I'm puzzled by Peter Taylor's
decision to axe the 30-somethings from England's squad. I'm also baffled
that new manager Sven Goran Eriksson has apparently had no influence on the
I would have thought that with the rare luxury of two friendlies ahead, the
time was right to build some confidence, stability and continuity into the
team for the vital World cup qualifiers against Finland and Albania in the
If England had
decided to forge ahead with a youth policy then fair enough, start now and
stick with it. But Eriksson is already on record as saying he wants a blend
of experience and youth and he certainly has not given up on qualification
for Korea and Japan in 2002.
England have just come off the back of two dismal performances against
Germany and Finland, there is talk of divisions in the squad, there are all
sorts of rumours flying around, and morale appears to be low, so a couple of
decent results against Italy and Spain would do wonders for everyone.
Now it looks like the team will change again for the friendly with Spain in
February and change again for Finland in March and I'm not so sure whether
that is a good idea.
If you are going to experiment then the time to do it is in a friendly. But
I can think of far easier friendlies than playing the Italians in their own
You need to nurture young players gradually, the way that Manchester United
have done over the years. If Taylor's experimental team gets well beaten in
Turin it could seriously knock the confidence of some of the youngsters and
retard their international progress. Basically, it would ruin the whole
point of the exercise.
If Eriksson isn't going to pursue this youth policy then there is no point
pursuing it now. Conversely, what happens if Taylor's team win 3-0? What
does Eriksson do then? Will he be brave enough to ditch the kids?
I would have thought it was in the best interests of everyone for the new
manager to start having an influence as soon as possible so there is a
thread of continuity. But, apparently, he will not talk to Taylor until the
squad arrives in Italy next week.
I'm surprised that Teddy Sheringham has not been included because he is
currently the best player in the country. He may be 34, but he is playing
the best football of his career and still has something to offer his
country, certainly for the rest of this World Cup campaign, if not in the
At the very least, I would have him on the bench because he will always
offer you something as a substitute, either with his technical ability or in
Paul Merson is another 30-plus player who is bang in-form and is on record
as saying he regrets his decision to retire from international football.
There is no-one in the squad with the ability and experience Sheringham and
Merson can offer.
It is understandable that Taylor has recruited many of the players who
served him so well when he was in charge of the Under-21s. But it is a huge
problem that B internationals appear to be a thing of the past. They would
have offered a gradual step up.
I don't question the inclusion of Michael Ball, Jamie Carragher, Nicky Butt
and Phil Neville in an international squad but it is unusual when they
aren't even regulars with their clubs side.
Ball is a terrifically talented player who appears to have lost his way a
little at Everton, while Seth Johnson is playing for a struggling Derby
side. They are both a million miles away from playing in a competitive
international. When it comes to the crunch you wouldn't play those two down
the left hand side against Germany.
If Taylor has opted for youth then why not go the whole way and pick Joe
Cole and Matthew Carrick, two of the most promising Premiership youngsters?
I'm yet to be convinced by the talk of a conveyor belt bringing through lots
of young English talent. Many of the players in the squad have looked decent
in the Premiership but there is a huge step up to international level. In
Turin we should find out whether some of them can take that step. I just
hope it doesn't go horribly wrong.
One decision I wouldn't have any qualms about is the appointment of David
Beckham as captain. He will not be the most vocal captain there has ever
been but he is a brilliant player, he will be playing in the centre of
midfield and will command enormous respect.
Temperamentally, I think he is maturing and is now on the right side of that
thin line that divides a competitive streak with irresponsibility.
Finally, there has been a lot of rubbish talked about the damaging effects
of gambling and card schools.
I made 621 appearances for Liverpool and played cards before every one of
them. I found it helped to take my mind off the game. We didn't bet a lot of
money and I'll be staggered if the amounts talked about with the England
squad are true.
No-one can convince me gambling was the reason for England's poor
performances in Euro 2000.
As for talk of divisions in the camp, the point to remember is not whether
you like a team-mate, it's whether you respect his ability and can trust him
on the pitch. That is all that matters.