Rob Shepherd

Sven’s Obsession With Beckham Was The Reason Why The Golden Generation Failed

by Rob Shepherd.

Rio Ferdinand is the first player of England’s golden generation to hint at the real reason why it became the wooden spoon generation.

It remains heresy to say it but read between the lines of Ferdinand’s new book and he suggests it was the cult of David Beckham which undermined England when the golden boys should have peaked under Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Appraising the Eriksson era, Ferdinand says: ‘I think Sven was a bit overawed by Beckham.

‘If truth be known he was a bit too much of a Beckham fan.’

That was never more true than at the 2002 World Cup finals.

Yes, Beckham had made sure England got there when he scored THAT memorable free-kick goal in final minute of the game against Greece to make it 2-2 at Old Trafford thus securing qualification to the finals in South Korean and Japan without the danger of going to a play off.

It was one of the great dramatic moments in the history of the England football team and cemented Beckham’s iconic status. But that’s also when the cult of Beckham took over. In my opinion to the detriment of the England team.

It was swimming against the tide to argue as much back then, but I know there were a few England players of that era who felt the same at the time, certainly now.

While not anti-Beckham, many felt his domination of England as ‘Brand Beckham’ expanded into a global empire undermined a team that had the best group of players since 1990, when England reached the semi finals of the World Cup, potentially even better.

They should have got closer to winning the 2002 and 2006 World Cup than they did. Certainly the 2004 European Championship.

But in each tournament Team England seemed, for some of us observers, more like Team Beckham.

Team Beckham was indeed a phrase some players would mutter under their breath.

Ferdinand was and remains friends with Beckham. And the way football world has gone in a commercial sense Ferdinand is hardly going to come out and suggest Beckham’s international career was allowed to run and run under Eriksson despite the fact it seemed obvious he was being picked for his name, his status as captain and his danger from free-kicks rather than the all round contribution he offered at his height.

But the phrase: ‘If truth be known, he (Eriksson) was a bit too much of a Beckham fan’, speaks volumes.

In 2002 Beckham, who was at the peak of his game then, suffered from a metatarsal injury.

It should have ruled him out of that World Cup, but Eriksson made the decision to nurse him back in South Korea and Japan.

Beckham did return, even scoring the winner against Argentina from the penalty spot. But he was clearly a passenger as it would prove in the defeat to Brazil.

By Euro 2004, Beckham, by then at Real Madrid, simply was not the force of nature he had been for England and would miss a decisive penalty in a shoot out against Portugal in the quarters.

In his book Ferdinand says Beckham was something close to a distraction at times

In his book Ferdinand says Beckham was something close to a distraction at times

In 2006 Beckham did not seem fit enough again but was still picked yet in the quarter final which England would lose to Portugal (again on penalties), lacked the energy and urgency he once had and was eventually replaced by Aaron Lennon with an injury at half-time.

All of this was not Beckham’s fault. He was a great player and leader for England. But at crucial times he was not fit enough to play with the energy his style required. Yet it seems Eriksson was too much of a Beckham fan to see the obvious and make the decision to leave him out to get to the best out of the team.

After all it wasn’t as if England were lacking in midfield talent. There was of course Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes around and others such as Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves, Danny Murphy and the fleeting hopes of Lennon or Kieron Dyer.

Indeed had Eriksson not been ‘blinkered’ by his Beckham obsession and slavery to 4-4-2 there was a system that could have harnessed the best of England’s golden generation and even won the 2006 World Cup let alone the Euros.

Looking back, had England gone 3-5-2 when all fit they could have fielded this team:
James; Campbell, Ferdinand, Terry; G. Neville, Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard, A. Cole; Rooney, Owen.

Beckham would still have been part of the squad, but not the focal point of it. Indeed in some games he could have replaced his pal Gary Neville at right wing back.

The above team from the so-called golden generation looking back now looks like it could have struck gold, but the obsession with ‘Golden Balls’ meant it underachieved.

Eriksson’s successor Steve McClaren must have felt that, which is why he axed Beckham. But when results went wrong the coach would and bring Becks back.

