Tuesday, 4 June 2002 - Ahead
of the much-awaited World Cup clash between England and Argentina, a poll
has revealed the team Argentines would least like to see hoist the World Cup
is England. Likewise, amigos. In more than 50 years of
following international football, we've felt compelled to cheer for England's old rival,
Germany, only twice--in the final matches at the World Cup 1986 and 1990
tournaments, when they met Argentina. Our sentiments are based solely on
what we've seen on the field of play, nothing more.
Thursday, 21 February 2002 - The
English football media generally touted
Eriksson's selection of
Aston Villa forward Darius Vassell to the England squad for the match against
Holland last week as a surprise. They also professed surprise when he
was given a starting role. And after he scored a wonderful
bicycle kick goal on his debut and displayed other promising signs, some
commentators said Eriksson had been lucky again.
Those same pundits know that for
more than a year now Eriksson and his faithful assistant Tord Grip have kept
an exhausting schedule watching matches featuring present and prospective
England players. Grip even fell ill briefly after carrying his
dedication to the job too far. They've done it for a purpose, of course,
and Vassell made that purpose evident last week. Eriksson or Grip or
both plainly noticed something about Vassell they wanted.
nothing to do with Vassell's selection to the squad, his assignment as
starting forward, his goal or his general performance. It's all down to
hard work and intelligent preparation, which pay off in any endeavour,
including football. Crediting it to luck is an insult to a coaching duo
whose work ethic is superb and paying off for England. But please don't
overdo it again, Tord. We're fond of you and, what's more, we need you.
Another Sad Time for Football
Monday, 18 February 2002 -
It's another sad time for football as three of the great names of the 1940's and
50's left us.
First was Zizinho, the artistic forward
regrettably remembered most for Brazil's 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World
Cup finals at Rio de Janeiro's Estádio Maracană. Born as Thomaz
da Silva, Zizinho was
nonetheless voted best player at that tournament, the Italian press dubbing him
the "Leonardo da Vinci of football." Altogether he scored 30 goals
in 53 appearances for Brazil between 1942 and 1957. He was not,
however, in the Brazil team that met England for the first time, at Wembley
Stadium in 1956, and went down to defeat, 4-2. He died at 80 on Thursday, 7 February 2002 in Niterói
near Rio de Janeiro, following a heart attack
was the marvellous Hungarian centre-forward Nandor Hidegkuti, whose mobility so
confused England in their first loss to an overseas side on home soil, as the
Magical Magyars swept to a remarkable 6-3 victory at Wembley Stadium on a foggy
afternoon in November, 1953. Nando got a hat-trick that day and scored
again in the return match in Budapest the following May when Hungary destroyed
England 7-1 in their worst loss ever. He also played in Hungary's
devastating 3-2 loss to West Germany in the World Cup 1954 final in Switzerland
and retired following the World Cup 1958 final tournament. Altogether, he scored 39 goals in 68 appearances for Hungary
between 1945 and 1958, most of his caps and goals coming after he reached
30. Ill for some time with heart and lung problems, he died at 80 on Thursday, 14 February 2002 in Kutvolgyi
Hospital in Budapest.
Sir Walter Winterbottom,
England's first and longest-serving manager, died at 89 on Saturday, 16 February
2002 at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.
of the tributes have emphasised Winterbottom's rather professorial air, his
gentle nature and his decency, and they have recalled that he presided over
England's infamous 1-0 loss to the U.S.A. at the World Cup 1950 finals and the
pair of losses to the great Hungarian team of the early 1950's. All true
was at the helm when disappointing World Cup showings and
friendly results shattered England's claim to world football supremacy.
