England claim to have invented beautiful game but we’re playing catch up after 999 matches – The Sun
TERRY VENABLES caused a stir in 1995 when he delivered a withering assessment of England’s standing in world football.
The Three Lions boss went on the attack after scraping a 3-3 draw with Sweden in the build-up to Euro 96.
“We were never the best in the world,” he snapped. “We won the World Cup on our own territory and that made people believe we were.
“People talk of the days of Stanley Matthews but we never won anything then. It’s an illusion, just not true.
"The trouble is we think we’re the best in the world but the facts don’t support that.”
His comments raised some eyebrows but he had a point.
International football originated with Scotland v England in 1872 but the English game has been chasing the ball, metaphorically and literally, for most of the 147 years since.
The die was cast as two distinct styles evolved in the early decades of football’s oldest rivalry — England relying on a direct, physical approach compared to Scotland’s short passing game.
Progressive British coaches’ methods were more welcome abroad and these exiles laid the foundations for the painful football masterclasses England were given by Austria in the 1930s, Hungary in the 1950s and Holland in the 1970s.
England’s reputation as Masters of Football was gradually ripped to shreds in ventures abroad, although many coaches and FA officials blamed defeats on unfamiliar hot weather conditions, softer balls used overseas and fatigue caused by club football.
Having snubbed the first three World Cups, dismal failures at the next four proved what England were.
Honest toilers and also-rans.
In 1954, FA secretary Sir Stanley Rous announced a four-year plan to introduce new playing styles.
He promised: “Using basic English principles of football we will try to introduce pinpoint accuracy in passing, close marking and sharp shooting.
“The aim is to win the 1958 World Cup. Every effort will be made in this and I feel sure we will have the co-operation of directors and managers of British clubs.”
But little changed until Alf Ramsey became England’s first all-powerful manager in 1962.
He viewed a tactical system as just as, if not more, important than individual players.
And England were briefly innovators, winning in 1966 with a formation featuring something resembling today’s holding midfielder, hard-working wide midfielders rather than wingers and a creative ‘link man’ to support the forwards. Ramsey made the very best of the players he had and of home advantage.
Yet tactics are always evolving and his methods were soon overtaken.
How far England fell behind is illustrated by Bobby Robson and Ron Greenwood both trying a gung-ho 1950s-era 4-2-4 formation that even cavalier Brazil had abandoned ahead of Mexico 70.
In more recent decades, England have briefly grasped the need for a modern approach.
Under Venables and Glenn Hoddle, for example. But even when the FA broke with tradition by appointing a foreign coach they ended up with Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Swede whose football philosophy was shaped by old-style English 4-4-2 tactics.
Today, maybe, the penny has dropped. Gareth Southgate deserves great credit for bravely resisting the temptation to protect his own position with safety-first, results-before-style football.
His approach of playing a high-risk passing game with technically good young players has been a revelation.
England boasts it invented the game, but it has taken 1,000 games to catch up with reality.
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