New King Cole

The Aussies to beat England in the rugby – but there are more reasons to be optimistic about the latter’s round ball counterparts.

My wife being French, I was on tea and sympathy duty last Sunday after Les Bleus were beaten by Les Rosbifs. I cheer for all the home countries when it comes to rugby, so I watched it downstairs on ITV while she was in the bedroom with her French channels.

I used to meet the Irish rugby lads quite a bit when I was on international duty in Dublin and they often made me feel embarrassed to be a footballer. I was watching the Russia v Wales game the day before and it was all feigning injury and trying to get other players booked. You don’t see Martin Johnson rolling around on the ground in agony if he gets poked in the eye. He puts his hand on his face to make sure everything’s still there and gets on with it. Footballers can learn a lot from the way their rugby counterparts conduct themselves.

Come the weekend, I think home advantage will tell and Australia will beat England by a couple of scores. I’ve quite a bit of money riding on the Wallabies at 2/7 on, so I’ll have to make sure my neighbours don’t hear me shouting for the opposition.

I’m writing this before Wednesday’s second-legs so I could be spectacularly wrong, but I have my doubts about Wales and Scotland making it through the European play-offs. No disrespect to Berti Vogts who’s beginning to make progress north of the border, but I don’t think Holland would have lost at Hampden if there hadn’t been bickering in the camp beforehand. There are two or three players in that squad, Patrick Kluivert being the chief villain, who think they’re far better than they actually are and put personal interests ahead of those of the team.

When we beat Holland 1-0 in Dublin and qualified ahead of them for the World Cup, Kluivert had two one-on-ones early in the game and missed them both. Looking at him, you got this air of, “I am a great player and I’ll get one later”, which obviously he didn’t. What does he do after failing to score against Scotland? Blame the system and the manager. To me, that’s arrogance.

If you add up all the transfer fees, the Dutch are probably the most expensive squad in the world. We think we’ve got it bad at the moment with Ireland, but their supporters must look at all the stars they have and go, “How did we not run away with the group?” There’s been talk in the past of racial tensions, but Bergkamp taking a pop at van Nistelrooy isn’t a black or white thing.

In the 1994 World Cup, we all went and played golf at the hotel where the Dutch were staying, and it struck me that their lads weren’t together. I was talking to the de Boer brothers, and the sense I got was that most of them were loners off doing their own thing. There was nowhere near the same team spirit that we had.

One squad that obviously doesn’t have that problem is England. There are obviously negatives to what happened before the Turkey and Denmark games, but I like the way they’re all looking out for each other.

The players and Sven are united in wanting the Football Association to be consistent in their decisions. James Beattie’s on a drink-driving charge and allowed to play, Alan Smith’s accused of chucking a plastic bottle in the crowd and isn’t. It’s ludicrous.

Anyone else would be innocent until proven guilty, but the FA already have Smith convicted.

Dismal defending aside, I thought England were more creative than they have been for a long time. Joe Cole has come on leaps and bounds since his move to Chelsea, and showed it on Sunday with his bag of tricks. Sven should do what Ranieri does, which is have somebody else in mid-field protecting the back four. That’s what France do in relation to Zidane and look how effective he’s been for them. Given the opportunity, I think Joe Cole can be one of the stars of Euro 2004.

As can Wayne Rooney. I said in my last column that I don’t think he’s a Michael Owen-style natural predator, but he took his goal against the Danes brilliantly. Ability aside, the other thing in his favour is the fact that he’s fitted in so well with the rest of the squad. England’s senior pros are saying the same stuff about Wayne Rooney as we did about Damien Duff and Robbie Keane when they burst onto the scene. We used to have a laugh about me going into their rooms and reading them bedtime Jackanory stories! They were kids during the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, so they wanted to hear all the yarns first-hand. Wayne’s obviously still a big fan and pinching himself about being there with your Beckhams and Campbells.

Finally, how can anybody on the Leeds board think that the answer to their problems is inviting David O’Leary back? I’m not saying that everything happening now is David’s fault, but he should have said to the Chairman, “I want this player but don’t pay more than ten million for him.” Somebody like George Graham would have gone, “He may be good but he’s not worth that!”

Given that Leeds have handed out £9 million in compensation to their last three managers, I’d give Eddie Gray the job and see if he can save them from relegation. You know with him being an Elland Road man through and through that he’ll give it his best shot. Personally, though, if I was a Leeds United fan I’d be working out now how to get to Rotherham!

 

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