Monday, May 24, 2010

There may had been certain illusions playing a role as well – typically, the English paid little attention to foreign football and its developments, but with total football the problem may had been different. Attacking football was prime characteristic of total football, but also traditionally English game. Ramsey’s innovation in 1966 – replacing winger with fake wingers involved defenders and midfielders in attack, which was faintly similar to the requirements of total football. And similar was the tough tackling without the merciless brutality of the Italians and the Spanish. And similar was the great mobility of the field players, covering the whole field. Similar characteristics, but no identity. By 1973 it was analyzed even by the Soviets that Ramsey calls same type of players again and again – tall, strong in the air, but somewhat slow and heavy on the ground. Solid and dedicated, but lacking imagination and surprise. It is not that the alarms were off and Ramsey was unaware – it was more a case of inability to really change. After the fiasco in 1972 entirely new national team was made:
Top, left to right: Hunter, Blockley, Summerbee, Clarke, Hughes, Clemence, Parkes, Shilton, Bell, McFarland, Moore, Peters, Chivers, Harold Shepherdson – assistant coach since 1966. Bottom: Madeley, MacDonald, Storey, Ball, Channon, Richards, Nish, Keegan, Currie. The ‘new’ England was not really new, but a mix – the last remains of 1966 - Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, and Martin Peters; strong players, getting a bit long in the tooth – Storey, Summerbee, Chivers; established stars in their prime – Hunter, Clarke, Hughes, Bell; and young talent like Keegan, MacDonald, Nish, Richards. Nothing radical really – rather smooth replacement of one generation with another. By names alone – strong selection. By characters – a lot of fighters. But… the very same type of players as before. And many question marks.
Ray Clemence looked like first choice between the goalposts, but somehow never satisfied when playing for England. Peter Shilton was very suspect at the time, although Stoke City bought him from Leicester City to replace Gordon Banks. In 1973 Shilton was the regular keeper, later benched. Phil Parkes never made it in the national team. Meantime established keepers were not called – Peter Bonetti (Chelsea), Alex Stepney (Manchester United), Joe Corrigan (Manchester City). Were they worse than the three above? Seemingly, after Banks there was no stable goalkeeper for very long time.
The defense looks tough and experienced, yet no libero around. Not even a potential one. Jeff Blockley soon disappeared. So David Nish. As for McFarland - after Bobby Moore retired, he had stiff competition – Dave Watson and Colin Todd. All of them similar to each other, no variety.
Full backs – same thing. At the right Paul Madeley seemed sure choice with Peter Storey for back-up at the moment. But Madeley was eventually replaced by Mick Mills, very similar player to the one replaced. At the left – only David Nish here, suggesting a deficit. And he did not last. Sure, Madeley was capable playing either left or right… how comforting! Between 1972 and 1974 various players were involved: Madeley, Todd, Mills, Storey, Nish, and Hughes were used as right fullbacks. On the left – Hughes, Storey, Pejic, Todd, Lindsay, Lampard, Watson. Depending on opinion… either English players were comfortable in any position, for most were really central defensemen, or the situation was desperate and nobody had enough class and stability.
Midfield – fighters all, but with limited creativity. No imaginative playmaker, so whether Allan Ball played or Colin Bell, or Alan Clarke, there were no big difference.
Plenty of centre forwards, all of the same mold – Martin Peters, Martin Chivers, Malcolm MacDonald, John Richards… supported by right wingers or at least strikers preferring the right side of the pitch – Tony Currie, Mick Channon, Mike Summerbee, and even Kevin Keegan. At the left? Nobody. Soon Summerbee was gone, Peters and Chivers were gone (all aging), and Currie, Richards, MacDonald never established themselves. Keegan played for the first time in 1974, which seems weird retrospectively.
As a whole, the squad is just a younger version of England 1966 and 1970, and clearly not intended to capitalize on the talent of the only versatile player – Kevin Keegan. True, he was young and therefore unknown quality, but even ten years later England hardly used Keegan creatively. And apart from him nobody here was up to the challenge of total football – able to play different post, if necessary. Defensemen were only defensemen; midfielders – midfielders; and strikers – only strikers. They moved back and forth, but just that – never sideways or diagonally. Long balls, crosses, and headers.
No wonder the ‘new’ England was not satisfying and soon more players were called:

Alas, old habits perpetuated… still problems with goalkeeping – Alan Stevenson called. Still problems in defense – Dave Watson called. Still problems in midfield – Trevor Brooking and Stan Bowles called. Still problems in attack – X, Y, Z called. And they were called by Don Revie, who finally replaced Alf Ramsey. Names changed, nothing else. There were more boys involved in the period 1972-74 – R. Marsh, K. Hector, P. Osgood, M. Pejic, J. Royle, F. Lampard, L. Lloyd, F. Worthington, A. Lindsay, D. Thomas, G. Francis. Young, old, new, experienced, debutants, recalled veterans, erratic, stable, you name it. If one looks at the squad from 1970 or 1966, the similarity is striking: English football played the same game, changing nothing, and England paid dearly for that – missing 1974 and 1978 World Cups; disgusting performance at the European Championship 1980 and World Cup 1982, and so on and on to this very day. The great club football produced boring (at best) national squads year after year. Thus, England displayed the most acute football crisis, lasting from 1973 until… well, still lasting. As the years pile up, it is more and more obvious that there were no alternatives – the English school of football did not produce any other kind of player. May be – but only may be – the only missed chance was Brian Clough. Stiff and conservative administration chose not to appoint him, to the peril of English football. Perhaps the sharp-nosed Clough would had been able to organize more up to date playing scheme. Perhaps not… after all, he was great in forging winning teams from ordinary players playing very disciplined, but hardly inspired football. He took some not very memorable players from Derby County to Nottingham Forest to get another title. McFarland, Todd, Hector played for his Derby squad; Shilton – for his Nottingham squad. And Shilton is perhaps the best example of the twisted struggle for change without change – he played his first match for England in 1969, but became a certainty after 1982…
Inflexible and arrogant conservatism made the English blind – foreign ‘continentals’ were anathema for very long time and yet the key players of the leading English clubs were not English, clearly suggesting that England was starved of talent. Leeds United is a prime example – it depended on Bremner, Lorimer, Yorath, Giles, Jordan, Harvey, Eddie and Frank Gray, McQueen. Shall I mention where played Dobson, Stevenson, Watson, Nish, MacDonald at that time? The point is that increasingly the national team of England was selected from players not employed by leading clubs – a sure sign of crisis. The moment for awakening was lost – England learned exactly nothing from eliminations in 1972 and 1973, preferring the comfort of the arrogant excuse ‘Tomaszewski is a clown’; the excuse of a momentary slip; the excuse of losing to ‘noble opponent’; the excuse of late change of generations. England had to change its mind, its approach to footbfootball, its tactical and training systems – these were not even contemplated. The result: peril.