Picture the scene. Wednesday 13th October, 1993; Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam. England’s crunch World Cup qualifier against the Dutch. Following a tight first half, Ronald Koeman is quite rightly sent off in the 57th minute for hauling down David Platt as the last man. Paul Merson’s free kick seven minutes later hits the inside of the post and goes in to give England the lead. Pushing for a vital equaliser, the ten men of Holland are caught on the break in the final minutes, and England substitute Ian Wright makes it 2-0 to seal his country’s qualification for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
No Koeman free-kick, no Dennis Bergkamp goal, and no humiliating failure to qualify.
This is of course all fantasy, but you forget that it could have quite easily happened. Somehow, it was still in England’s hands going into that match, despite some dismal results throughout the qualification campaign. But had the above actually taken place, it has always fascinated me who Graham Taylor would have named in his finals squad.
There are a few things to take into account. Would he have mainly stuck with the side who had got England there in the first place? There are always a couple of players who break into the squad just before a major tournament, so who would the newcomers be? And it’s been known for past England managers to give places in their squads to experienced men who have done it before. With Italia ’90 just four years earlier, would any names have been in line for a comeback?
I just want to make it clear that I’m not picking this squad on who I would have sent to the World Cup. Based on his previous matches in charge and how the 1993/94 Premier League season unfolded, these selections are who I think Graham Taylor would have taken.
So let’s look at the runners and riders in each position, starting with the keepers…
DAVID SEAMAN: By the time the qualification campaign had finished, Seaman was firmly installed as England’s number one, having started the final three matches. With Arsenal finishing 4th in 1994 and also winning the European Cup Winner’s Cup, there’s no doubt Seaman would be on the plane and in the starting line-up.
TIM FLOWERS: Despite making his international debut during the unsuccessful US Cup in the previous summer, Flowers’ form for his new side Blackburn Rovers could not be ignored. As they finished second in the Premier League that year, it would have been very surprising if he hadn’t made the final squad.
CHRIS WOODS: One of the first names on the team-sheet at the beginning of the campaign, Woods played in the first seven qualifiers. However, poor performances in the matches at home to Holland and away to Norway (plus the embarrassing friendly defeat to the USA), cost him his place in the team. Unfortunately for Woods, his dip in form also meant that he lost his place in Sheffield Wednesday‘s side, with Kevin Pressman replacing him. At 35 years of age and with no first team football from October ’93, it’s hard to believe that Taylor would have taken him.
NIGEL MARTYN: After being selected as England’s number two keeper for Euro ’92, Martyn’s only other call up during Taylor’s tenure was for the US Cup competition. With Crystal Palace playing their football in the First Division in 1993/94, this would usually have put players at a disadvantage, but the England boss was not afraid to delve into the second tier, as he continued to pick Stuart Pearce of Nottingham Forest during that same season. Palace romped to the Div 1 title, so Martyn will have fancied his chances.
KEVIN PRESSMAN: A bit of a wildcard this one, but with Pressman taking Chris Woods’ place in the Wednesday side and the Owls finishing 7th in the Prem that year, he has to be in with a shout. He warranted a call-up in the pre-tournament friendlies at least.
LEE DIXON: The Arsenal right-back would’ve been England’s first choice number two at Euro ’92, had it not been for an injury he sustained just before the tournament whilst out running. Dixon won nearly all of his 22 caps under Taylor and when all right-backs were available, he tended to get the nod. Add a 4th place league finish and a European trophy win for the Gunners that season and Lee Dixon will have needed his passport.
PAUL PARKER: Following an impressive 1990 World Cup with Bobby Robson, Parker was only capped 7 times by Taylor, with the majority of those being as a third centre-back. However, he was recalled for that fateful match in Rotterdam after a two-year absence. As part of Manchester United‘s ’94 double-winning side, Parker surely would’ve been in the running for a place in this squad.
ROB JONES: With his career blighted by injury, Jones found it difficult to make his mark on the international stage. Graham Taylor gave him his debut in 1992, but he had to wait another 18 months for his second cap in the qualifying match against Poland. The 1993/94 season did turn out to be Jones’ most consistent season for Liverpool, playing in 38 league games. If Taylor opted to choose two right-backs then Jones or Parker were the most likely back-up options – both were above Earl Barrett and David Bardsley in the pecking order, who were also capped in 1993.
