which qualifying will start this season must now be firmly in England’s sights. Most of Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 semi finalists have now graduated out of the under 21 class meaning 3 the trophy winning sides of this summer will start moving up to the under 21s. Boothroyd’s first squad selection of the new season will be treated with as much anticipation as Gareth Southgate’s as fans way to see the next stage of England’s youth development.

The FA will rightly point to this summers success as evidence their England DNA strategy and the new St Georges Park facility are paying dividends. As the new Premier League season homes into view fans will be keen to see England’s young players given prominence in the league. There will also inevitably be more media interest in how England’s youth teams are performing at International level- expect to see bigger crowds and more television coverage.

How the Premier League responds to the nations renewed belief in homegrown talent will be curious to see. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke during his Manchester United tenure of the importance of the national side to the Premier League, should England’s clubs be seen to fail its young players a backlash (unthinkable a year ago) could well follow.

Nobody wants to hear politicians like Andy Burnham talking about quotas for home based players (for one thing they don’t work!) But the Premier League’s success is built on TV revenues, just how much Sky & BT are prepared to pay for Premier League coverage will be based on public opinion.

When the English game was simply not producing talented players it was easy to dismiss the problems of the national team as the FA’s fault for not investing enough in grassroots football (how many times have we heard that over the years?!) Now England has produced 5 separate successful youth teams in 1 summer, if the clubs can’t provide a pathway to first team success the gravy train may well get derailed. The Premier League has never been slow to exploit an opportunity before, let’s hope they take up the chance to help develop a successful national team.