Boothroyd is play­ing the long game with Eng­land at Eu­ros.

Aidy Boothroyd shed­ding long-ball tag as Eng­land on verge of mak­ing fi­nal of U21 cham­pi­onship, writes Richard Jolly

The National - News - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

Nick­names can linger. Par­tic­u­larly un­wanted ones. It is more than a decade since Aidy Boothroyd was branded “Aidy Hoofroyd”. It is a tag he has not fully shed, even though it seems out­dated now.

If Eng­land’s progress to the semi-fi­nals of the Eu­ro­pean Un­der 21 Cham­pi­onship has been no­table for di­rect foot­ball, it is of the kind of quick counter-at­tack­ing char­ac­terised by skil­ful wingers, rather than lump­ing the ball at an over­sized tar­get man in a fash­ion as­so­ci­ated with the Boothroyd of stereo­type.

“My teams are tat­tooed with the long ball,” he told Michael Calvin in his book Liv­ing On The Vol­cano. Boothroyd took the di­rect route to the top, get­ting a Wat­ford team tipped for rel­e­ga­tion to promotion to the Pre­mier League at 35. His fall was sim­i­larly sur­pris­ing and swift. His fourth and so far fi­nal man­age­rial post­ing in club foot­ball ended when he was dis­missed by Northamp­ton with the Cob­blers bot­tom of the Foot­ball League. Now he stands 180 min­utes away from com­plet­ing an im­prob­a­ble re­nais­sance. Eng­land face Ger­many today, with the prospect of a meet­ing with Spain or Italy in Fri­day’s fi­nal.

For the first time since 1984, they could be­come Eu­ro­pean U21 cham­pi­ons. It would bring a re­mark­able dou­ble for seem­ingly failed man­agers.

Paul Simp­son, last in charge of non-league North­wich Vic­to­ria, steered Eng­land to the U20 World Cup. Simp­son, how­ever, did not have the no­to­ri­ety of Boothroyd, whose ap­point­ment as Eng­land’s U20s man­ager – he sub­se­quently took over the U21s when Gareth South­gate re­placed Sam Al­lardyce – prompted crit­i­cism, some based on in­cor­rect ru­mours that he had been FA tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Dan Ash­worth’s best man at his wed­ding.

The greater con­cern was not mis­placed ac­cu­sa­tions of favouritism, but that a man­ager whose tac­tics seemed plucked from the past ap­peared hired to over­see the fu­ture.

Three years on, there is a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence that Boothroyd is the best man for the po­si­tion. Eng­land may have be­gun un­con­vinc­ingly, need­ing Jor­dan Pick­ford’s penalty save to draw against Swe­den, but wins against Slo­vakia and Poland have been no­table for Boothroyd’s in­put.

A come­back against Slo­vakia was aided by the man­ager’s de­ci­sion to re­place right-back Ma­son Hol­gate with winger Ja­cob Mur­phy.

The Nor­wich City player, rapidly shap­ing up as his pre­ferred su­per-sub, was brought on in at­tack against the Poles.

Tellingly, an­other winger, Le­ices­ter City’s Demarai Gray, was pre­ferred to Tammy Abra­ham as the main striker then. Boothroyd, whose game plan long seemed based around an in­tim­i­dat­ing, abra­sive cen­tre-for­ward, whether Dar­ius Hen­der­son or Clive Platt, has proved more flex­i­ble than many ex­pected. His Wat­ford side be­came in­creas­ingly one-di­men­sional. His Eng­land teams are harder to pi­geon­hole.

While many of his peers are op­er­at­ing in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, it is worth point­ing out that Boothroyd has been de­prived of sev­eral play­ers still el­i­gi­ble for the U21s. Marcus Rash­ford, Dele Alli, Ra­heem Ster­ling, John Stones and Eric Dier have all been in se­nior squads in­stead.

This Eng­land squad could be more tal­ented. Their pre­de­ces­sors pro­vide a warn­ing from his­tory.

It is worth men­tion­ing Stu­art Pearce steered Eng­land to the fi­nal of the 2009 tour­na­ment and few hail him as a man­age­rial mas­ter­mind now. It is in part be­cause that fi­nal was lost 4-0 to a Ger­man group whose grad­u­ates helped Joachim Low’s team reached the semi-fi­nals of the 2010 World Cup and win the 2014 World Cup.

Ger­many, with their smooth path­way from un­der-age teams to a suc­cess­ful se­nior side, have be­come the role mod­els in youth devel­op­ment. Few have sought to em­u­late Eng­land, let alone Boothroyd.

But now, from the depths of the foot of League Two, the by­word for long-ball foot­ball could be tak­ing a cu­ri­ously in­di­rect route to glory.

Piotr Nowak / AFP

De­spite mak­ing it to the semi-fi­nals, Adrian Boothroyd’s Eng­land have been de­prived of many play­ers el­i­gi­ble for the U21s.

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