Look at what you could have won: The alternative reality of England’s Euro 92

England Euro 92

On Twitterbox last night, someone mentioned how England coulda shoulda been better at Euro 92. I remembered that I’d written this for Football Pink when it was under our stewardship, and thought it might be cool to revisit it. Turns out, I still buy into everything I said. Enjoy!

The summer of 1992. I have to admit, my memory of this time is far hazier than of the summer of 1990, for example.

I would have been 13, coming up 14 in the October. I suspect Championship Manager was in my life. I am almost certain Sensible Soccer would have been out by then and being hammered on my Commodore Amiga. As I’ve said often, as a Surrey-based kid with a Dad who hated football, my interaction with the game outside of playing for my local team was via my computer screen rather than being at any professional match.

Why do I remember Italia 90 so vividly and Euro 92 so little?

The obvious answer is that England were pretty rubbish, weren’t they and there is certainly something in that – but, I then remember us failing to get to USA 94 in absolute minute detail and it could be argued that we were even worse by then (if we can step away from the Englishness of believing we were absolutely done in Rotterdam and actually recall how utterly abject we were the majority of that qualifying campaign).

I would love to say one of the reasons this footballing summer passed me by was because I was now a teenager – girlfriends, puberty, rock-and-roll were not on my agenda, however. I suspect my belief that I could play in goal for England in France 98 might have gone by now, but it certainly hadn’t been replaced by the traditional plights of a newly teenage lad.

I put a lot of the reflective apathy down to it felt like football was in a bit of a no-mans-land at this point – through my own eyes, anyway.

Italia 90 had, of course, boosted the popularity of the game itself – England had become borderline continental in employing a sweeper but all that was in the distant past by the time Graham Taylor was firmly in place and we were rewedded to 4-4-2.

The First Division had completed its final season before the advent of the Premier League. My team, Luton Town, had voted for the new competition and then finally slipped through the relegation trapdoor, still yet to grace the top flight they believed was the future. I suspect I was a bit down due to that.

Leeds United had won the league, employing the classic up and at’em style under Howard Wilkinson that feels impossible to recall when you remember they had Gordon Strachan, David Batty, Garys McAllister and Speed in midfield – plus the soon-to-become-cult Eric Cantona dipping in and out.

The FA Cup Final was the first one that I’d found boring having been spoiled by Coventry shocking Spurs in 87, Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang seeing off Liverpool’s Culture Club in 88, Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton having a ding-dong in 89, Fergie’s first trophy for United in 90 and, of course, Gazza’s implosion in 91. After all that, Liverpool easing past Second Division Sunderland in 1992 summed everything up really, dull.

Football was about to change forever with the Premier League starting in August and (thank you Denmark) the new backpass rule coming into force – so, in many ways, it could be thought of as the darkness before the dawn.

The excellent englandmemories.com site summed up 1992 to this point perfectly in this single paragraph;

“1992 seemed to be a year where so many saw their dreams suddenly slip away with the end in sight: Labour in the General Election; England in the Cricket World Cup; Manchester United in the First Division title race; Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final; Jimmy White at the Crucible; Colin Jackson in the Olympics. And so on. But perhaps topping the bill was Gary Lineker, England’s captain and eternal goalscorer. From looking a certainty to become the first man to make it to 50 England goals, he cut a frustrated figure as the record slipped away from him. He would no doubt join Her Majesty in viewing 1992 as an annus horribilis.”

Ah, yes – that Lineker penalty at Wembley. That didn’t help my love of football. Mind you, I think I was on the verge of jacking in my love of snooker too after White lost again – not to mention that sinking feeling after Pakistan beat England in the cricket. Sport, dammit.

Now, we are not here to review how bad England were in the Euro 92 Championship – my good friend Pete Spencer does a far better job of that here for By Far The Greatest Team. We can certainly spend some time looking at this through the lens of “and here’s what you could have won” as the late Jim Bowen would have said.

Let’s consider the alternative reality – Graham Taylor was not the England manager. That was not the England squad (I can’t change the injuries though, we’ll have to roll with those).

Who could have got the gig at that point could be an entire article in itself, but the semi-obvious shortlist included Terry Venables, David Pleat, Brian Clough, Ron Atkinson and Howard Kendall. I’ve plumped for Venables because Clough was past it, Big Ron had just been relegated, Kendall didn’t want it and Pleat was in Division Two with Leicester. Oh, and El Tel was rather good, even if the FA hated him.

Let us not forget, England changed in the summer of 1990 – we didn’t have to play a rigid 4-4-2 anymore, we’d seen the light. We had the players to be a bit different and by appointing Venables to replace Bobby, we chose to continue going forwards, not backwards.

It is worth remembering that before England set sail to Sweden, they had only been beaten once under Taylor – defeat to West Germany in a friendly. Actually, that’s worth forgetting as it was the footballing definition of a false positive.

