Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Soccernostalgia Interview-Part Six

In my final installment on the 1997 Tournoi de France, I had the privilege to interview Mr. Davey Naylor of englandstats.com about England’s perspective on this 1997 Tournoi de France.

Soccernostalgia Question:  What were the expectations of the English Press and the fans in general going into this Tournament?

Response: As it was a minor tournament I can’t remember that much hype about squad selection nor the actual games, the real interest was World Cup qualification. Memories of Euro '96 and what could have been were still fresh in the memory and Hoddle’s new squad had won the three autumn World Cup qualification matches against Moldova, Poland and Georgia. They came unstuck at Wembley against Italy in February, where they were simply outclassed by Gianfranco Zola, but it wasn’t Hoddle who got the rap, the press seemed to round on Matt le Tissier’s performance, which was odd as a lot of newspapers were clambering for his inclusion prior to the game. Le Tissier never played for England again. 
Since then they had rallied and while Italy had struggled in Poland, England had won 2-0 there on the Saturday before le tournoi began, and were only one point behind the Italians with two games to play, including the return leg in Rome. The main talking point was really about how England could give Italy something to think about ahead of their meeting in October.

Soccernostalgia Question:  From the selected squad, the noteworthy absences were of the Liverpool players (Fowler, McManaman and Redknapp) who all bowed due to various fitness issues. Were there other players that the press were clamoring that perhaps should have been called up?

Response: None were a massive miss, McManaman had been an established England player and had played in all the games in Euro ’96 under Venables. But with the emergence of David Beckham, who was Hoddle’s preferred winger, McManaman had been reduced to a bit part player, along with Fowler and Redknapp. Fowler was behind Shearer and Sheringham in the striker pecking order and was soon to be replaced by Michael Owen who had already shown a glimpse of his talent a couple of months previously, scoring on debut. However, it was slightly too early to call the 18 year old up. But that only lasted until the following February.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 102, July 1997
(Alan Shearer, June 10, 1997, Le Tournoi, Brazil 1-England 0)

Soccernostalgia Question:  England had started out with a number of wins in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers following Hoddle’s appointment as Manager. In the previous months before the Tournoi, England had been under some pressure after the loss at Wembley vs. Italy. Was Hoddle’s honeymoon with the press over after this match?

Response: See first answer. But the loss to Italy was a massive blow. Second place in the group was all that anyone could see England achieving, which would have meant a play-off. Many thought Hoddle had done well against teams England were expected to beat but had failed against better teams. In a similar way that Gareth Southgate was/is still getting criticism.

Soccernostalgia Question:  In my analysis of the Tournament, I avoided to get into Gascoigne’s personal problems off -the pitch drama that season? That must have always been lurking in the background? How did that play into his form in the ‘Tournoi’ or were his issues mostly a questions of fitness?

Response: Gascoigne was one of Hoddle’s senior players. He was a regular pick for his manager going into World Cup qualification and Le Tournoi. He sat on the bench for the Italy game but so did England's top striker Shearer, both rested. Gascoigne came on as a sub late on v the Italians and played 90 mins against France and Brazil. I don’t think his off-field antics were so much an issue during that summer.

Soccernostalgia Question:  According to most observers, having a key qualifier (vs. Poland) just days earlier had sharpened the group as opposed to the French and Italians, who seemed exhausted. How did Hoddle manage to alleviate the fatigue of his own players?

Response: I very much doubt that neither the Italians nor the French were over keen about playing a “friendly” tournament that summer. However, for the French authorities it was vital to have a dress rehearsal. Hoddle had rested Shearer, Gascoigne, Campbell and Gary Neville for the first match and he rotated the team for the other games with only Phil Neville and Graeme le Saux starting all three games.

Soccernostalgia Question:  The foreign press were complimentary of England’s then unorthodox system of 5-3-2 with a deep lying sweeper? How did the British Press view this?

Response: The wing back formation had always been a favourite of Hoddle’s and he first employed it for a friendly against South Africa a few weeks earlier. Bearing in mind that the English staple was 4-4-2 or variations of such it was a bit of a departure from the norm, but it made England look more stable and balanced. Gareth Southgate has taken a similar formation to the next level with the current England team. I’m not sure how the British Press viewed it but as it was clearly working it didn’t seem to be a talking point. Usually, if something is wrong it gets discussed at great length.

Soccernostalgia Question:  Around this time, David Beckham was in the early stages of transitioning from a Football star to a celebrity? Can you describe this period of time and how the fans and press viewed him at this particular time?

Response: There was a big shift around this time with the class of ’92, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Nevilles etc at Manchester Utd and the Spice Boys (McManaman, Redknapp etc) at Liverpool. I’m not entirely sure if Posh and Becks were an item at this point, and if they were things weren't about to kick off just yet. He had memorably scored from the half way line against Wimbledon on the opening day of that season and Manchester Utd had just clinched the Premier league title again and he had been awarded PFA young player of the year. Stardom was very much on the horizon for Beckham but I don’t think it had quite taken off during Le Tournoi.