STUART PEARCE: The fact that Nottingham Forest were playing in the First Division made no difference whatsoever to Graham Taylor picking Pearce. In fact the left-back was Taylor’s first choice to be skipper, taking the armband off David Platt when Pearce was back from injury. No doubts on this one, Pearce would have gone and led his country out there.
TONY DORIGO: The understudy to Pearce in the previous two tournaments, Dorigo was a worthy back-up. In fact he was named in 31 of Taylor’s 38 matchday squads. A regular for Leeds who finished 5th that year, Dorigo was a very established squad member by then and it would have taken someone special to break through and steal his place.
GRAEME LE SAUX: A new name to the squad if selected, Le Saux had moved to high-flying Blackburn during the 1993/94 season. Whether Taylor would have broken up the tried and tested left backs of Pearce and Dorigo is debatable. One thing is for sure though, he would’ve been on the England manager’s radar. Terry Venables giving Le Saux his debut in his first match in charge in March ’94 is a decent indication of that.
TONY ADAMS: Barely used by Taylor until after Euro ’92, Tony Adams became a first team regular during the World Cup qualifying campaign, playing in every match except the final game in San Marino. Like Dixon and Seaman, with his club having good season leading up to the World Cup, it’s difficult to see the Arsenal skipper not boarding that transatlantic flight.
GARY PALLISTER: Another centre-back who had to wait patiently for his England chances, Pallister was chosen only 3 times by Taylor before June 1993. But following Manchester United‘s triumph in the Premier League, he was thrown straight back into the team and started the last seven matches of Taylor’s reign. With United claiming the domestic double in ’94 (of which he was a huge part), it’s almost certain that Pallister would have gone.
DES WALKER: Once touted as one of the best defenders in the world, there’s no doubt Walker struggled with form during qualifying. A torrid time at Sampdoria in this period obviously affected him, but poor performances in the home match against Holland and the away fixtures to Poland and Norway, ultimately cost him his place in the side. Even though he was still being selected for the bench, Taylor preferred the Adams-Pallister partnership. Still, a move to Sheffield Wednesday and Taylor’s loyalty in his players would have given Walker a great chance of making the finals squad.
MARTIN KEOWN: A big part of the Euro ’92 lead-up and competition itself, Keown didn’t feature much in the World Cup qualification. He was often picked for the squads, but despite his defensive versatility, he barely got minutes on the pitch. There’s no mistake if Taylor were to pick him for this World Cup, Keown would be a back up player, but with a strong season with Arsenal behind him, he may just have made it.
PAUL GASCOIGNE: Just need to get this one out of the way. Graham Taylor tried to build his England team around Gascoigne when he was available. Unfortunately for them both, that wasn’t very often due to injuries and suspensions. With regards to the 1994 World Cup, the fact is that Gascoigne broke his leg in April of that season whilst playing for Lazio. This means that he would not have been available for competition, so we’re not going to count him here. If he was fit, he would have gone, no question. But sadly this squad will have to be chosen without him.
DAVID PLATT: One of the only players who can say they performed regularly for England under Taylor, David Platt was the first name on the team sheet between 1992-94. Other than a vital source of goals from midfield, he was also vice-captain. Platt would have been pivotal to any success in this tournament. Not only is he on the plane, but there’s cotton wool sat either of him to wrap him up in. England NEED him more than anyone else.
PAUL INCE: The ‘Guvnor’ is another dead cert for America. Captaining England in only his seventh match during the US Cup proved how highly Taylor thought of him. Any doubts would have been cast aside by Ince‘s influence in Manchester United’s league and FA Cup double that year. He is the engine in midfield who breaks up play like nobody else. What ever formation England play, he starts.
PAUL MERSON: Criminally underused by England his whole career, Merson won the majority of his 21 caps under Graham Taylor. If fit and available he was always picked in Taylor squads and there’s a great chance that would be the case here. Merson had a decent season for Arsenal and played in their European Cup Winners’ Cup win, so he’d have been flying at the time. But whether he goes or not depends on how many flair players Taylor wanted out there.
CARLTON PALMER: Although his selection was sometimes unfairly criticised by fans and the media, Palmer was definitely rated by Graham Taylor. So much so, that after his debut in April 1992, the Sheffield Wednesday midfielder barely missed a game for the rest of Taylor’s reign. Palmer was never afraid to take one for the team and was played in the most positions along the midfield line during that campaign. The England boss would have been loyal to a lot of the players who got them there and with a good season at Wednesday behind him, Palmer may well have made it.