Under Venables, already a winner of La Liga playing a style of football that was well-appreciated in Spain, England would have started to look much more like the shape of Euro 96. Exciting, right? Especially when you consider the players he would have actually picked – rather than leave them at home on the sofa as Taylor did.

Now, don’t forget – Gazza was still a crock after his Wembley madness in 91. John Barnes ruptured his Achilles. If you were English and a right-back, you were injured.

But I think we can all agree, even with that in mind, Venables’ squad might have looked a little different to this:

England Euro 92

By now, I think everyone other than Taylor himself had realised that there was a reason Chris Woods hadn’t usurped an ancient Peter Shilton in the preceding years. Woods wasn’t actually that good – just ask Anders Limpar. Woods would not have been on the plane and David Seaman would have been established as the first choice by now.

El Tel’s goalkeepers: David Seaman, Nigel Martin

No right-backs? No problem. El Tel would be employing a 3-4-2-1 by now, meaning no place (or need) for Keith Curle. In comes Tony Adams, crazily left on standby and unable to be brought in after Mark Wright told a few porkies about his fitness. And what about the small matter of the PFA Young Player of the Year, Gary Pallister? No room at the inn for a defender who can play a bit as well? Not in Taylor’s world, maybe – but Terry wants a bit of Pally and he’s in ahead of Mark Wright (injured, he was injured – he just forgot to tell anybody, OK?)

Imagine not picking the Young Player of the Year…

El Tel’s defenders: Stuart Pearce, Martin Known, Des Walker, Gary Pallister, Tony Dorigo, Tony Adams

The midfield was exactly what you’d remember a Graham Taylor midfield to look like – though I still stick by my claim that Carlton Palmer could have been England’s Marcel Desailly if played in a different style (have I killed all credibility of this article in one fail swoop there?)

Andy Sinton and Tony Daley on the plane ahead of Chris Waddle (in his pomp at Marseille) and Peter Beardsley (doing bits for Everton)? I think not. Don’t forget our lack of right-backs, though – so we need some hard-working right midfielders who can play as a wing-back. It’s almost as if George Graham was working in cahoots with El Tel – David Rocastle, please. He goes ahead of Neil Webb, obviously.

Sorry, Mr Sinton – you’re not El Tel’s number 11.

El Tel’s midfield: David Platt, Trevor Steven, Carlton Palmer, Paul Merson, David Batty, Chris Waddle, David Rocastle

In the striking department, Taylor was pretty blessed and still managed some curious calls. Ian Wright was the First Division top scorer ahead of Gary Lineker yet Alan Smith (a top pro but not really an El Tel type of striker) was on the plane.

Lineker, despite being on the decline and on the way to Japan, did get 28 in his final season, so whilst hindsight says he was pretty much done (even Taylor suggested England played with ten men when they lost to Brazil in the game Lineker screwed the chance of levelling Sir Bobby Charlton’s record), he was still banging them in for an average Spurs team.

Lineker in a rare goalscoring opportunity

Alan Shearer was certainly worth his place in the squad, Venables would have agreed.

Given El Tel would have been playing with one frontman and two supporting, he’d have been safe enough taking Lineker, Wright and Shearer as his out-and-out frontmen. After all, the supporting cast wasn’t bad.

El Tel’s forwards: Nigel Clough, Peter Beardsley, Ian Wright, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer

And, then, the twist – and we all love a twist.

Carlton Palmer falls curse to the injuries – he must have said he played right back at school or something.

What does Venables do? Pick another English central midfielder to do English central midfield things? Of course not – we still have Batts to win the ball back.

Down in Wiltshire, a certain Glenn Hoddle was making playing sweeper look a little bit easy and El Tel had a dream where the Hod was talking Adams and Dessie through keeping Dahlin and Brolin quiet. Hoddle was back, the final piece of the jigsaw.

Hoddle: The final piece of the jigsaw in place

El Tel’s final squad for Euro 92;

David Seaman, Nigel Martin; Stuart Pearce, Martin Known, Des Walker, Gary Pallister, Tony Dorigo, Tony Adams; David Platt, Trevor Steven, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Merson, David Batty, Chris Waddle, David Rocastle; Nigel Clough, Peter Beardsley, Ian Wright, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer

What would Terry have picked as his starting XI, though? I agree, with that squad, would it have really mattered? We’d have done better just by picking any of those names out of a hat. But, let us indulge ourselves.

Seaman; Adams, Hoddle, Walker; Steven, Batty, Platt, Pearce; Waddle, Beardsley; Lineker (c) 

Subs (I think it was three from seven, I am probably wrong): Martyn, Shearer, Wright, Keown, Rocastle, Dorigo, Merson

Tell me that team would have left Lineker stranded on 48 goals!

Would it have won Euro 92? Honestly, probably not – we might have got a spectacular semi-final defeat on penalties or something. But it would have categorically been better than what Taylor served up in Sweden over that summer of 1992.

Ah, I remember now – I was getting into tennis. Thank you Andre Agassi. Mind you, had El Tel been in charge of England that June I might not even know your name.