Italia ‘90 - Panini stickers and Gazza’s tears

Boro striker Chris Beardsley relives his World Cup memories

Two of the most common questions asked to a footballer:

When did you realise you wanted to be a professional footballer? Easy, Italia ‘90.

Who was hero when you were growing up? Easy, Gazza.

In the summer of 1990 I was an impressionable six-year-old, who literally lived for football. If I wasn’t collecting my Panini stickers, I would be recreating goals from the night before.

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In the playground there was kids pretending to be Roger Milla, Toto Schillaci and, dare I say it, even Jurgen Klinsmann.

Italia ‘90 was the World Cup that got my generation hooked on football. I remember rushing home from school to watch games like the Soviet Union verses Romania.

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I remember the colours, the names, the running tracks around the pitches (something you never saw in England), the hoards of England fans and of course the mascot, Ciao.

But my one defining memory of that summer is the image of Paul Gascoigne struggling to hold back the tears. At the time Gascoigne was only 23 years of age, but there was no doubt he was a world class player. Just ask the Dutch who he led a merry dance all on his own.

Gazza not only appealed to me because he could do things that other players couldn’t. It was the fact that he did it all with a smile on his face.

When watching him play you could tell he was enjoying himself. At times he looked like a kid in the playground, pitting his wits against the older boys and teaching them a thing or two in the process.

And in Bobby Robson the team had a manager who believed in a relaxed, laid-back camp. I remember seeing the TV clips of the players relaxing round the pool, playing golf or watching a movie together. You could tell by the smiles that the players enjoyed being there and enjoyed each other’s company.

England’s Italia 90 squad had the perfect blend of youth and experience. It had genuine leaders such as Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson, Stuart Pearce and Peter Shilton. Added to that they had a young David Platt (even though I never really remember Platt ever looking young), who managed three World Cup goals and of course Gazza.

But the key ingredients to the squad were the players who at the time were at the heights of their capabilities. The likes of Chris Waddle, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker were all at the peak of their careers and more importantly delivered in an England shirt.

After looking back at Italia ‘90 and comparing the squad back then to the modern day England squad, our boys didn’t really have a chance of winning the 2010 World Cup. The reasons we failed in South Africa are quite simple.

We took players who weren’t fit and we took players that were never going to play.

Then we have the untouchables, the ones who are never going to be dropped. Added to this the fact that we rely on one or two individuals to win us a game, we weren’t really a squad at all.

On top of that we have players who just weren’t enjoying themselves and didn’t seem happy (I mean when have you ever seen Steven Gerrard smile and he was meant to be the captain?).

Then we have a manager who can’t even speak the language, how does he relate to the players if he can’t speak to them? For a squad to be successful the manager must be able to communicate with everyone within it.

Give me Bobby Robson over Fabio Capello any day and he could have called me whatever he wanted. Give me Gazza over any of the 2010 squad and he could have drunk what he wanted.

This World Cup has been no Italia ‘90 and to me it was never going to be. I just feel sorry for the six-year-olds across the country that have had to watch England perform in South Africa. Someone please tell them it didn’t use to be like this.

Gazza and co. once did us proud and I remember it like it was yesterday!

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