Tony Woodcock talks Brian Clough and German football

Tony Woodcock talks Brian Clough and German football

It is Wednesday morning and Cologne is full of Englishmen pontificating about Gareth Southgate’s selections. Most of them are bleary-eyed fans, clutching a bag full of McDonalds as they head for the train station. Next stop: Gelsenkirchen.

Yet Tony Woodcock is going nowhere in a hurry. Tucked away by the woods on the edge of town, this has been his second home since he left Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest to join FC Koln in 1979. He is fluent in German and his daughter lives just around the corner.

‘I was coached here by the late, great Rinus Michels,’ says Woodcock, the former England striker, who became the Bundesliga’s most expensive player when he moved over all those years ago.

‘Rinus coached Johan Cruyff and Holland’s total football team. He was known as the General and he would always say: ‘Hold onto my tactic’. We had 16 internationals but we all played in our correct positions and everyone was 100% clear on their role. We wouldn’t knock high balls into the box if we had a little centre-forward.

‘I look at this England team and question if everyone’s on board with the plan. We have three natural left-footed players – Bukayo Saka, Cole Palmer, Phil Foden – who all play on the right-side for their clubs. Phil Foden’s doing a half-decent job on the left but we’re talking about the footballer of the year here. How do you get his silky skills into the game?

Mail Sport met former England star Tony Woodcock, who gave his views on the Three Lions, reflected on his career, and backed Mail Sport’s ‘We’re Backing England’ campaign

Woodcock (left) became the Bundesliga's most expensive player when he moved from Nottingham Forest to Koln

Woodcock (left) became the Bundesliga’s most expensive player when he moved from Nottingham Forest to Koln

‘The thought process seems to be that we’ve got to fit all of these guys into the team. You could compare it to the golden generation of Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard. There’s not much of a fear factor so I think a decision has got to be made where two of these excellent players are left out. As Brian Clough always said, the hardest thing to do in football is to keep it simple.’

Back at FC Koln’s training ground, Woodcock’s picture hangs upon the walls, alongside the likes of Wolfgang Overath, Toni Schumacher and Pierre Littbarski. He remains a cult hero in these parts. A fluent German speaker who, at 68, can revel in yesteryear’s stories in multiple languages.

His standout memories of Clough? ‘There’s a few! I once played a reserve game for Forest up in Newcastle. I had nicely-trimmed beard – three days’ growth – played up front and scored a fantastic volley. We get back late to Nottingham and everyone’s told they can have Sunday and Monday off.

‘I get a call saying the manager wants to see you Monday morning, 9am. I get two busses from Eastwood to Nottingham and Brian says, ‘Come in, tell me about Saturday’. I tell him I’m very happy with my performance and he says: ‘I’m not here to talk about your performance, I’m here to talk about you coming unshaven’.

‘I said it was trimmed nicely and I just wanted to be a bit different. He says: ‘Young man, if you want to be different then score a hat-trick every week… if you ever come unshaven again then you will never play in this team… get out!’

Woodcock’s facial hair quickly disappeared but the retro perm survived as he became one of German football’s posterboys – scoring 39 goals in 131 games. For years he remained the leading English goal-scorer in this part of the world, although Jadon Sancho overtook him in April and Harry Kane is quickly catching up at Bayern Munich. Kane and Woodcock have plenty in common so it unsurprising that Woodcock sympathises with England’s under-fire captain.

‘I was 20 when I came over from Nottingham Forest, where we used to train next-door to the abattoir. The change for me was crazy but it’s different for Harry Kane. He’s a settled, 30-year-old married man. 

‘He’s been doing great in Munich. There’s been a lot of criticism of him recently but we know he’s a proven goal scorer so, again, it’s about how you get the best out of your players.

He recalls Clough kicking off about his facial hair, which quickly disappeared after

He recalls Clough kicking off about his facial hair, which quickly disappeared after

He was coached by legendary manager Rinus Michels during his time in Cologne

He was coached by legendary manager Rinus Michels during his time in Cologne 

Woodcock believes England need to 'get some legs around' Harry Kane as he is not the paciest

Woodcock believes England need to ‘get some legs around’ Harry Kane as he is not the paciest

‘Defenders won’t want balls coming into the box for Harry but everyone seems happy to just keep possession. The first thought now seems to be to play an easy ball. You’ve got no one taking that risk. You’re not on the edge of your seat. Goalkeepers have more possession than some of the players these days. It worked for Barcelona with Lionel Messi but now every team is trying to do it.

‘Why don’t you go back to the old John Toshack and Kevin Keegan and play two up -front? Kane’s never taken defenders away with his pace. He’s England’s leading goal-scorer and he’s Germany’s top goal-scorer and you need to get some legs around him.’

There is no doubt where Woodcock’s loyalties lie. His first home is still back in Hampstead, north London, and he supports Mail Sport’s ‘We’re Backing England’ campaign – eager to see Southgate’s players in a final against the hosts next month.

He continues: ‘If you go back to 1966 when Sir Alf Ramsey chose Jack Charlton at centre-half. Jack says: ‘Hey, there’s better centre halves’. But his partnership with Bobby Moore was going to be the best partnership. It’s not about individual players, it’s about building a team.

‘The games can only get better. What an incentive: the possibility of meeting Germany in the final in Berlin. The games can only get better so let’s get behind the group in their hour of need.’

Plug for web: Tony Woodcock was hosting a Sports Speakers event with German World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski. 

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