That claim had long been illusion, however; decades of complacency and isolation from
competitive international play had produced a tactical sterility and rigidity in
English football which the Hungarians and others cruelly exposed. To hold
Winterbottom somehow responsible is tantamount to blaming the messenger for the
message, for he was far ahead of anyone else in English football in recognising
the weaknesses in English football and in setting about correcting
one of the most influential figures in 20th
Century English football. In fact, almost single-handedly, he dragged
English football into the 20th Century. As national director of coaching
and then national team manager from 1946 to 1962, he made coaching and tactical
awareness acceptable to a tradition-bound football community, not least the
players themselves, reluctant to accept
their value, led England from self-imposed isolation into competitive
international play, established a national coaching structure which vastly
improved the quality of play at all levels, established the England youth and
under-23 teams, and laid the
foundations for England's World Cup 1966 victory. All this he accomplished
in the face of formidable obstacles, primarily a reactionary football
establishment that resisted almost everything he tried to do.
Yet the English
football community has always associated Winterbottom with the decline in England's
footballing status, and it treated him disgracefully when he eventually relinquished his national
football posts following the World Cup 1962 finals. He was clearly the best man to take over from Sir Stanely Rous as
Football Association secretary--his experience, abilities and personal qualities
admirably suited him for the post--but he was rudely shunted aside. Pushed
out of football,
on to play a key role with the General
Council for Physical Education and became executive director of the Sports
Council. Significantly, while he received the
O.B.E. for services to football in 1963 and the C.B.E. in 1972, his knighthood
in 1978 was awarded for services to sport in general. The
English football community, including the media, largely ignored him for the
past 40 years. Even
in death it is doubtful he will get his due for his contributions to English
The English football establishment's capacity
for ingratitude to its most faithful servants remains astonishing, matched,
in terms of disgrace, only by its parallel failure to honour football's past. More on that later.
Remembering Billy Wright
Sunday, 3 February 2002 -
Cancer took the life of England and Wolverhampton Wanderers legend
Wright in 1994 as he was working on his autobiography. Now Norman
Giller, the well-known football journalist and author who was helping Wright
with the book, is turning it into a biography to be published later this
year. Giller is collecting fan tributes on
website he has set up to honour Wright and promote the
book, which is authorised by Wright's widow, Joy, one of the singing Beverley
Every England fan, no matter what age, knows Billy Wright's
name. But Giller is surely right in his claim that not nearly enough fuss
is made about Wright and his achievements. Wright was the first player
in the world to earn 100 caps,
with 105. He
captained England 90
times, a still-standing world
record equalled only by Bobby Moore. He
England at three World Cup final tournaments, another record. But
surely his most impressive record--one that will never be broken--is
his 70 successive appearances for England, all of them as captain.
Wright's first cap came in the first England match after
the Second War, the 7-2 thrashing of Northern Ireland on 28 September
1946. He appeared in 33 straight England matches, missed two in in
November, 1950, played two, missed one in May, 1951, and then played 70
straight from 3 October 1951 to his last match, the
8-1 trouncing of the U.S.A. on 28 May 1959.
From the start of the 1946-47 season until the end of the
1958-59 season--13 seasons in all--Wright missed only three England matches,
and the three he missed all came in the same season, 1950-51.
Wright started as a hard-working right-half.
a switch in position at World Cup 1954 in Switzerland, he became a highly effective centre-half
(the English term for central defender since the advent of the W-M formation,
which moved the centre-halfback from his midfield role between the
wing-halfbacks to a defending position between the fullbacks). He
compensated for his lack of heighth with intelligence, superb positional play
Wright's aura transcended his footballing talents. It is difficult to convey to
fans under age 50
what he meant to English football in the bleak era immediately following the
war. When we thought
of the England team, we immediately thought of Billy Wright; the two were
synonymous. He was a wonderful sportsman, never sent off or cautioned on
the pitch and a gentleman off it. He was universally admired. He
was the most prominent symbol of English football and its greatest ambassador
for more than a decade. He stood for all that was best about football
and, indeed, about England.
Giller's book, Billy Wright: A Hero for All Seasons,
should bring this great player and grand man to life for a new generation of England fans.
More World Cup This and That:
Saturday, 2 February 2002 - At
first blush, it appeared Argentina's economic crisis was disrupting the
national side's preparations for the World Cup 2002 final tournament, where they
will face England, Sweden and Nigeria in group play.
