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KEN GORMAN: Apples, trawlers and mind games.


THERE may be nearly a fortnight to go before Wales and England collide in Cardiff. But the mind games have started already.

When you try to push John Toshack into a firm prediction, he tells you the tale of an old Spanish coach he once knew.

"He never gave a straight answer to a question. If you asked him where he came from, he'd reply: "I've got some apples in my pocket. Do you want one?"'

Now as bizarre quotes go, that's right up there with Eric Cantona's "seagulls following the trawler".

In other words, there is no next question to ask. You're flummoxed if also amused by the way you've been bamboozled.

Toshack, of course, is a past master at the art of saying nothing that can motivate the opposition. He learned it at Liverpool, where the great Bill Shankly would never utter a public word against future opponents.

"It will be a tough game," was as much as he would ever say in public, before going into his own dressing room and telling his players: "That lot in the room next door are rubbish. Just go out there and destroy them."

It was a philosophy that invariably worked under Shankly. And the young Toshack lapped up every fighting word.

That is one reason why he has spent much of the past few days extolling the virtues of England and making light of their 4-1capitulation to Denmark.

And just in case we in Wales are already trembling at the prospect of our team facing potential World Cup winners, Toshack did finish the week with a wink and a smile as he said: "What I say in public and what I'll say to my players are two completely different things!"

Maybe his battle cry will go something like this: "Rooney? He's overrated. Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard? Just dime a dozen midfielders! Ferdinand, Terry, Cole? Not a patch on our defence!" It's the kind of thing Shankly (right) would have said. But then, he had the best team in the country listening.

Tosh is acutely aware that he has no such luxury. He has to transform a team with a few big names and a lot of wholehearted triers into a unit ready to challenge a superpower that, player for player, is infinitely superior.

He will use all his 26 years of managerial experience to draw up a plan to nullify that superiority. The blueprint was there in the goalless draw against Slovenia in midweek, with three central defenders and two disciplined anchormen in their midfield making Wales difficult to breakdown.

If we add the attacking craft of the absent Ryan Giggs and Simon Davies to that, then there is just the glimmer of a chance.

And that crack of optimism could become that bit wider if the manager chooses the right words before his players walk out at the gleaming new stadium.

We can only hope!
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 21, 2005
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