LEE SHARPE: Graham Taylor didn’t normally give debuts to teenagers, but that’s exactly what he did with 19 year old Lee Sharpe in 1991. However, it was another two years before Sharpe was picked again, coinciding with Manchester Utd’s first Premier League title win. From then on, Sharpe was a fixture in the squad, and he even started the crunch match in Rotterdam. The fact that he’s a naturally left-sided player would have been a huge advantage for him. But despite United winning the double, Sharpe’s was in and out of the team that season, and Taylor always preferred regular starters for their club. Difficult choice this one.
ANDY SINTON: The other left-sided option would be Sheffield Wednesday winger, Andy Sinton. Used frequently by Taylor throughout his tenure, Sinton was also used at left-back a number of times, versatility which may have worked in his favour. A big money move from QPR to Wednesday towards the end of this qualifying campaign definitely cemented his place in the squads even more. Looks like this could be a toss up between Sinton and Sharpe.
DARREN ANDERTON: A second uncapped player in the mix, Anderton’s form for Spurs had the media calling for international recognition long before Terry Venables gave him his first cap in March 1994. With a lack of right wingers to pick from, the door looks open for Anderton to claim a place. And at just 22 years of age at the time of the World Cup, maybe Taylor could have done with some youth in this squad.
JOHN BARNES: This was right at the peak of when Barnes suffered horrendous abuse from England fans every time he played. Who really boos their own players when they touch the ball? Anyway, Barnes still had plenty to offer and continued to unlock defences for Liverpool in the Premier League. He could still play out wide despite now lacking pace, but was primarily used in centre-midfield for his club in 1994, making him another versatile option. Remember, Taylor gave Barnes his break in football at Watford and knew how to get the best out of him. This could be Barnes’ one last hurrah on the world stage.
DAVID BATTY: Another favourite of Taylor, Batty was regularly named in England’s squads in the early 90s, with his form at Leeds United paying off. Very much in the Paul Ince no-nonsense mould, the Yorkshireman moved to Blackburn Rovers in 1993/94, helping his new side to runners-up spot. Like his teammate Flowers, he would have been hard to ignore, but with only a few central midfield options available, Taylor may not have had the room.
MATTHEW LE TISSIER: Despite his phenomenal goal scoring record from midfield and a few games for the England ‘B’ side, Le Tissier had to wait until he was 25 for his first cap, which came under Terry Venables. In World Cup year, the Southampton man scored 25 goals in 38 games – a Premier League record from midfield. With no previous appearances for Taylor, Le Tissier would have been an unknown in America, an ace in the pack. But the way to get the best out of Matt Le Tissier is to build your side around him, so would Graham Taylor have re-shaped his whole team to fit him in?
ROBERT LEE: Newcastle‘s in-form midfielder helped his side to a 3rd place finish in ’94, playing in all but one of their 42 league matches. Lee was given his international debut later that year by Venables, but his inclusion in this squad would all be down to whether Taylor was willing to change up his players after a rocky qualification. However, should anything happen to David Platt, Rob Lee would be an ideal replacement to have on the bench.
CHRIS WADDLE: Like Gascoigne, Chris Waddle was injured going into the 1994 World Cup, missing most of the second half of the season. It must be said though, that the winger was cruelly overlooked during this whole qualifying campaign. Waddle won the Football Writer’s Player of the Year in 1993 and continued his good form for Sheffield Wednesday right up to his injury. Would Taylor have thrown him at the last minute for a third World Cup? Unfortunately we’ll never know, but he did go to America that summer after all, working for the BBC in the commentary box.
ALAN SHEARER: The young Blackburn striker was just becoming England’s leading marksman in the Premier League by the time the World Cup was coming around, scoring 31 league goals that season. Taylor had given Shearer his debut in 1992 and taken him to the European Championships. In this qualifying campaign, despite Shearer missing most of it through injury, it’s interesting that he started all three matches he was available for. He’s on the plane and probably starting the first game.
LES FERDINAND: After scoring three in five qualifiers, including on his debut against San Marino, Ferdinand was a fixture in the side throughout the calendar year of 1993. Although he didn’t score 20+ league goals like many other English strikers leading up to the competition, he was definitely rated highly by Graham Taylor. Even if it’s spent entirely on the bench like in his other two major tournaments (Euro ’96 and WC ’98), Ferdinand looks a good bet for the squad.
