Tuesday, August 16, 2011


AN: LONDON, 9/14/1993

Terry Venables' reign as England manager ended last night following his failure to guide the team to qualification for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. England's 2-0 loss to Holland sunk England's last ditch hopes of making the tournament.

Venables couldn't lead the national team to glory, making this the third successive failure in major tournament qualification, and now the former Spurs boss leaves the Football Association searching to fill what has become one of the toughest jobs in world football.

Venables said: "I am the biggest fan of the England Football team in the country, and I am devastated not to have taken this opportunity to get the team to the World Cup. For a team of England's stature miss out again is unacceptable and I hope whoever takes the job can turn the ship around and restore England's reputation."

FA Chairman Bert Millichip had no immediate comment on who might replace Venables, but the FA is set to meet next week to discuss candidates that could include Steve Coppell, Ron Atkinson, Graham Taylor, Joe Royle and Howard Kendall.

Bobby Robson quit the position in late 1989 when England could only manage a 0-0 draw in Poland meaning Denmark snuck into the best runners-up qualifying position for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Robson was out of work until he took the PSV Eindhoven job in Holland where he has had considerable success.

The English FA failed to tempt their first two choices to succeed Robson: Graham Taylor asked to take on the job at the end of the season, wanting to finish off his push for the title with Aston Villa. The FA declined his request and Villa finished runners-up to Liverpool.

Joe Royle, who was unproven at the time even as a top-flight manager, was a serious contender for the job and met with the FA, but fans disapproved and Royle himself told reporters he wasn't ready for the position. A formal offer was never made.

Brian Clough was the choice of 68% of football fans in a poll sponsored by AN, but the FA and Clough have had too many clashes and he was never in consideration for the job.

So it was Venables, who could foresee the frustrations in the board room at White Hart Lane, who was offered the job on am initial three-year contract, but the warm reception given to El Tel would soon turn ugly after failing, albeit narrowly, to qualify for Euro '92, and now next year's World Cup Finals.

Venables' first game in charge came just six days after his appointment in the job. The friendly against Italy at Wembley ended in a 1-1 draw, but the press heralded his offensive formation incorporating a five-man forward line of Lineker, Beardsley, Bull, Waddle and Barnes at one point. England beat Yugoslavia 3-1 a month later, with Brian Robson, Lineker and Waddle scoring one each.

But England's attacking formation was torn apart by Brazil in a 2-0 defeat in March, though Venables was heralded for trying to take the game to the South Americans. A friendly against Uruguay in May saw the debut of Venables' "Christmas Tree" formation where Gary Lineker played just in front of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley. The game ended with a 2-0 win and this formation would become Venables' trademark for the remainder of his tenure.

After watching West Germany win the World Cup over the summer, Venables' team took the field again in a home friendly against Hungary and won comfortably 3-0. By this time, the players seemed more comfortable with his wingless tactics and with tremendous depth up-front, with Waddle, Barnes, Platt, Gascoigne and Beardsley all an option to play just off the target man Lineker, or indeed Steve Bull, coupled with a short passing game, fans were optimistic about Euro '92 qualification.

Poland and Ireland were beaten handily before two frustrating draws against Ireland at Wembley and against Turkey in Istanbal. The Turks were beaten back at Wembley in the return fixture in October but England suffered their first competitive defeat under Venables against Poland in Poznan. Gary Lineker left the game at half-time and with the injured Steve Bull not in the squad, England lacked a cutting edge and chances to win were wasted. England lost 1-0 and the Poles leapfrogged both England and Ireland to win the group and qualify.

Venables escaped much of the blame. It had come down to one match which his team had dominated against an opposition that has a history of spoiling England's party. Venables' team has played with flair and confidence, but were unlucky in defeat. Supporters' attention was turned to the bigger prize of qualification for the '94 World Cup in the United States. His contract was renewed.

The International retirement of Gary Lineker was soon forgotten as Alan Shearer ended the fold and made an instant impression. Other young guns had reinforced England's spine: Paul Ince, Paul Merson, Tony Adams, Les Ferdinand, Nigel Clough and Ian Wright became regular starters in the side. A draw against Norway and a 4-0 win over Turkey was a solid start to qualification in the autumn of 1992. San Marino were mauled 8-0 with Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand both scoring hat-tricks.

But a bad-tempered 0-0 tie in Istanbal against Turkey proved a stumbling block, especially when Paul Gascoigne was sent off for a reckless challenge in the 92nd minute. Without the suspended Gazza and Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand both injured England slumped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Holland.