On Wednesday Argentina and Costa Rica cancelled a friendly
match which had been scheduled for 13 February. The match was originally
set for a neutral venue, Miami in the U.S.A., but Argentina coach Marcelo
Bielsa later insisted on Buenos Aires as the venue. Costa Rica refused to
agree to the change. The change Bielsa proposed would, of course, have
saved Argentina travel expenses.
On Friday Argentina cancelled another away match, a friendly
against Norway scheduled for 27 March in Oslo. The Norwegian football
association is urging FIFA to force Argentina to play the match as planned on
the ground Argentina entered a binding agreement to play in Oslo.
Argentina have one other known World Cup warmup match, an away friendly against
Germany on 17 April.
Meanwhile, the scouts Sweden have employed to spy on
Argentina and Nigeria are complaining about the failure of both teams to
disclose the details of their World Cup warmup matches. In Argentina's
case, at least, the failure to disclose the details may be because there are
none to disclose.
Argentina's sparse pre-World Cup fixture list may not be due
to economic troubles, however. It may simply reflect ongoing efforts to
arrange the most advantageous fixtures possible. El Clarin, the Argentine newspaper,
which had expressed concern
over the lack of preparatory friendlies, reports today that
Argentina are trying to arrange a friendly against Wales later this month, when
they were to play Costa Rica, and
Cameroon on 27 March, when they were to play Norway.
The match against Wales would be played at the
Millennium Stadium in Caerdydd and give Argentina experience in playing under a
roof. The World Cup stadium in Sapporo, Japan, where they will play
England, has a
roof. England have already asked the KNVB (the Royal Dutch Football
Association) to close the roof of the Amsterdam ArenA when they play Holland
there on 13 February.
El Clarin says the Argentina Football Association prefers
Cameroon over Norway as a warmup opponent. England already have arranged a friendly
against Cameroon in the expectation it will be valuable for the World Cup group match against
Nigeria. If Argentina are able to arrange the Cameroon fixture, it will be
the second time one of England's World Cup group opponents have played
copy-cat. After England arranged a World Cup warmup friendly against
Paraguay--in the expectation it would be useful for the World Cup match against
Argentina--Sweden did the same.
That England are being copied is an encouraging sign.
The Football Association has done its planning so well that the opposition is
Friday, 1 February 2002 - We were struck by the
juxtaposition of headlines in the Electronic Telegraph's
under-21 team archive.
The earlier entry: "21 Dec : On the Spot:
Terry's learning curve paying off for Chelsea."
Immediately above that: "04 Jan : Terry arrested
in club incident"
World Cup This and That:
Nigeria and Sweden
Friday, 1 February 2002 -
Somewhere near the middle of the last century, Walter Winterbottom, England's
first manager, said that an African team would win the World Cup by century's
end. He was wrong about that, of course, but his prediction may yet prove
to be off by only a decade or so.
Those English football writers pooh-poohing Nigeria, one of
England's group opponents at the World Cup, may become candidates for our
Hall of Shame. Several have written that England have nothing to
fear from Nigeria, noting, among other things, that Nigeria have had trouble
putting the ball in the net at the African Nations Cup. Poor finishing,
they called it. Observers on the scene have written that all the best
African teams have tightened up their defences considerably since the last World
Cup. This is an ominous development because the strongest African teams
have had world class attacking capabilities for the past 15 years, but have been
betrayed by poor defending when they met the strongest European and South
American teams. What the African teams have achieved despite slender and
sometimes nonexistent resources, a paucity of good coaching and continual
difficulty in assembling their best players is remarkable.