Fabio Capello then indulged in Beckham too, enabling him reach an outfield record of 115 caps, before injury made the decision for him. He could not play at the 2010 World Cup, by which time the golden generation, drained by as Capello’s ‘prison camp mentality’, phrased by Ferdinand, had lost their sparkle.

Rio Ferdinand #2Sides My Autobiography is to be released on October 2 published by Blink Publishing.




Sterling Red a Bonus!
PLUS Italy Game Set for Draw & Long Way Yet for Ladies

by Rob Shepherd.

Red is Good!


Sterling can’t believe it

Most seemed to think Raheem Sterling was hard done by with the red card he suffered in England’s 2-2 draw against Ecuador. But much ridiculed American referee Jair Marrufo could well have done England a favour…

The incident when Sterling brought down Antonio Valencia highlighted the restraints players will be under at the World Cup. They simply cannot afford to go diving in with the flying feet.

Even if Sterling did get a bit of his foot on the ball his follow-through did catch Valencia. Yes, Valencia’s reaction seemed to make the situation worse.

But ref Marrufo will have viewed that Sterling’s challenge endangered the opponent, regardless of whether he got some of the ball or not.

Make no mistake refs, certainly in the early stages, will be under pressure from FIFA guidelines to show red for such tackles.

Over the years England players have fallen foul of strict guidelines over certain incidents that are regarded as “soft” in this country.

Take Ray Wilkins in 1986 then David Beckham in 1988. And of course Wayne Rooney saw red in 2006.

So Roy Hodgson should use the Sterling incident as a foot-on-the-ball warning to his team – not least because players don’t need to be making such lunging tackles by the touchline in the first place.

And whiles he’s at it remind Jack Wilshere if he gets seen by an official losing his rage like that he’ll be shown red too!


Anyone For A Nil-Nil…?

A bloody Ince organises England

A bloody Ince organises England

England’s last two meaningful matches versus Italy have ended in goal less draws.

Two years the 0-0 was regarded as a dire display as Italy won the penalty shoot out 4-2 to knock England out of the European Championships.

Agreed, Italy were the superior side but in the end the margins came down to the cruel cut of pens.

In October 1997 England played a 0-0 draw with Italy in Rome to clinch a place at the 1998 World Cup finals and force Italy to get their the hard way via a play-off.

The 0-0 draw was deemed a triumph. True, England inspired by the head-bandaged Paul Ince and disciplined Paul Gascoigne produced one of a tactically stoic display under Glenn Hoddle, but it could easily have ended in tears.

In the final minute after Ian Wright had hit a post Italy should have snatched a last gasp winner but Chrstian Vieiri headed a fraction wide.

Again the slimmest of margins.

One suspects it will be very tight and tense once again in next Saturday’s opening game.

But if England needed any added inspiration they could do no worse than watch a re-run of that game in the Rome nearly 17 years ago.


Lady Maybe..?

It was great to be a guest of FootballFanCast and Strongbow last Wednesday who hosted a TV link of the England – Ecuador match and the results of their RioChallenge competition at Riley’s sports bar in Pimlico.

In a nutshell the winners of a Strongbow male five aside competition went over to Rio in Brazil to take on a ladies team.

Former footballer now Sky pundit Chris Kamara was a speaking guest and he suggested that in the near future a woman would be in the squad of a Premier League team.

I disagreed with “Kammy” who coached the chaps in Brazil. That caused some waves with the PC crowd.

But despite their skills I can’t ever see women competing with men physically at the top level. That’s not sexist.

Besides, why undermine the growing sport of Ladies football..? Woman’s tennis, golf, cricket, hockey, athletics etc all get on in their own right .

Indeed after a good start the skillful Vasco Ladies eventually lost 7-1 to a team from the Royal Navy (footage below).


David Moyes Has Gone, Time For Sir Alex To Follow Suit!

by Rob Shepherd.


