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Updated Thursday June 15, 2000
Exit Keegan - and enter our Mr Nobody
By Martin Lipton

He knew the guns were primed and the flak would fly - but still Les Reed stuck his head above the England parapet.

Instead of Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley or even Derek Fazackerley being asked to explain where it all went wrong in Eindhoven, it was the least-heralded member of the England back-room staff who came forward yesterday.

The harsh glare of the media spotlight can be enough to make the strongest of men wilt, let alone someone facing a news conference for the first time.

Reed, the former Charlton first-team coach recruited by Howard Wilkinson as

the Football Association's director of technical development, is virtually unknown outside the inner sanctums of the game. He is very much a technician, rather than a personality.

But, with Keegan deciding to take a day off from media duties, it was 47-year- old Reed who left his clip-board, notebook and statistics behind to try to explain Monday's 3-2 defeat by Portugal.

For all Reed's willingness to answer questions with an honesty which trained a brutal insight on England's failings, the FA might have done better if it had refused the media request on his behalf.

After all, as Keegan said of his own responsibilities on Tuesday: 'The buck stops here.'

Reed may have spent nine years under Lancaster Gate's long-ball guru Charles Hughes but he is nobody's fool.

In truth, his part in Engl and ' s preparation for matches is to assess the opposition. Reed did so in the build-up to the Portugal game and then passed the documentation over to the members of the management team whose duty it was to make it work.

He is not, however, a man schooled in handling the media beast.

Sadly, his appraisal of England's performance turned into a turkey- shoot as Reed faced searching questions which might not have been fired quite so read-ily at Keegan himself.

In showing the courage to explain just where England's game plan fell apart, Reed demonstrated naked honesty before FA executive director David Davies stepped in to prevent him sustaining further damage.

'Portugal didn't do anything we didn't expect, didn't throw us any surprises,' said Reed. 'They picked the team we expected and the style of play. We had a plan which we thought would work to our advantage.

'In some ways it went too well for us in that respect. The fact that we got into a 2-0 lead so early possibly affected different players in different ways.

'We lost a bit of our impetus in terms of getting involved with them in midfield and breaking up the play.

'We tended to settle for the ball being played in front of us but when they scored so quickly it knocked us back on our heels.'

That is the stage in a game at which a coach must react. Reed was adamant Keegan did so - it was just that the effect was negligible.

Reed added: 'Messages were going on to the pitch to try to change things but what you can't make happen is the response the players have, mentally and emotionally, when faced with certain situations.

'Portugal really got the game by the scruff of the neck in midfield and passed the ball quickly. It was very difficult for our players to get back into it or change their frame of mind.

'Portugal are very talented in midfield. Just sending on messages and giving instructions doesn't guarantee that things are going to change.

'You've got to give credit to Portugal for their ability and how they handled what we tried to do.'

Maybe so. In Luis Figo and Manuel Rui Costa, Portugal certainly boasted two world- class performers.

The onus was on England to stop these two influential figures and Reed undoubtedly provided Keegan with the technical data required to do so.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, England did not respond when it mattered.

Dennis Wise last night admitted the players themselves had to take some responsibility for the failure. In what the Chelsea skip-per described as a 'brainstorming conversation' with his squad, Keegan asked for input.

Wise added: 'Sometimes the players have to take it upon themselves to sort things out. That's where it went wrong in the game on Monday.

'The gaffer wanted to have a chat after the match because he likes to know what we feel.

'We talked about how it went wrong and what we could have done. Maybe it's up to us on the pitch to try to sort it out. It's very hard for him when the game is going on.' That, however, is Keegan's job as head coach.

Reed, passing messages down to Keegan via his No.2 Fazackerley, hinted at the thought process. He said: 'It's a bit like a boxer being knocked back on his heels.

He knows what he needs to do to get back in the fight but just can't seem to get off the ropes.

'That usually expresses itself in players dropping deeper, feeling that there's a comfort zone if there's no space behind them. 'On the bench we were trying to encourage them to push up and compress the space and pressurise Portugal.

'You don't control things from the sidelines. We could have tried plenty of things - going man-forman, marking one player, holding a high line and leaving space behind, or pulling everybody back.

'Whatever you try depends on how the players are performing. I'm not blaming the players but once they're out there it's team versus team.

'Both sides are trying to get the upper hand. It boils down to inches or yards.

'Once your team crosses the white line there's nothing you can do.' This morning, perhaps, the FA will feel the same about Reed's performance in front of the media.

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