While Nigeria have improved on defence, they are still
capable of ball artistry comparable to South America's best. England
should be able to beat Nigeria, but only a fool would write them off as
nothing to fear. Cameroon had all England in fear in the World Cup 1990
quarterfinals when only a
late Gary Lineker penalty kick put England through to extra-time and only
another Lineker penalty kick enabled England to advance to the
semi-finals. On that occasion, Cameroon's superb attacking skills had
England's defence in jitters, and only Cameroon's naive defending saved
England from elimination. Nigeria could be World Cup 2002's version of
World Cup 1990's Cameroon--similar attacking capabilities but a much better
defence. Nigeria themselves had eventual finalist Italy on the ropes in
the round of 16 teams at World Cup 1994; only Roberto Baggio's 89th minute
goal sent Italy to extra-time and only his penalty kick goal enabled Italy to
advance. At World Cup 1998, Nigeria topped their group with victories
over Spain and Bulgaria before crashing out to Denmark in the round of 16
Meanwhile, Nigeria and three of the other four African World
Cup teams--Cameroon, Senegal and South Africa--have gone through to the
quarterfinals in the African Nations Cup. Tunisia, unable to score in a
difficult group with Senegal, Egypt and Zambia, was the only World Cup
qualifying team failing to make the cut.
England have lined up Paraguay for a friendly World Cup
preparation match on 17 April at Anfield Road. Not to be outdone, Sweden,
England's first World Cup group opponent, have now arranged to play Paraguay in
Stockholm on 17 May. Both England and Sweden have chosen Paraguay to help
them prepare for their matches against Argentina. Paraguay advanced to the
World Cup finals by finishing fourth in South America's huge single qualifying
group. While they are not nearly as strong as Argentina, which finished atop the
group, Paraguay will give both England and Sweden a taste of
Argentina's style of play--artistry and flair in attack combined with discipline
and hardness in defence.
Must be Punished
28 January 2001 - There’s a groundswell of support today for Jamie
Carragher, the Liverpool and England midfielder who retaliated against Arsenal
fans who had thrown coins at him in Sunday's F.A. Cup match at Arsenal Stadium
by throwing one of them back into the crowd. Several
football commentators are saying he was provoked and that the Football
Association should be lenient in punishing him
has apologised, of course, but he must be punished, and the punishment must be
severe enough that he considers it unpleasant.
It is already clear he will forfeit his place in the England squad which
will face Holland on 13 February. He will be under suspension from
league play then, and it is F.A. policy that players under suspension will not
be selected for an England squad.
at it from the viewpoint of the England team.
Carragher’s moment of fury displayed precisely the kind of
impetuosity that got David Beckham sent off when he lashed out with his foot
at Diego Simeone in retaliation for a foul at the start of the second half in
England’s quarter-final against Argentina at World Cup 1998 in France.
Some of the reaction to Beckham over the following season was way over
the top, of course, but that does not alter the fact that he ruined
England’s chances of winning the match and helped bring an early end to his
team-mates’ two-year World Cup campaign.
England cannot afford players who indulge in temper-tantrums that carry
a price so steep.
Carragher must learn to discipline himself, as
Beckham eventually did. And the
best way to ensure he does so is to make it clear to him that such
temperamental outbursts bring unpleasant consequences, among them putting his
England place in jeopardy.
Alan Shearer Non-Story
26 January 2002 - Headlines
this week said Sven-Göran Eriksson had left the door open for Alan Shearer to
return to the England team. Shearer
has since put a lid on speculation, saying he has no intention of returning,
that the reason he’s doing so well for his club is because he no longer
plays and trains for England, that his body needs the rest he now gets when
England train and play. But it
was a non-story from the start anyway, created by the media for the media.
television reporter asked Eriksson whether he was considering selecting Shearer in view
of his fine club form. Eriksson
replied that Shearer had taken himself out of consideration for the England
team. The reporter said Shearer
had said “maybe.” Eriksson
responded that in that case he also said “maybe.”
That exchange, and perhaps others like it, became headlines which
implied Eriksson was actively considering Shearer’s selection and
practically had Shearer back in England uniform.
never would have happened even had Shearer been willing.
Part of Eriksson’s job is football diplomacy, and he’s good at it.
Of course he wasn’t going to show disrespect for one of England’s
football icons. And so his
response was the noncommittal “maybe.”
But anyone who has the slightest knowledge of
football knows Shearer’s return would disrupt everything Eriksson has
accomplished with the team over the past year.