Time ran out for Moyes – but shadow of Fergie made it impossible to move forward

Sir Alex Ferguson has regrets over how David Moyes was sacked and the manner of his fellow Scot’s dismissal should be a warning that his own days at the club may be numbered…

Ferguson’s role as an influential director and ambassador is now likely to be downsized at the very least in the wake of Moyes’ departure. Fergie might have argued Moyes deserved the dignity of a bit more time but if he did offer such advice it fell on deaf ears.

The Glazers, United’s American owners, may be ready to sideline Ferguson as they look to rebuild the club and perhaps should have addressed the situation sooner.

After choosing Moyes as his successor, Ferguson didn’t do him too many favours and not just in terms of leaving an ageing squad behind.

There is a feeling among the Glazers and some board members that Ferguson’s Long Goodbye lasted, well, too long, and sections of the support are of the same opinion.

Mistakes that were made in the early 1970s after Sir Matt Busby stepped down have been replicated despite assurances there would be no repeat and Ferguson cast a shadow over Moyes the way Busby did to Wilf McGuinness and then Frank O’Farrell.

Ferguson did not have as much direct involvement in the day-to-day running of the club after his abdication compared with Busby but he has been sitting in the stands, often caught on camera grimacing as his old empire crumbled before his eyes.

You get the impression that some of the players were just waiting for him to scamper down the steps, storm into the dressing room, turn on the hair dryer and get things back on track. No doubt on days when players bumped into him they would still refer to him as the gaffer.

There can be no doubt Ferguson’s physical presence around the club had a psychological effect on the players, many of whom appeared to stop playing for Moyes.


Sir Alex didn’t do David Moyes a lot of favours with his presence and actions after retiring.

Then of course there was the high-profile impact of Ferguson bringing out his autobiography so soon. Why couldn’t he have waited a year or so rather than cause such disruption and controversy in the early days of Moyes’ reign?

Then there’s the frequent public appearances for lucrative fees. It’s not as if Ferguson needs the money or has anything to prove and basking in his past glories surely intensifies the pressure on his successor.

At a time when Manchester United needed the manager who had brought so much success to the club for 27 years to be selfless, the golden farewell engagements went on and on. Surely it would have been better all round had Fergie melted into background. Stayed away even, in the way that Pep Guardiola did after leaving Barcelona.

That is what must happen now and in all likelihood a new manager will demand it. Certainly it appears Ferguson will have a limited influence on an appointment the club must get right if they are to avoid going into the wilderness.

It was only when Tommy Docherty managed to make sure Busby was pushed firmly into the background that the club started the long process of re-inventing itself after relegation from the top flight.

Sport/Football, 1973, Tommy Docherty, Manchester United Manager with the former Manager Matt Busby

Docherty had to escape from Busby’s shadow

‘Relegation’ from the Champions League this season is in many ways more of a blow to the club now than it was dropping out of the old First Division in 1974. Certainly from a financial point of view with the loss of up to £80million in revenue equating to annual interest payments the Glazers pay on financing the debt.

It’s a massive call for the club to make as they seek to attract over £200million worth of new talent and it will be done, rightly or wrongly, with the Glazers putting on their corporate hats.

There is no longer any room for romance in seeking Fergie’s counsel in the guise of the Godfather from Govan.

Indeed, one suspects the board will prefer to see Ferguson spend most of his time in the coming months lecturing at Harvard business school again, not loitering around Old Trafford.



The Truth About The Turnip and Me
Rob Shepherd

It’s not every day the England manager tells you to “F**k off” out of the country.

Twenty years ago Graham Taylor did just that on the eve of England’s decisive World Cup qualifier against Holland in Rotterdam.

In a scene you might have seen on the cult fly-on-the-wall documentary: The Impossible Job, which has been re-named by its cult following ‘Do I Not Like That’ (one of several Taylor catchphrases), Taylor lambastes me for my pessimism about England’s chances of avoiding defeat.

“You can worry Rob, but don’t make the rest of us worry,” Taylor blasted – yes he really did blast – as his tirade against me gathered pace.

“Rise yourself man! Look, if you were one of my players I’d…”

Believe it or not there are some people out there who can recite the whole exchange and indeed the remarkable documentary made by Neil Duncanson and Ken McGill by Chrysalis for Channel Four.

