The dos and don’ts of tournament football, according to Mike Bassett

Quick Reads

England’s 2002 World Cup campaign under Mike Bassett equalled their best showing at a major tournament since lifting the Jules Rimet in 1966.

Bassett was a surprise appointment from second tier Norwich City ahead of the tournament, and overseeing a rocky qualification campaign before shocking the world by guiding the side to the semi-finals in Brazil.

We’ve rewatched the brilliant fly-on-the-wall documentary from inside the camp, Mike Bassett: England Manager, to see what can be learned from his exploits ahead of this summer’s tournament in Russia.

Don’t give jobs to the boys

Coach Dave Dodds is a good guy; loyal, eager and enthusiastic. But it’s hard to get away from the sense that he was too much of a yes-man when Bassett could have done with fresh ideas and opinions at his side.

To his credit, Bassett did recognise Dodds’ shortcomings, hence his appointment of Lonnie Urquhart, a second-hand car salesman much more streetwise character, as his assistant.

England actually went on to repeat the scenario when Terry Venables came in to aid Steve McClaren – although at least that didn’t end with Venables breaking McClaren’s nose, unlike Bassett and Urquhart’s relationship.

Do assimilate with the locals

Pele may not have realised England had even qualified for the tournament before it kicked off, but the local Brazilians were left in no doubt the Three Lions had been in town and were given memories to last a lifetime.

Whether it be children running rings around Dodds as he tried to steal their ball so England could train, or Bassett himself flaunting his dance moves on a bartop after perhaps a few too many flaming sambucas, the squad and management were more than happy to mix with the natives – and the campaign was all the more memorable for it.

Don’t appoint the wrong captain

Gary ‘Wacko’ Wackett “doesn’t take any prisoners, not unless he’s going to torture them first and kill them later”. But football has moved on over the years, even English football, and characters like Wackett were outdated even 16 years ago.

Bassett would probably accept now that Wackett was a poor choice of captain, with his leader sent off in the crunch qualification match against Slovenia for literally assaulting an opponent and later being filmed fighting police amid scenes of hooliganism in Brazil.

Alan Massey, on the other hand, was a bright, young, erudite winger, albeit lacking in self-confidence as the only player in the squad without a nickname. Finally, as ‘Skipper’ (and with Wackett imprisoned), both player and team flourished.

Do keep things simple

Bassett’s early insistence on playing 4-4-2 drew criticism from all angles, with even his family receiving abuse for his supposed lack of tactical nous, but there is a logic to keeping things simple at international level, where squads are not afforded the time to work on intricate methods of play.

After eventually dropping the system in order to implement a more continental approach, England’s performances only got worse in a 3-5-1-1 Christmas pudding formation, likewise the 3-1-2-1-2-1.

When did results improve? When they went back to basics. Ladies and gentleman, England will be playing 4-4-f*cking-2.

Don’t take too much notice of the press

“Bassett is the bollocks,” read the front-page headlines when our hero was first appointed – admittedly after inadvertently flashing the paparazzi while they camped outside his home – and he even received a round of applause after his first press conference, but the honeymoon period did not last long.

As the England team have continually found out over the years, certain sections of the press love to twist the knife into the Three Lions’ players, management and supporters.

Looking back, Bassett was too easily swayed by the media, conscious of keeping in favour with journalists who regularly criticised his tactics and team selection. Speaking of which…

Do trust in mavericks

George Best, Gazza, Diego Maradona…Kevin ‘Tonker’ Tonkinson put them all to shame in 2002.

The dentist chair was a mere pre-drinking ritual for Tonkinson, but he always insisted that he hadn’t lost it, he’d “just mislaid it”, and Bassett gave him the chance to prove it when many others would have shied away from such an enigma.

At times it appeared the decision was going to backfire, not least when the player was arrested for drink driving on the wrong side of the road, or when he was caught throwing out a transsexual prostitute, or when he coaxed his manager into a drunken bender on the eve of the final group game.

But Tonkinson was always the man to provide the moments of inspiration, whether it be opening the scoring in Bassett’s first game in charge or the spectacular winner against Argentina. Every team needs a wildcard, none came wilder than Tonker.

Do believe

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Also: We’re better than the Mexicans.


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