Paul Parker: Lessons for England from Italia ‘90
Paul Parker takes a trip down memory lane as he recalls his experiences at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where England reached the semi-finals under Sir Bobby Robson, as Gareth Southgate prepares to lead his side into Russia…
‘There are hardly any characters left in football’
The atmosphere in the England camp at Italia 90 was bright. Everyone was relaxed as there were no great aspirations or expectations to win the tournament, with many people still reeling from what happened in 1986 and the ‘Hand of God’.
There was a little bit of negativity from outside the camp too as Sir Bobby Robson prepared for his final trip with England before his move to PSV Eindhoven, but I think this only contributed further to taking pressure off us.
I was very much the new kid on the block in Italy. While I had experience of youth football and had a few outings with the senior side, my competitive CV showed just 15 minutes for England. I needn’t have worried.
We were in-and-out of rooms; we had a games room, tennis courts and a swimming pool. But the main thing was communication – everyone spoke to, and got to know, each other. I was on my own when I arrived as the only Queens Park Rangers player, but after a month away I had grown to know loads of individuals.
Spirits in the group were always high because there were enough individuals who kept people laughing: Gary Lineker cut people to death with his one-liners, Paul Gascoigne liked doing silly things and Chris Waddle had his own sense of humour. People took the p***, but it was always done in good taste. It was that team spirit that carried England into the semi-finals in 1990, not ability. Some of the teams in the tournament had unbelievable individuals, but what we couldn’t match technically, we rivalled with spirit, passion and desire.
England's Paul Parker (#12) moves in to tackle West Germany captain Lothar Matthaus (#10)Getty Images
It’s a task that faces Gareth Southgate next summer: succeeding at a World Cup with a squad that are underdogs. But while we dreamed of World Cup glory under Robson, players nowadays seem content simply earning money than competing for major honours. Only Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford showed passion during the 1-0 win over Slovenia, with many of their team-mates on stat-hunting missions with sluggish and unambitious performances.
From the outside looking in, I don’t think there’s the same enjoyment in the England setup these days. Players are scared – with every third person is a potential journalist with a smartphone – and that has led to a loss of characters in the game. When you’re away for a month in a country of no fun, i.e. Russia, that’s a real problem.
Football is being taken over by what happens off the pitch, with most players worrying more about their social accounts than their relationships with team-mates, even though most posts simply read: ‘Great result today. Thought the team were great. Thanks for supporting us. Onto the next game. Bye.’ It’s a game full of robots. The mixed zone might as well be called the dead zone, given how unlikely journalists are to extract anything of note from a player.
‘Southgate needs to communicate and speak from the heart’
We felt like we were letting Robson down if we were playing poorly. He didn’t have to shout – a friendly ‘come on’ was enough to tell us we were playing terribly – as we wanted to put things right because of the respect we had for him.
He spoke from the heart and had fantastic integrity. Of course, there were sceptics after we started the World Cup with two draws against Ireland and the Netherlands, even though the second result was a brilliant point against the likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard. The system we played in that match – three or five at the back, whatever you want to call it – suited us and gave us belief.
England manager Bobby Robson and doctor John Crane console Paul GasgoigneGetty Images
It was a decision taken by Robson. Yes, people came out and claimed the players said something to him after the 1-1 draw with Ireland, but he still had to say yes or no. People had an opinion, he agreed and said yes. It proved to be a great managerial decision, one that laid the platform for our run to the semi-finals, and another example of his brilliant communication.
Robson became part of our group. He would join us, watch films with us, and yet when game time arrived you still had the same respect for him. If your manager is relaxed, your outer-casing gets a little softer and you can enjoy your football more. If I could give Southgate one piece of advice, it would be to relax and become part of the team.
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