In many ways it is football’s Spinal Tap with a hint of Monty Python.

To this day many people when I meet them want to talk to me about the cameo I was caught up in.

A few years later a mainstream movie came out entitled Mike Bassett: England manager. It was a decent film, and at times very funny, but essentially it was a dramatized version of “Do I Not Like That.” And in terms of comedic value not a patch on the real thing.

The fact was far stranger, far better, far more bizarre, and in the real sense of the word far more pathetic than the fiction.


I remember going to to see a press preview of the documentary about six months after the The Row in Rotterdam. I had been tipped off that I had featured significantly.

That worried me…

Had I been trailed by a camera man taking the wrong turn down a dodgy strasse on the road to England’s ruined World Cup campaign..?

What unfolded was astonishing.

My instant review that day was that what Graham Taylor; England manager had believed would be a eulogy to his prowess as a football manager became an epitaph.

I stand by that appraisal.


Taylor believed the documentary would put him in a positive light

You see none of us “Hack Pack” who followed England at the time – in a pre-internet, pre-social media era there was a hard core of print radio and TV correspondents which ranged between ten and fifty depending on the size of the assignment – knew that a documentary was being filmed.

But Graham Taylor did.

Why on earth did he allow such access..?

It was an attempt to prove a point that he was not ‘Taylor The Turnip Head’ as he had been depicted after England were humbled at the 1992 European Championships finals in Sweden.

For the record (and isn’t it funny how time and ill informed perception alters mind) I, Rob Shepherd, was not the guy who cast Taylor as the Turnip. I can tell you many people now assume I did – but then some of them think I look like Desperate Dan! On that front; strangely enough my first job in journalism was working for DC Thompson who published The Dandy and I once had to do a photo shoot…er, that’s another story.

Graham Taylor - Sun Turnip 200

Taylor: Headline maker

So let’s get this straight; Taylor was pilloried by The Sun with a morphed image (yes there were fun photos before Instagram) of his head fused with a turnip.
Why..? It was on the back of one of the immortal tabloid headlines, dreamt up not by the sports editor of the time (although he has dined out on it and got jobs on the back of it for many years) but a stalwarts sub editor called Dave Clement.

The simplicity was stunning as England’s chaotic Euro 92 adventure ended in abject failure when Taylor’s team were eliminated in the final match of the group phase by hosts Sweden, who came from behind to win 2-1.

The whole campaign had been a shambles, defined best by Taylor’s ludicrous decision to take off Gary Lineker and replace him with Alan Smith as England chased the game.

It might have seemed a bit crass but Swedes 2 Turnips 1 summed up the feelings of the hoi polloi.


As the son of a Journalist Graham Taylor had thought he could cajole, even control or at least appease the press with a combination of bravado and bon homie.

But he hadn’t accounted for the city-slick media machines who would dance over graves and, at least for the first edition, boast “Up yer Junta” when the battleship of a war time enemy was sunk and many lives were lost.

In contrast pillorying an England football manager was mere bagatelle.

Shocked by the intensity and cruelty of the backlash Taylor decided he needed to adopt a PR strategy. And so he agreed to allow a TV crew unprecedented access for a warts-and-all documentary.

He felt this would be the way to get his revenge in first. This was the way to prove he was the best man to manage England. This was the way how he would be the Pied Piper leading England’s merry men to the World Cup in the USA. And this was the way to reverse the tables and make the media men look like melons.

Graham also had a slight advantage. He knew the cameras were rolling. The Press didn’t. Neither did the players – well at least for a while, by which time they had allowed themselves to be filmed in some Pythonesque scenes.

But he hadn’t accounted for a, erm, Turn up in the books.

After only drawing to Norway and Holland at Wembley England’s World Cup campaign was suddenly on the back foot.

Then when England lost 2-0 against Norway in Oslo after Taylor has made disastrous tactical and team selections, it became a case of shit or bust when England faced Holland in Rotterdam.

The Oslo experience was on my mind when I challenged the team Taylor named for the Holland game 20 years ago. But there was more to it than that.

My agitated barrack room lawyer demeanour, which raised Taylor’s cackles, was enhanced by a heady mix of adrenalin and anger.