More frustration followed in a 1-1 tie in Poland and with injuries piling up, Venables abandoned his Christmas Tree and switched to a sweeper formation against Norway in Oslo hoping the wing play of in-form Lee Sharpe could open up a stubborn defence. The gamble didn't pay off and England lost 2-0.

England beat Poland 4-0 at Wembley in September of 1993 but their qualification campaign was sunk in last night's 2-0 defeat in Rotterdam.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


AN: LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND, May 5, 1990. Aston Villa striker Teddy Sheringham shot his new team to the championship - and a place in European competition next year - as a thrilling title race came to its climax.

Villa pipped Liverpool to the title by two points, wrapping up their decisive win on Merseyside at Everton, across the river from their championship rival's home stadium. Their title means Villa will play in the UEFA Cup next year as the ban on English clubs in European competitions expires.

The 24-year-old forward, who finished the campaign with 13 goals, including 6 for Millwall, was in a daze after the final whistle. He said: "It's unbelievable. To win the title on the last day is a schoolboy's dream come true. The gaffer showed a lot of faith in bringing me here, and told me I was here to score goals. I'm glad I could come in an help... although I haven't played enough games to get a championship medal, I'm delighted and can't wait for next season to start."

It was Sheringham, a £1.6m signing from Millwall, who netted the goal that brought the title back to Villa Park, completing their transformation from the side relegated to Division 2 just two seasons ago. Villa finished bottom of the league in 1987, finishing second the following year and getting promoted. They survived last season - just - a point ahead of relegated Middlesbrough.

This year, under manager Graham Taylor, they have upset teams with their style which has seen them punching way above their weight with few real stars in the team but an attitude and game plan that has made them a handful for anyone.

Sheringham played just 10 games for Villa, but contributed seven goals including a brace against his old club, relegated Millwall. His form gives him an outside chance of making the England squad going to Italy along side teammates PFA Player of the Year David Platt and winger Tony Daley.

His debut was solid if not spectacular. Villa won 1-0 at Derby on March 17 with Sheringham threatening without challenging Peter Shilton in the County goal. His first goal in claret and blue came three days later in a win at QPR. Defying the boos at Selhurst Park, Sheringham poked home a late equalizer at Crystal Palace to continue an unbeaten run that would last until the end of the season.

Sheringham's first game at Villa Park against Manchester City saw Sheringham off to a dream start in front of the home fans, scoring in the first two minutes from a Tony Daley cross. The game ended 2-2 after City fought back from 2-0 down. Another trip to London ended with another another win at Arsenal in a 1-0 win, the winner coming from full-back Chris Price. Sheringham picked up a slight knock in mid-week training and missed the next game against Chelsea, but Villa managed a 1-0 at Villa Park thanks to a Gordon Cowans goal.

The title was probably won at Old Trafford on April 17 when Manchester United took a 2-0 lead over Villa through Mark Robins, only for Sheringham to score one and provide one for former United star Paul McGrath to take a deserved point in a 2-2 draw. The next day, Liverpool were beaten by Arsenal in a narrow 2-1 defeat - only their third loss in the league since November 29th.

The Reds scored 13 goals and conceded only three in their last four games, leaving them with a total of 78pts. Villa beat Millwall 3-0 and tied with Norwich 3-3, giving them a total of 77 going into their last game at Everton. A tie would not have been enough to finish in first place, given Dalglish's team's vastly superior goal difference.

The game was a cracker with Villa's fans sensing the fairytale end to a season where they had only dared to hope for survival. Villa went ahead through Sheringham before Cowans curled in a beautiful free-kick past Neville Southall. Everton made Villa nervous as they pulled one back through Mike Newell coupled with the news coming from Highfield Road of Liverpool's 6-1 demolition of Coventry City. But The Villans hung on and fans spilled on to the pitch at the final whistle as they celebrated the unlikeliest of titles and their second championship win in nine years.

Former teammate at Millwall Tony Cascarino had mixed emotions as he endured relegation again with the club, but wished his old striking-partner well. "We certainly missed Teddy when he moved to Villa," said Cascarino. "But it would be hard to resist a move to such a massive club. If Teddy had stayed, maybe we would have stayed up, but to be fair the damage was done before he was sold. I wish I could have done more for Millwall this season, but congratulate Teddy on winning the title."

Friday, August 5, 2011


AN - July 8, 1998 MARSEILLE Chelsea midfielder Matthew Le Tissier powered England into the World Cup finals and got the nation dreaming of glory against France on Sunday.

"Le God" scored a cracker which he branded his favorite goal of his career. He said: "I've scored goals that have been similar, but this one was special for how important it was. I can't wait for the final!"

