Tuesday 15 July ~
The Daily will dipping in to WSC's archives this week. England's Under-19s lost their first match in 2008 European championship last night. Fifteen years ago they won the equivalent tournament, by playing a passing game. It didn't really catch on. Bill Brewster covered the tournament in WSC 79, September 1993
The European Under-18 Championship was a success, not simply because England won, but for the rarity of seeing so much bright football in a cynic-free zone. The news that filtered on to the back pages of the dailies predictably centred on the performances of the host nation. This was best shown by the press corps present at England's opening game (60 journalists), as opposed to those present at champions Turkey's opening match (five: four of them Turks). Which was a shame, really, because for once this was a tournament that just about all the sides had a realistic chance of winning. Despite much talk of the technical ability on show, England's victory was due mainly to traditional qualities of resilience and discipline.
Technical excellence was more in evidence elsewhere. Hungary, for example, have in their ranks perhaps the most gifted young player to be seen here for a long time. Otto Vincze, signed to Swiss club FC Sion, passed a ball better than anyone during the week. He was maddeningly casual at times, but full of vision and deft touches rather than the over-elaborate approach which proved the undoing of many. The Hungarians would surely have won their opening game against Turkey in Sheffield (it ended 1-1) had it not been for a defence that appeared to have opted for second helpings of Yorkshire pudding rather than training.
Both Turkey and Hungary were so similar in style to their senior sides that it bordered on mimicry. They weren't alone. As expected, the Portuguese and Spanish were full of invention, intricate passing allied to a tendency to fall over a lot. And if it's possible to distil a national stereotype of Spain into one individual, it is surely Carlos Sierra. In the England game, he dominated the midfield, scored a brilliant solo effort and topped it all off nicely by getting sent off for dissent.
As the tournament progressed, the hyperbole about the England side rose accordingly. After barely warranting a mention on the opening day of the tournament, within a few days everyone wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Okay, so they did win the championship, but in three of the four games it really was a struggle. Outplayed for most of the game against France, an inspired double substitution by manager Ted Powell – bringing on Kevin Gallen and Robbie Fowler – saw both newcomers get late goals. The double act continued later on Sky, when Fowler – interviewed by Gallen – superbly deconstructed the post-match interview: "I saw an inch, top comer."
After dismantling the Dutch in a manner that certainly won't be repeated in October's World Cup qualifier, they again found the going tough against Spain. Lucky to be one up, England were again helped by an inspired substitution, only this time by Andoni Goicoechea, the Spanish manager.
Brought on at the break, Javier Moreno committed his first foul on four seconds, was lectured about it on ten, barged into the ref on 18 seconds and was promptly booked. His coup de grâce was a two-footed tackle on Manchester United's Gary Neville on two minutes 45 seconds that gave the referee the opportunity to show Moreno a full selection of coloured cards. England ran out 5-1 winners.
The final, too, was no picnic. If Turkey had matched the industry and artistry of their approach with a goalscorer, they would have won. In the end, it all hinged on yet another solo run by the irrepressible Julian Joachim, this time ending with him on his backside and Darren Caskey's penalty in the net.
Playing in what was effectively a 4-3-1-2 formation with Liverpool's Robbie Fowler acting as a bridge between midfield and attack (and a bridge that Telford would have
been proud of), England at least attempted to string passes together rather than opting for "lumping the ball" (as Powell put it later). Between them, Joachim and Fowler created or scored all but one of England's 12 goals.
Equally noteworthy were two of the Tottenham players, Sol Campbell and Chris Day. Campbell is a midfield player who has also played up front at Tottenham. Powell put him in central defence, where he played with nonchalant ease. Day is not as versatile as Campbell, but it is an early sign that English goalkeeping might at last be emerging from the doldrums. He comes off his line! He's confident with corners! Just like those foreign keepers we buy!
So is the future as perky as the press portray? With the squad's average age only 18, only a hardened gambler would be so foolish as to lay money down. A swift glance at the team that last won the championship in 1980 shows how rash some predictions may turn out to be. Although four of that side went on to gain full England caps (Clive Allen, Gary Mabbutt, Mark Hateley and Paul Walsh), how many remember Neil Banfield?
There is much talk of this side heralding a new wave of English footballers, but we've had more new waves than Bondi Beach. Good footballers are made into good teams by quality coaching. And where will it come from whilst the High Priest of the Hoof, Charles Hughes, holds sway at the FA? Only four months ago, England's youth were being described as an embarrassment after the tactics employed at the World Under-19 Championships in Australia. Has that much really changed in such a short time?
In the early to mid-Seventies, when England dominated this tournament, the future looked equally bright. And, from the mid-Seventies to the early Eighties, we failed to qualify for the World Cup. Now who wants a bet?