Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Harry Gregg: I wasn’t Prophet to foresee England loss

Back in January 1996, I penned an article in the Belfast Telegraph on what I called The Great Illusion.

That was the notion that England and the British Isles possessed the best league and players in the world.

My stark warning was that football in all four Home countries — and the Republic — was in a tailspin, a downward spiral, hastened by hare-brained coaching methods.

I looked back on that article amid the fallout from England’s shocking World Cup surrender to Germany and the hand-wringing that has followed on the state of British, and Irish, football in general.

It could have been written this week. Every word still holds true — yet I wouldn’t claim to be a visionary.

I foresaw the regression of English football, in particular, coming first hand as a result of my travels and experiences in the game.

I have been a qualified FA coach since 1963, played at the top level with Manchester United and Northern Ireland and when I finished playing went into coaching to feed my family.

What I saw, studying and working in places like the Far East and Asia, with Brazilian and European coaches and their thinking, convinced me that the rest of the world would soon leave us behind.

England gave football to the world, but the pupils have taken over.

Football should be a game of imagination and improvisation. The right type of coaching is fine, but there are more chiefs than Indians now.

The talkers have taken over the game, the invention has been taken out of the game.

Some of the poorer countries have done very well at this World Cup. Going back to the days when you threw down two coats in the street and played football, that has been replaced by a lot of bad coaching. Bad coaching produces bad players and the bad player then becomes a bad coach who in turn produces more bad players.

I have watched the likes of David Villa and Lionel Messi at this World Cup and nobody is going to tell me that a coach taught them to do the things they do.

Those lads learned those skills on the street or on an old sandy pitch. Then they were fortunate enough to be with a coach who encouraged them to keep on doing what they were doing instead of telling them to do something different.

There is a certain amount of in-born skill that can be developed by the right coaching. But so much can be destroyed by the wrong coaching.

What I said 14 years ago still stands now.

The Capello situation is quite simple. The Italian way is to take teams away up into the mountains, shut them away from everything, eat the right food and get down to training them — a boot camp if you like.

Capello’s methods would work with good Italian players of any era but they don’t work with British players who will not accept the boot camp approach. That simply isn’t their way.

So I would see the fault lying with the people who employed him. He has proved he can be successful on his own terms.

But truly great players can play with any system or no system at all.

Talk of players being tired is complete rubbish — when you are winning matches you could play every day of the week.

Sometimes, if I am trying to explain a player’s performance, I will look at his expression. I looked at Wayne Rooney, and his eyes were vacant.

I think it maybe stemmed from him being bored. He was basically a kid locked up in a camp.

He’s usually such a wonderfully fiery lad with great imagination and improvisation, a street footballer. But here he was locked up in a camp and regimented.

I have being saying for over a year that Harry Redknapp would be the man for England.

He’s a football man. He encourages his players to take people on, he encourages his players to pass.

That’s the key — let players do what they are good at.

What Harry said in 1996

‘We have sacrificed our game at the twin altars of power and speed.’

‘I have always believed that, given a team of brilliant players, it is possible to succeed with every system and perhaps best with no system at all.’

‘In the Umbro Cup, Japan showed they are quick learners. England won in the last minute, but they had a 100-year start.’

‘If we really want to compete for top honours, the decision must be taken whether to adopt the tactics of brain or brawn.We are at a crossroads and cannot go both ways.’

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