IAN WRIGHT: No striker featured more in qualifying than Ian Wright. However, to everyone’s surprise, his problem during this period was actually hitting the back of the net for England. He continued to be in fine form for Arsenal, but only scored his first international goal on his 9th cap – the equaliser in Poland. Wright went another six games without notching, before his four strikes against San Marino in the final match. Taylor was a big fan though, and with 23 goals in the Prem for the Gunners, it would have been a shock not to see Wrighty’s infectious grin stateside.
TEDDY SHERINGHAM: Like Ferdinand, Sheringham made his debut in this campaign, but didn’t get the same playing time as his striking counterpart. Sheringham’s game was about much more than goals, but he still managed 13 in 19 league games during that injury-hit season for Spurs. His best international matches came later on in his career, but being put on the world stage at this moment may have been the best thing for one of the most intelligent English forwards of the 90s.
NIGEL CLOUGH: Very underrated during his time at Nottingham Forest, but unfortunately it never really materialised for Clough at international level. The England manager was a fan, of this there is no doubt – Clough was picked in 31 matchday squads under Taylor. He was even given the number 9 shirt at Euro ’92, although he never played a single minute. Despite no goals in 14 caps, Taylor persevered with him and with a big money move to Liverpool in 1993, it wouldn’t have been a complete shock had Clough gone to the World Cup.
ANDY COLE: If you’re picking this on form, then the number one name in this whole squad for USA ’94 should be Andy Cole. His incredible 34 goal tally for newly promoted Newcastle Utd in the 1993/94 season is the joint-record highest total in Premier League history. However, this was Graham Taylor in charge. The same man who didn’t take Ian Wright to Euro ’92, despite him finishing the First Division top-scorer that year. You would like to think Taylor may have given Cole a chance in one or two friendlies before the tournament, but I’m not so sure with all the strikers he already had at his disposal. Ridiculous really.
PETER BEARDSLEY: Cole’s striker partner at Newcastle would have had a great chance of boarding that aircraft. Beardsley found a new lease of life at St James’ Park next to Cole, scoring 21 Premier League goals that season. His creativity was a bonus too, as he was as likely to provide as he was to score. Also, Beardsley had already experienced two previous World Cups with England, and Taylor did select him to begin with when his reign started in 1990. The temptation to pick such a seasoned professional in the form of his life could have been too much for Taylor to ignore.
CHRIS SUTTON: Maybe the biggest shock of all would have been to throw 21 year old Chris Sutton in the squad. He’d scored 25 league goals for Norwich and was on the verge of a big move to a top of the table club – eventually Blackburn signed him for £5 million. Young and fresh, Sutton would have had no fear at that time going to America. Huge wildcard if selected.
So who makes the cut…
GRAHAM TAYLOR’S (POSSIBLE) WORLD CUP FINALS SQUAD
Goalkeepers: David Seaman, Tim Flowers, Nigel Martyn.
Defenders: Lee Dixon, Stuart Pearce, Tony Dorigo, Tony Adams, Gary Pallister, Des Walker, Martin Keown.
Midfielders: David Platt, Paul Ince, Paul Merson, Carlton Palmer, Andy Sinton, Darren Anderton, John Barnes, David Batty.
Forwards: Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Peter Beardsley.
The three keepers pick themselves, although I do think Kevin Pressman might have got a cap in the lead up to the tournament. Defensively there’s only one recognised right-back in Dixon, but with Keown being versatile enough to cover any position across the back four, I think that may have been enough for Taylor. Remember this is a 22-man squad as opposed to a 23-man squad which you have now, meaning you can’t have a back-up in every single position. In midfield, the only tough question was on the left-wing, and with Sinton having more game time for his club, Taylor would’ve chosen him over Sharpe. Batty is good cover for Ince, and Barnes and Palmer can play a number of roles. Unfortunately Anderton is the only newcomer, with Le Tissier and Lee missing out. Up front I’m certain the main three of Shearer, Ferdinand and Wright are safe, and Beardsley’s experience gets him the final place. Personally, I think Cole should go, but I reckon Taylor was happy with the instinctive strikers he already had.
HOW FAR WOULD ENGLAND HAVE PROGRESSED?
Very difficult to say, but with the groups being the same as the last European Championships, where four third-placed team went through to the last 16, England surely would have got through to the second round. After then, in one off games, and with a bit of luck, they still had the capability to worry most teams in the world on their day. You never know.
Here’s a sobering thought whilst you’re on lockdown; If Graham Taylor had got to at least the quarter-finals at USA ’94, he would have probably kept his job and led us into Euro ’96!
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