Adrenalin because I had actually scooped the rest of Fleet Street’s finest and named the team Taylor announced at the start of the press conference that morning in the now defunct Today Newspaper.

Anger? I was aghast. I so wanted England to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Three years earlier, after England had lost the World Cup semi-final to Germany the first guy I bumped into after I had filed my tear stained report was Bobby Moore who was working for Capital Radio at Italia 90.

“Don’t worry son,” Mr Moore told me.

“This time close, but in four years time the boys can do it. Let’s have a beer to that son.”

Now here we were in Holland. Bobby wasn’t going to make it to the USA, tragically he had died six months earlier. Neither I feared would England, and I kept thinking how upset that would have made Mr Moore.

I just had to vent my view that Taylor’s bizarre (as it seemed to me, even if I had the heads up) team selection would mean it ending in tears just as it had done against Norway in Oslo.

And here I just have to point out that there was more to me than just being a 31 year old big chinned gobby journo having a dig at the England boss in search for a headline.

I had done some decent journalism too.


In those days the press and players all flew on the same plane and we departed from Luton Airport at around midday on the Monday for the Wednesday night game.

I had a phone call very early that Monday morning from a contact I will not and will never reveal. I was told the team.

It was read to me from one to eleven (bearing in mind Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce were suspended); Seaman, Parker, Adams, Pallister, Dorigo; Palmer {really!!! are f**king sure?} Platt, Ince, Sharpe (really!!!); Merson (No!), Shearer (What? So no Wright or Ferdinand??).

I was shocked. A month earlier England had beaten Poland 3-0 in the previous qualifier and Ian Wright (who declared we will win with “BullDog Spirit Man”) and Les Ferdinand had monstered the opposition.


Not Wright: The Arsenal striker had tormented the Poles the previous month

Even give the suspensions and Shearer’s potential, FIVE changes and no Wright or Ferdinand seemed very strange.

Merson was a super player. But how could he get the nod ahead of Wrighty who most of the hack pack assumed was a nailed on selection..???

As team news ahead of a pivotal international goes, this info was dynamite.

But it had to be checked. Not easy. But with the help of my colleague Dave Harrison we nailed it.

In the duty free at Luton I pulled Paul Parker aside. He said he couldn’t divulge. So I struck a compromise. If I ran through the one to eleven could he nod or shake. Parks gave me a nod and a wink all the way through.

So did Paul Ince.

When we got to Schiphol the Dutch started some dirty games – which would continue during the match two days later thanks to a German referee Karl- Josef Assenmacher – by pretending there were no baggage handlers. Nor courtesy buses.

So for nearly 90 minutes the England team were left loitering on the tarmac getting more and more wound-up.

It did give me and Dave Harrison the chance though to tug a few players and have a discreet word.

Once we both had got the nod from David Platt we were decided; the crazy info was correct. Well as far as we could make out and we’d done enough checks to satisfy a demanding sports editor in Mike Crouch who decided to go to town.

Our snapper Eddie Keogh had taken a picture of Carlton Palmer (“Carlton! Carlton!”) playing a piano in the team hotel.

As far as I was concerned, as good as a club player as Palmer might have been, Carlton couldn’t hit a cows arse with a banjo (that was a saying of ex-Wimbledon boss Dave – not Mike btw – Bassett, not mine) at international level.

That he was playing in such a big game beggared belief really. In fact I still didn’t really believe it despite at all the checks.

After all the players could have been playing a blinder, their version of three card brag and I can assure you Mr Ince was very good at three card brag back then.

But we went for it and beneath this strange picture of Palmer playing the ol’ Joanna was the team in 24 point emblazoned on the back page.

In many ways my balls were on the line.

After filing my copy I suddenly got very nervous.

If I got that wrong I would be hung out to dry by Taylor. The Turnip would have ridiculed me as Shepherd’s Pie.

But one thing I was sure on was that Wright would be on the bench and Merson would start. That’s because Merse told me.

I went on the missing list that night as far as the other hacks were concerned. This was too big a story to share. Except one who worked on a paper that was owned by the same company as Today.