Soccernostalgia Question:  The first match vs. Italy seems to have set the tone for the rest of the Tournoi and the general view of the Tournament from an English standpoint. What are your memories from this match?

Response:  Roberto Carlos’ unbelievable bending free-kick in the first game Brazil v France had set the tone. It looked so impossible. The following evening England beat a lacklustre Italy 2-0. Scholes' man of the match performance in only his second cap was very memorable. His through ball for Wright to score the opener was sumptuous and when Wright’s cross returned the favour to Scholes it was definitely his game. Beckham was also pinging his trademark crosses around the pitch. Also, the Italians were very under par, that was unusual.

Photo From: Shoot, June 21, 1997
(Paul Scholes celebrating, June 4, 1997, Le Tournoi, England 2-Italy 0)

Soccernostalgia Question:  The second match vs. France was a battle between the goalkeepers. Seaman received much praise, as did Shearer for his goal and his opportunism. What was your takeaway from this match?

Response:  The match was not nearly as good as England’s first. In fact it was decided in the last few minutes when Fabian Barthez spilled a deflected Sheringham cross and Shearer bundled in a winner. Seaman was back in goal, also Campbell, Gascoigne, Gary Neville and Shearer, all rested from the first game, were back. Interestingly, the best player on the park in the previous game, Scholes was replaced by David Batty. Phil Neville was stunted to centre half. It didn’t start too well as Beckham picked up his 2nd yellow card of the tournament after only 13 minutes meaning he would miss the Brazil game. Batty was replaced at half time by Ince and things got better when Rob Lee and Sheringham came on for the last few minutes. But it was not an overly rememberable game.

Soccernostalgia Question:  The third match vs. Brazil, resulted in a narrow loss, nevertheless England came away with much credit. What are your thoughts on this match?

Response:  After Brazil and Italy drew 3-3 o the 8th June England knew that they had won their first tournament since 1966. The final two games would be irrelevant. Scholes was back but he couldn’t recreate the magic of the Italy game. Romario got the winner in the second half.

Soccernostalgia Question:  From England’s squad, Lee Clark was the lone player who was never capped. Do you know why he was not given an opportunity? Perhaps he had been selected only due to the players who had dropped out and was never regarded as an option?

Response:  To be perfectly honest, I can’t even remember who Lee Clark was. I had to look him up. I think you’re spot on with your reasons, he never did get an England cap.

Soccernostalgia Question:  Paul Scholes appears to have been the biggest beneficiary of this Tournoi, while Sheringham appeared to struggle? In general how do you other players’ performances?

Response:  Scholes was indeed a shining light. Also, Phil Neville showed how versatile he was. Batty was not a good option. Why he got so many caps is beyond me. There were also good performances from Beckham and Wright. Gascoigne showed glimpses but I think Hoddle knew that time might be up for him and his decision to drop him from the Word Cup squad at the last minute. He played only six more times for England after Le Tournoi.

Soccernostalgia Question:  At the time, this was a rare tournament victory for the England National Team. Based on reports, in general the Press heaped praise on Hoddle and the players. Only Brian Glanville threw some cautionary notes (about Gascoigne, etc). Were there other voices on print or Television that tried to play down expectations?

Response:  I can’t say I can answer this question. I don’t remember there being any dissenting voices. Everyone was looking forward to the World Cup and when England qualified with a glorious 0-0 in Rome that was all the talk. After that a certain Michael Owen took precedence. Even eclipsing David Beckham prior to the World Cup.

Soccernostalgia Question:  On balance, do you feel the victory in the Tournoi unreasonably raised expectations for the National Team or were justifiable given the performances?

Response:  Not really, I think Le Tournoi showed England could play and beat the best. They were unlucky during the World Cup the next year. They could have easily had an easier route had they hung on against Romania and during the second round match against Argentina they were astonishing, outclassed and unlucky all rolled into one. The main glimmer were the likes of Beckham, Scholes etc and Hoddle himself. I truly believe that England would have become a very good international team had the FA not fired Hoddle. Keegan was a disaster.

Soccernostalgia Question:  Looking back, was this Tournament actually a benefit as far as the World Cup next year? If so, in what respects?

Response:  Yes, it showed that they could play with a 3-5-2 and do it well. Sadly, after Hoddle we went back to the rigid predicable shapes that only now Southgate is showing it doesn’t have to be that way. England had a plan B under Hoddle, he might not have had the personnel but he had a system. Now I think Southgate has the system and the players. I think what started under Hoddle will finish under Southgate and dare I be so bold as to whether it might bare fruit? I think it might just. We shall see.

Thank you once again for your participation.

You may follow Mr. Naylor via:

Davey Naylor
A complete database of England Internationals since 1872.
Website: www.englandstats.com
Twitter: @englandstats

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