Le Tissier, 29, has been inspirational in England's unlikely run to the final against some of the world's best teams and players. After netting the winner against Argentina in the first knockout stage, he scored a decisive penalty to knock out Holland and scored a goal against Brazil in last night's semi-final that left football legend Pele in awe. The World Cup winning superstar said: "Brazil were the better team, but Le Tissier was the best player of the game."

In the 85th minute and with the scores level at 1-1, Le Tissier received a pass 30 yards from goal, jinked past two defenders and lashed a shot past Taffarel in the Brazilian goal who didn't dive until the ball was already in the top corner.

England manager Glenn Hoddle admitted he was concerned about bringing Le Tissier to France at all after an indifferent second season with Chelsea, but recognized that both he and Paul Gascoigne, who has been solid alongside him in a creative midfield, can both make the difference in tight games.

"England needs players like Matt and Gazza," said Hoddle. "The so-called 'luxury' players are often the difference between a win and a loss at this level. I lived with the tag myself as a player, so I knew there had to be room for those players who can turn a game given half a chance. It doesn't matter sometimes if you don't notice them for 84 minutes - it just takes a moment of brilliance and here we are, in the World Cup Final."

Ruud Gullit, who had watched the player he had signed for Chelsea knock his Dutch team out of the tournament, echoed Hoddle's thoughts. He said: "The critics spent most of last season picking on Matt, but he scored 10 goals including one of the goals of the season against Spurs, and was a big factor in Chelsea's success last year even when he was coming off the bench."

If Le Tissier's deflected free-kick goal against Argentina was fortunate, and the lottery of the penalty shoot-out against the Dutch equally so, this was the Channel Islander's moment to hit back at those who have labelled him a flop since his big money move to the capital from Southampton.

Saints fans were devastated when their talisman left to join Chelsea for £13.5m in July, 1996, just days after former teammate Alan Shearer had signed for Newcastle United. But Chelsea fans everywhere were happy to have what they hoped would be the final piece in the jigsaw to mount the challenge for some silverware. The FA Cup in May 1997 was a good start, but Le Tissier struggled under the pressure in his first season. He admitted to homesickness and struggled with the culture clash of going from the driving force at Southampton to being a squad player at Chelsea. He lost his place to Eddie Newton for spells during the season and the melancholy that came with that reflected in his game. Not blessed with speed, without his confidence he wasn't the player he was on the South Coast. He finished the season with six goals from 28 appearances in all competitions, including five coming off the bench.

Last season, fans were rewarded with more consistent performances and some trademark strikes including the goal of the month in a 7-1 rout over Spurs at White Hart Lane last December. But Le Tissier's swagger came in fits and starts and the boo-boys turned on him despite Chelsea's fourth place finish. He also became a regular England player under Hoddle, though his performances ranked from world-class in games against Moldova and Georgia, to anonymous in matches against Italy and Chile. Critics pointed at the latter games as proof Le Tissier's talents couldn't carry him in games against "the big teams." This was never a complaint when he was at Southampton, when he regularly tormented the big Premiership clubs - key in Gullit's decision to bring him to Chelsea in the first place.

This World Cup however has seen him hit back and take England on a frankly unbelievable run to the cusp of becoming world champions for the first time in 32 years.

Last night's game was simply mesmerizing. England got off to a terrible start when 21-year-old Ronaldo ran on to a Dunga through-ball in just the 18th minute and beat Gareth Southgate to steer the ball around a fully-stretched David Seaman. After half-time England found their rhythm with Gascoigne more involved, tormenting the Brazilian midfield along with the tireless Paul Scholes. Both Scholes and Gazza were involved in the build-up that led to the equalizer on the hour mark. The bullish Manchester United midfielder won the ball from Rivaldo with a strong challenge and the ball fell to Gascoigne who stroked the ball past Cafu on the right to Teddy Sheringham who squared to ball to Alan Shearer. Shearer had time to settle the ball before crashing it into the roof of the net.

The manner of the leveler saw Brazilian hopes falter as England showed real belief they could win the game in regulation time. Shearer came close again after a Paul Scholes shot in the 71st minute fell to the England captain in the box, but Taffarel was quick off his line. Just three minutes later, Sol Campbell came close from a Gascoigne corner but his header ricocheted off the far post and went wide for a goal kick.

With Brazil hanging on and unable to keep possession as England bossed the midfield, Le Tissier's winner was truly deserved and hopes are high the Three Lions can lift the World Cup after Sunday's final against host nation France in Paris.

ENGLAND: Seaman, Campbell, Le Saux, Adams, Southgate, Ince, Le Tissier, Gascoigne (Batty 85), Scholes, Sheringham (Owen 85), Shearer.