Indeed, for the last two years before his retirement from international
play, Shearer’s presence prevented a young and vibrant England team’s
development. The English football
media surely knew the story was misleading, but ran it anyway.
England Stars Reach their Peak Year
Monday, 21 January 2002 - Two
active England players, both Manchester United stars, celebrate birthdays
today. Nick Butt is 27 and Phil Neville 25. It has long been said
that 27 is the age at which most footballers are at their peak, and these
birthdays remind us that the crop of young Manchester United players who
entered the England fold in the mid-1990's are now reaching their peak year,
just in time for the World Cup.
Besides Butt, David Beckham will be 27
on 2 May, Paul Scholes was 27 on 16 November, and Gary Neville will be
27 on 18 February. By the time World Cup 2006 rolls around, they will be
in their early 30's, and so it is probably now or never for these
Beckham has said he wants to captain England for 10 years, but
that won't happen. Today's international football is played at too fast
a pace and is too demanding physically for most players over 30.
exceptional physical specimens or players who rely on guile and positioning
rather than speed and strength stand a chance of lasting beyond that.
Teddy Sheringham is such an exception, and, barring a spate of injuries to
forwards, the most he can expect in competitive matches is a substitute
Football Loses Vavá and Jeff Astle
Sunday, 20 January
2002 - We were saddened this weekend to hear of the deaths on
Saturday of two international footballers.
First came Saturday's news
that the Brazilian legend Vavá had died in a Rio de Janeiro clinic at 67 of
heart failure. Vavá was one of Brazil's stars at the first two World
Cup tournaments they won, in 1958 in Sweden, when he was moved from
inside-left to centre-forward to make room for Pele, and in 1962 in Chile.
Strong, quick and fearless no matter how rugged the play became, he was celebrated as "o
Leăo da Copa" [the Lion of the Cup] for the opportunistic goals he scored in crucial
World Cup matches, among them one against France in the 1958 semi-final, two against Sweden in the 1958 final, two
against Chile in the 1962 semi-final and one against
Czechoslovakia in the 1962 final. With Pele and West Germany's Paul
Breitner, Vavá is one of only three players to have scored in two World Cup
final matches, and he stands alone as the only player to score in two
consecutive World Cup final matches. Nine of his goals came
in his 11 World Cup matches at two tournaments. Altogether he scored 15 times in 22 appearances for
Brazil spread over 12 years from 1952 to 1964.
Sometimes listed in the match
summaries under his real name, Edvaldo Izidio Neto, he faced England three
times. The first was the scoreless draw at World Cup 1958, the second the 3-1
Brazil victory at World Cup 1962, in which he scored Brazil's winning goal after having
another disallowed, and the last the 5-1 Brazil win at Estádio
Maracană in the
Taca das Naçoes (Nations' Cup) celebrating the Brazilian football
association's 50th anniversary.
On Sunday came the news that Jeff Astle had died
unexpectedly Saturday night, apparently of natural causes. He was only
59. A great goalscoring centre-forward with West Bromwich Albion and
superb in the air, Astle was never able to make his mark at the international
His abbreviated England career--five appearances, no goals--is
remembered for his miss from a few yards in front of an open goal after he
came on as a substitute for the last 35 minutes with Brazil leading 1-0 at Estadio Jalisco in
Guadlajara, Mexico at World Cup 1970. Whether in the
stadium or in front of the millions of television sets tuned in around
the globe, watching fans thought it was much easier to score than to miss, perhaps
overlooking the tension-ridden atmosphere in which the match was played.
It pitted the reigning World Cup champions against the favourites, it was one of the finest World
Cup matches ever played, and had Astle managed to score, things might well
have gone very differently for him.
As it was, the several chances he
created for his team-mates that day--also missed--won him a starting position
in the next match, the 1-0 win against Czechoslovakia that allowed
England to advance to the quarterfinals and their extra-time 3-2 loss to West Germany.
But he went scoreless against Czechoslovakia, too, and that was the end of his