We arranged to meet and slip out for dinner and few glasses of wine away from the hack pack. Just before we left the hotel he told me he had done a big piece on how Ian Wright could fire England to the finals. The first edition of Today has gone off the press by then so I advised him to re-write his piece and change the name Merson with Wright.

He did so. By that point I was confident.

Let Down

But even then when I went into the press conference the following morning my stomach was still churning. It was a similar feeling to getting exam results at school.

And I passed.

Taylor revealed the team…and I was right in terms of the facts but I felt he had got it so wrong.

Maybe as a football writer I was too passionate about the game back then, too patriotic. But we are who were are. And I kept hearing Bobby Moore’s soothing words in my ear and I just felt Mr Moore was being let down. England were being let down.

“Does the whole nation rest on whether Rob Shepherd’s happy or not?” Taylor intoned.

He was aware the cameras were rolling. I was not.

Ahead of the game this could have been his coup de grace. The Turnip tables would be turned.

As Taylor continued his tirade against me nervous stares from the Hack Pack turned into some polite twittering then guffaws of laughter. It was funny.

But who was the joke on; Taylor or me..?

I held my own for a while, then let it go. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of the press conference for everybody for the sake of an unseemly row. I had made my point but maybe he had a point. I was determined to show respect.

Whatever mistakes Taylor made as England manager he was not nasty man. Naïve back then perhaps. But not nasty. We got on.

But I thought he’d called it wrong. So it proved.

The team which had displayed so much energy and purpose in the win over Poland just a month earlier was all over the place in terms of shape and direction.

Yes, decisions and luck went against England and thus Taylor, but it was an accident waiting to happen given the team he had selected.

Holland won 2-0 and World Cup qualification was beyond England.


Koeman, who should have been dismissed earlier, scores to seal England’s fate

The following month Holland beat Poland to seal their place in USA 94 with Norway which meant England’s 7-1 against San Marino was meaningless.

My match report intro that night – which became part of the closing scenes of the documentary – was, using a slight twist of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s brilliant last minute commentary of the 1966 World Cup final: ‘They Thought it was all Over…It is Now.’

Later that night I collared Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the FA at the time, who “off the record” told me Taylor was finished.

Taylor and England parted company the following week.

Six months later the documentary came out and Taylor’s reign as England manager was a bit like a Month Python sketch. Bobby Moore would not have been impressed.


Sansom Back on Track with Glenn
Rob Shepherd

By Rob Shepherd.

Kenny Sansom came out of rehab yesterday and hit a bar – but was sober as a judge as he accepted a role to become a judge at Glenn Hoddle’s new Zapstarz soccer school.


Glenn and Kenny were in great form at Planet Hollywood

Ex-Arsenal star Sansom entered rehab last month after admitting drink and gambling addictions which had sent his life into such decline that he was homeless and left sleeping rough on a park bench in South East London.

But with the help of his family and the PFA Sansom, 55, faced up to his demons and embarked on a rehabilitation course at private clinic.

Sansom, who won 86 England caps, was “released” yesterday and then met up with former team mate Hoddle at Planet Hollywood in London’s Haymarket where the ex-England boss was launching a new project to develop and coach young players between the age of 8 and 16.

And Hoddle wants to aid Sansom’s recovery by offering him a role in the coaching scheme where he can help judge the best kids and even unearth a young England star for the future with an interactive coaching course via the web on


Glenn and Kenny enjoy some tennis on tour with England in 1985

Sansom looked in good health and said: “It is great to be here where the real people are…in the bar! Only joking. I am feeling great and I’m perfectly comfortable in an environment like this. It’s great to be among old friends. And I am looking forward to helping Glenn.

“But as they say I am taking each day as it comes.”

Hoddle added: “This project is about developing young players with basis skills but also we hope to find some starts for the future who might have slipped through the system. It is great to have Kenny on board. He’s looking good. He’s had some problems but it’s a pleasure to be of help.”

Coming soon: How Hoddle and Sansom almost brought down the Argentineans – but were stopped by one of their own! Find out who at