Euro 2016: Viv Anderson urges England’s young guns to go out and enjoy it

England's Chris Smalling (centre) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mates Raheem Sterling (7) and Dele Alli (20) during an International Friendly at Wembley Stadium, London.
England's Chris Smalling (centre) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mates Raheem Sterling (7) and Dele Alli (20) during an International Friendly at Wembley Stadium, London.
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Viv Anderson saw enough in his 10 years with England to know that opportunies like playing in a major tournament are rare, as Leon Wobschall reports.

A proactive, effervescent and buccaneering defender with the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United and Arsenal, the 59-year-old transported those traits into his second career in management, which included a successful stint as Bryan Robson’s No 2 at Middlesbrough.

Like millions of fellow Englishmen, Nottingham-born Anderson – who became the first black player to represent England when he made his debut against Czechoslovakia in November 1978 and earned 30 caps in total between 1978-88 – is counting down the hours until the Three Lions’ Euro 2016 group opener with Russia in Marseille this evening.

While many supporters have been deliberating long into the night over the whys and wherefores of the current England squad selection and in many respects, their deficiencies and focusing on what they cannot do as opposed to what they can ahead of the tournament – Anderson takes a different view.

England may have their youngest squad representing the country at a tournament for 58 years, but Anderson’s maxim is very much that if you are young enough, you are good enough and he remains positive.

Form may have been patchy in friendly victories ahead of the tournament, but a run of five wins in the last six – including a magnificent comeback win in Germany – is something substantive to take into the tournament by the young Lions, whose average age is 25 years and 10 months.

The likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane have been feted along with several others, but Anderson believes that England should embrace that expectation and not feel that it represents a millstone around their necks.

Tournament football represents the pinnacle, according to Anderson, who you suggest would have given plenty to represent England more regularly at major tournaments, with all of his caps, barring one, coming in friendlies or qualifiers. He was part of the Euro squads in 1980 and 1988 and the World Cup gatherings of 1982 and 1986.

Anderson’s sole appearance came in a dead rubber group game against Spain in Euro 1980 in Naples, with the defender second fiddle to Phil Neal and Everton’s Gary Stevens otherwise.

So as for pressure then, it is all relative, according to Anderson.

He said: “The message has to be don’t be scared and go out and enjoy it.

“We will be better for it as a nation as well, if they do that.

“Look at Dele Alli, he is only 20 and needs to just enjoy it. The only problem is if he performs the way he has, then the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona want to nick him and they don’t play in our domestic league.

“It’s inevitable that the more success the players get and the better they play with their clubs and national team, they are always going to be talked about and you have to deal with that. But they will.

“We have seen what happened to the Gazza’s of this world in getting built up, so they will be warned against it and know the pitfalls.”

That England’s record in European Championship football – and in tournament football in general – isn’t much to write home about is putting it mildly.

One win at the knock-out stages of a European finals – and even that was on penalties against Spain in Euro 1996 – is a pretty embarrassing statistic.

But in Anderson’s view, history is consigned to the record books, with the here and now of England’s current future unable to impact upon the past – and therefore not shackled by it.

Anderson added: “I am always the optimist. Going to major competitions, nobody likes playing against England.

“I will be interested to see how the likes of Barkley, Dele Alli and Stones all perform on the big stage.

“They are going to be our future and I am quite optimistic.

“All in all, we qualified at a canter and need to take the performances of the past year or so into a major competition as we didn’t in South Africa.

“That is the goal for the manager to take the form into a major competition.”