By popular demand

Terry Venables returns to the England setup but it's unlikely he'll be welcomed back by all, reports Barney Ronay

Rumours of Terry Venables’ appointment to the England coaching staff have tended to provoke either feelings of bafflement or tub-thumping applause, depending mainly on whether or not you happen to be one of his special mates in the media. To anybody out there younger than, say, Rio Ferdinand, the recurrent championing of Venables in the tabloid press must be slightly bemusing. Why all the fuss?

His coaching record doesn’t really hold any answers. The high points: a Spanish title and European Cup final with Barcelona in the mid‑1980s; an FA Cup with Spurs in 1991; a semi-final appearance with England as hosts of Euro 96. And since then, not much: odd jobs with Leeds, Middlesbrough and Australia. A bit of TV. The last ten years have seen Venables slip below the radar. His reputation is a free-floating thing. Is he a great unfulfilled talent? Why have his services never been sought by a really big club in this country? Jamie Redknapp has an answer. “Many would have been afraid of Venables’ big personality, his charisma,” he wrote recently in the Daily Mail. This is the line among his sympathisers. Tel’s just got too much of the good stuff (funny how charisma and “personality” haven’t seemed to hold back Alex Ferguson or José Mourinho).“Venables is the best I’ve worked with,” Jamie says, echoing the views of a certain generation of England players, notably the Euro 96 crowd, many of whom are now among the junior rank of media commentators.

Crucially Redknapp talks about the England players “welcoming him back”, forgetting that to Wayne Rooney and Steve Gerrard Venables is pretty much a stranger. There is a reason for this. Time has moved on. And while Venables did used to radiate a certain gruff and impassioned eloquence, recent appearances as a pundit for ITV have brought us someone slightly changed. For one thing, some observers have even suggested he might have had “something done” to the old boat race. Is it the teeth? Or around the jaw? Possibly it’s just age. Terry did a lot of talking during the World Cup and not all of it made sense.

His potential role remains unclear. The idea seems to be that Terry just makes everyone feel really great and turns training into a right lark. Is this what England need now, at a time when the players appear more than ever a self-congratulatory millionaires’ club? “Training with England isn’t about teaching,” Redknapp writes. “You can’t teach John Terry how to head a ball.” Is that really true? Do the players honestly think they have nothing left to learn? That it would it be impossible to teach Frank Lampard, for example, how to shoot more accurately? That Terry’s heading during the chaotic second half against Sweden was perfection? With Tel in the dugout, it seems, the comfort zone will still be firmly in place.

From WSC 235 September 2006. What was happening this month