Chris Waddle has revealed that dropping English football’s much-maligned “kick and rush” style helped England to beat Belgium at Italia ’90.
The former Tottenham man was a key part of Bobby Robson’s squad at the 1990 World Cup, but had become fed up with playing 442 at international level.
Waddle had spent a season at this point revelling in playing a more open style at club level, since joining Marseille the previous summer in 1989.
And now the winger has opened up in a new book from Fleet Street legend Harry Harris, Italia ’90 Revisited: The Players’ Stories, to tell the infamous story of how England changed their spots.
Waddle said: “I dreaded playing for England in a 442. I didn’t play that way with Tottenham or with Marseille, but only when I joined up with England. During the World Cup we started with the English traditional 442, but I was very pleased that Bobby Robson changed the system.
“In my eyes, from what I had seen in France, we had to play three at the back to give us an extra man in central midfield and play wing-backs and that is something that would suit us with the good footballers in our side.
“I made it perfectly clear I was sick of playing 442, that the entire world when asked about English football would respond instantly with ‘Ah, kick and rush’.
“But this England team could play differently, there were many technically-gifted players and it was a big plus for me that by changing the system we changed the mentality of the English game for a while. It had a profound effect on English football, certainly in the eyes of the rest of the world.”
England squeezed out of their group, with a 1-0 victory over Egypt. There was then a growing appetite among the players to start doing things differently.
Waddle continued: “I was in the campaign to change things at the World Cup, having experienced a variety of systems at Marseilles where players would be afforded a lot of freedom. I had learned how you would get the best out of players, rather than how they had to fit into the system.
“Other nations had caught up on our physical side of things and had the technique to go with it. But now we had exactly the same tools as them, we no longer had to play kick and rush. I felt we needed to change to get the best out of some great technical players in our team.”
The second round match against Belgium was a tight affair, but the magic winning volley that made David Platt’s name in World football showed that England had a new formula for success, away from the rigid nature of 442.
Waddle added: “It was a warm day when we played Belgium, we needed to look after the ball, so it made sense in my eyes and a lot of the players were all for it.
“Whether the manager listened to the players, or listened to Don Howe, or already had Plan B, the outcome was the right one.
“It was the right system to go forward with the players we had and, once we changed, we had the match for the better teams.
“I enjoyed the Belgium game. They could easily have beaten us, but we could easily have beaten them. It was end to end, a proper cup tie. Platt’s goal was fantastic, what a goal, it deserved to win that game.
“For the fans, players and coaches, they could see how England can play, a step in the right direction and how football could change in our country for the better.”
Italia ’90 Revisited: The Players’ Stories, by Harry Harris, foreword by Paul Gascoigne. Out now, in paperback and Kindle.