Football: Cole and Sutton on England strike path

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The Independent Online
By calling up the in-form strikers Andy Cole and Chris Sutton, the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, yesterday signalled a willingness to contemplate change.

However, as Norman Fox points out, tinkering with a winning team can lead to problems.

Glenn Hoddle is about to face a problem that has challenged and sometimes begun the fall of several previous England managers. The squad he announced yesterday for the friendly match against Cameroon at Wembley a week today gives him the opportunity to experiment. But he knows that what an England team who have qualified for next summer's World Cup finals really need is continuity.

By including Manchester United's Andy Cole, Blackburn Rovers' Chris Sutton and West Ham's increasingly impressive 19-year-old defender Rio Ferdinand, Hoddle has suggested he is in a mind to make changes, though probably not dramatic ones.

Wholesale alterations destroy seamless progression so neither Cole nor Ferdinand - who was dropped from the squad to play Moldova because of a drink-driving conviction - is guaranteed to start at Wembley.

However, both may come off the bench, provided the Cameroon team are not causing the sort of embarrassment that at Italia '90 they imposed on Argentina, Romania and Colombia before Gary Lineker's goals in the quarter-finals ended their run. Their form since then has been less impressive but individual skill is never lacking.

The temptation for Hoddle to give one more chance to the undoubted but, internationally, too rarely proven talents of Matt Le Tissier has been resisted, which could well be the closing of that long debate. How ironic that Hoddle, who himself suffered the scepticism of so many during his playing career, should in the end turn away from a player with whom he would be expected to have such empathy.

Not for the first time, Hoddle has done some fine tuning of his established squad on the basis of current form. With eight goals in three games, Cole has recently appeared to stress that all the doubts that had shadowed his earlier days at Old Trafford have disappeared. Certainly, Hoddle seems to think so: "It's good to see him with a smile on his face and putting the ball in the back of the net - he's a much better all-round player now, with inner belief". That, though, is only a part of the argument.

For a start, Hoddle is well aware that Ian Wright, who played against Italy, is the man in possession. Cole is so similar that the two are interchangeable. However, that word possession dogs them both. Neither has ever completely mastered the art of control with back to goal. Both need the ball played in such a way that they can run on to it.

Such deficiences make it certain that, once fit, Alan Shearer will return and that perhaps, when he is also recovered, Les Ferdinand will move ahead of them both in the striking order.

Stan Collymore's absence from this squad, also on medical grounds, may have distanced him even further from Hoddle's eventual World Cup finals squad.

By including Cole and Blackburn's similarly in-form Sutton, Hoddle has merely made up for absentees rather than offered promises for the future.

Although still many months away, the finals are near enough for him to have the core of his definitive team placed, if not fixed, in his mind. It would be difficult not to retain a defence containing the superbly dependable David Seaman, the increasingly internationally mature Sol Campbell, the inspirational Tony Adams and the practical Gareth Southgate.

Graeme Le Saux has a good chance of returning to the team when his elbow injury is mended, but meanwhile the Neville family give plenty of cover.

David Beckham, Paul Ince and David Batty form a more or less immovable midfield holding line and Paul Gascoigne's surprisingly revived energy and never-doubted originality could yet be the team's winning gem. Although Rangers have a match next Saturday, Hoddle believes Walter Smith will approve Gascoigne's release.

So, in the long term, all that remains is for Shearer to return, presumably to link with the selfless Terry Sheringham, and Hoddle can go confidently through a handful of friendly games with the confidence of a settled team. That is, of course, if he resists the temptation to tinker too much, which was the downfall of Graham Taylor. And there is always the nagging doubt about injuries - the ever present pitfall or excuse.

ENGLAND SQUAD (International friendly v Cameroon, Wembley, 15 November): Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Tottenham), Martyn (Leeds); Southgate (Aston Villa), G Neville (Manchester Utd), Pallister (Manchester Utd), Campbell (Tottenham), Adams (Arsenal), P Neville (Manchester Utd), R Ferdinand (West Ham), Hinchcliffe (Everton), Ince (Liverpool), Scholes (Manchester Utd), Gascoigne (Rangers), Beckham (Manchester Utd), Batty (Newcastle), Butt (Manchester Utd), Lee (Newcastle), McManaman (Liverpool), Sheringham (Manchester Utd), Wright (Arsenal), Cole (Manchester Utd), Fowler (Liverpool), Sutton (Blackburn Rovers), Merson (Middlesbrough).

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