Terry Venables, anxious to give his clutch of crocked centre-halves as much time to prove their fitness as possible, yesterday committed himself only to picking a squad for next Saturday's Wembley friendly with Hungary, not the subsequent Far Eastern tour.
The 26-man party, which must be trimmed to the championship 22 by the end of the month, includes two of the recently injured, Tony Adams and Gareth Southgate, but omits two others, Gary Pallister and Steve Howey.
Encouragingly for Venables, it also includes Darren Anderton, his first and most successful England discovery, and Alan Shearer. Anderton has played barely a handful of matches for Tottenham this season, but he may have regained his fitness just in time. England have missed his goals and his imagination. Significantly, his return is at the expense of Trevor Sinclair rather than Jason Wilcox, another uncapped player but one who prefers the left flank.
As for Shearer, he must have a constitution to match his eye for goal. It is little more than a fortnight since he underwent a groin operation. While it would be stretching a point to say England have missed his goals - he has not scored at international level for 20 months - Venables will be glad of his presence.
His return means that Stan Collymore drops to the list of stand-by players - which should give him an added incentive if any were needed - in Saturday's FA Cup final. At Wembley, he will be facing another player with something to prove: Pallister. Unlike Adams, he played for his club at the weekend but, while fit enough to contest titles and cups, he is not, is seems, fit enough for friendlies.
His omission is ostensibly because there are doubts as to whether he would last the intensive Euro 96 programme. He has been suffering from sciatica and Venables will speak to Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, before making the final cut. However, given Venables' adoption of a flexible back-three, he may feel he will be passed over anyway.
Adams, who played the full 90 minutes last night in Paul Merson's testimonial, believes he has recovered from a cartilage operation in mid-January, though he will have to wait to see if he feels a reaction from the match to be sure. If fit, he will almost certainly play against Hungary. That was the hint from Venables, who said: "I'm delighted to have Tony and Darren back. Darren has always done well at international level and has impressed everyone since his return. The reports I have been getting on Tony's condition have been very encouraging. It is now vital to give both as much involvement as possible before I have to make up my mind."
Venables will speak to Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, about Howey, who has a hamstring problem, before naming his party for the Far East trip next week. At present Southgate is more likely to make the squad.
Venables' plans could yet be disrupted by the FA Cup final. Even without Pallister and Collymore, seven of his squad are involved and a replay - scheduled for Thursday - would rule them out of the Hungary game and, equally important, a week's preparation. Paul Gascoigne will already be missing; he plays for Rangers in the Scottish Cup final that weekend.
Exactly where Venables will decide his final squad is still in doubt. He made yesterday's selection from Peking where he has been inspecting the notorious Workers' Stadium pitch, on which David Seaman broke his ankle last May. While Venables said there had been "significant improvement" it still "needed work" before he will risk his precious squad on it.
Ted Buxton, Venables' chief scout, will watch the Chinese play on it next week after which England will decide if their match, on 23 May, goes ahead. If the pitch fails the test the players will undergo theirs in Hong Kong.
ENGLAND SQUAD (Friendly v Hungary, Wembley, 18 May): Seaman (Arsenal), Flowers (Blackburn), Walker (Tottenham); G Neville (Manchester Utd), R Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), M Wright (Liverpool), Southgate (Aston Villa), Campbell (Tottenham), Pearce (Nottm Forest), P Neville (Manchester Utd), Ince (Internazionale), Platt (Arsenal), Lee (Newcastle), Redknapp (Liverpool), Wise (Chelsea), McManaman (Liverpool), Wilcox (Blackburn), Anderton (Tottenham), Stone (Nottingham Forest), Beardsley (Newcastle), Barmby (Middlesbrough), Shearer (Blackburn), Sheringham (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Newcastle), Fowler (Liverpool). Stand-by: James (Liverpool); A Wright, Ehiogu (both Aston Villa), Sinclair (Queen's Park Rangers), Collymore (Liverpool).
Party for tour to China and Hong Kong, 20 to 27 May, to be announced next week.Reuse content