Shoulder to shoulder

Late last March Bobby Robson, now manager of Newcastle United, was up in arms over the dislocated shoulder of one of his brightest young players, Hugo Viana, while playing for Portugal's Under-21 team versus England in Rio Maior.

GLANVILLE

Newcastle United's Hugo Viana(right) had been sidelined by a shoulder injury for three long months earlier in the season, an injury, which required an operation.-

HISTORY repeats itself in various odd ways. The first time as tragedy, second as farce, was how Karl Marx had it, I don't know whether I'd go as far as that in the present instance, not least as this was a bit of a farce in the first, but strange it surely is for those of us who remember.

Late last March Bobby Robson, now manager of Newcastle United, was up in arms over the dislocated shoulder of one of his brightest young players, Hugo Viana, while playing for Portugal's Under-21 team versus England in Rio Maior. Viana had been sidelined by a shoulder injury for three long months earlier in the season, an injury, which required an operation. Clearly, judged from his comments, Bobby, who once managed major Portuguese clubs himself, felt that the operation should have put things right but didn't. Here is what he said.

"We have to get him back to England as soon as we can and open an investigation. It's been dislocated and they've put it back in at the hospital, but if it's happened now it can happen again. We need to get him to a top shoulder specialist. I thought we had. I understood it was pinned and would be ok for the rest of his career. Whether we have to repair it again depends. But I remember Bryan Robson having similar problems when I was England manager and he ended up missing the World Cup in Mexico."

Well, actually, he didn't, but thereby hangs a tormented tale brought into sharp focus again after the injury to Viana. The first thing strongly to be said is that Bryan Robson, then the dynamic midfielder and propulsive force of Manchester United and England should indeed not have played in those World Cup finals at all, but he did, at Bobby Robson's instance.

That his shoulder was gravely vulnerable and suspect was well known before ever a ball was kicked in those finals. When England won a friendly 4-1 against the incipient hosts, Mexico, in Los Angeles, Bryan Robson collapsed with what seemed quite plainly to be another dislocation of that shoulder. He was treated, and Bobby Robson denied that the shoulder had gone out. Few of the Press Corps present, if any, believed this for a moment and after the World Cup when he published his excruciating World Cup diary, Bobby admitted in print that he had told what he called "a white lie." In retrospect it seemed pretty black to me.

Bobby compounded his economy with the truth by announcing blandly and absurdly that if a shoulder went out easily, then it would go back easily. This palpable nonsense from someone who had spent years playing in the top flight for Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and England, years after that successfully managing Ipswich Town, and then taking over the England team, itself. Having thrice dislocated my own shoulder playing obscurely in Sunday football and only just avoiding an operation, I had some personal knowledge of the subject.

The point was, as Bobby knew very well, that if a shoulder went out then in easily, there was nothing for it but to have an operation; which was exactly what Bryan Robson did when he got home. In Mexico, however, he captained England in their opening, unsuccessful game, lost feebly to Portugal in Monterrey, and looked a diminished figure, presumably worrying about that shoulder though who wouldn't? However, though England were beaten and Bryan so much less than dynamic, the shoulder did not go out again.

So it was that for the second match, in Monterrey again though in another stadium, Bryan was once more deployed. He must have been doubly anxious for at that point he was promoting a new type of football boot. This time against Morocco the shoulder went out once more, England played lamentably badly, Bryan had to be substituted. Another liability in midfield was Ray Wilkins, who had begun with such promise as a teenaged Chelsea player, intelligent and adventurous, a good passer of the balls, but had now earned himself the nickname of `The Crab' because he seemed only to go backwards or sideways. In those circumstances the English midfield creaked and groaned. It was reported that at half time in the dressing room the infuriated and frustrated England players confronted their physically demanding coach Don Howe, once upon a time the England right back, and assailed him, "You're always telling us what to do; what the blanking hell do we do now?"

The answer in the circumstances was not very much. England were reduced to 10 men when in a moment of wholly untypical petulance, Ray Wilkins threw the ball at the referee and was sent off. Somehow or other England held on to a 0-0 draw chiefly one felt because a talented Moroccan team which would play some pleasingly effective football early on could simply not believe that England were so bad.

A players' revolution followed in the England camp and you might say that out of disaster came redemption. With Wilkins suspended and Bryan Robson now inexorably out, there was no way that Bobby Robson could avoid making changes. This he duly did. Peter Reid and Steve Hodge came into the midfield, and in the third qualifying group match, on the same ground in Monterrey, it was a transformed England team. Poland were beaten 3-0, Gary Lineker, now partnered by the lively, intelligent, unselfish Peter Beardsley, scored all three goals and the team thus progressed to the second, knock out, round.

There, at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, it again gave an excellent account of itself easily seeing off a sometimes brutal Paraguay team; poor Lineker was chopped across the throat. But the subsequent match again at the Azteca against Argentina was of course notorious for Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal when he punched the ball past the England 'keeper Peter Shilton and got away with it. England lost 2-1.

The passing years have still yielded no explanation of why Bobby Robson should have so ludicrously and irrationally persisted with his namesake, fatuously insisting that all would be well. No explanation was given in that dreadful diary so we can but speculate. I think I have some idea of what may have happened, but no evidence to support it. The Viana Shoulder Affair however, with Bobby now talking sense, has brought the whole matter of Bryan's suspect shoulder back into focus, for those of us who remember and were in fact on the spot in 1986. No nonsense this time about the shoulder going back easily if it came out easily. Justified anger that the operation didn't work. All so hard to explain.