Cole in cold as Venables warms to Sheringham

Click to follow
The Independent Online


After the experiment with Matthew Le Tissier in Dublin last month Terry Venables reverted to type yesterday. "Sometimes you have to go with your intuition," said the England coach, a statement that could be roughly translated as "never mind public opinion, I'll pick who I want".

Thus Andy Cole was left out in the cold at a snow-capped Bisham Abbey. Instead of making his international debut against Uruguay at Wembley tonight he will watch Teddy Sheringham filling the centre-forward position he covets.

Elsewhere, too, Venables has gone for the tried and trusted. There are no debutants, not even Warren Barton whose first cap, in Dublin, has been struck from the record. With his eighth team Venables has given the clearest indication yet of the side he would like to pit against Brazil, Sweden and Japan this summer.

Substitute David Seaman, Alan Shearer (both injured) and Paul Ince (rested due to legal problems) for Tim Flowers, Sheringham and Barry Venison and you have Venables' first-choice XI. The only other doubtful position is John Barnes' which could be under threat from Dennis Wise, if he is not in jail, or Paul Gascoigne, if he is not in hospital.

Gascoigne, incidentally, has been cleared to return to "full match play" from the second week of April by both his London surgeon and club doctor. That could mean playing for Lazio against relegation-bound Reggiana in Rome on 9 April.

At present it is Barnes who will sit on the left-hand side of midfield, with Darren Anderton on the right; David Platt pushes forward from the centre while Venison holds the anchor role. Ahead of them, Peter Beardsley will play behind Sheringham.

Sheringham's inclusion will raise eyebrows, especially since he is a former Venables purchase when Tottenham manager. However, he is in excellent form and, though he lacks Cole's pace and trickery, he is a shrewd, accurate passer, a decent finisher and a thoughtful target man. Venables made the point that he seldom gives the ball away "which is important at international level if you want to be a passing team".

Like Beardsley, Venison, Platt and, these days, Barnes, Sheringham plays within his limitations and does the simple things well. This is an attribute Venables admires. It is all right being able to bamboozle defenders but international players are less regularly fooled than Premiership ones and, as England found against Romania, are much harder to get the ball off once you have lost it.

"He is not a flashy player. You either like him or you do not," Venables said. "Those that play with him probably appreciate him more than anyone. He is an intelligent player who will continue to improve."

It is only Sheringham's second start under Venables (he played well against the weak United States side) and his sixth cap in all. The 28-year-old has scored 19 goals for Tottenham this season, but has yet to score for England, though he has had a goal erroneously disallowed for offside.

"I was not too disappointed until I saw it on the video," he said yesterday. "I feel under pressure to score, especially in this role. I know fingers will be pointed at me if I do not."

Venables' decision to forgo experimentation in favour of selecting what he appears to regard as his best side is both a tribute to Uruguay's ability, and a consequence of the few games he has had. The match marks the anniversary of his first game, against Denmark last March. Yet it is only his seventh in charge, not including the aborted game against the Republic of Ireland. In that time he has used 30 players, nine of them new caps. Of that nine only Le Saux and Anderton are first choices and Venables is beginning to feel the time for experimenting is over.

"The younger lads need games behind them," he said. "I cannot give other people games if there are not any to play in."

The side possesses another Venables trademark, its flexibility. All four midfielders have operated in the centre this season. At present Barnes is in a holding role at Liverpool, prompting from deep, while Anderton is duplicating Platt's position for Tottenham.

His club manager, Gerry Francis, believes his long-term future is there and the transfer speculation currently surrounding Gheorghe Popescu suggests he may be about to make the move permanently.

Anderton said: "I prefer playing there, because it keeps me involved but I am being picked for England as a wide player and, if I thought playing in the centre for Spurs was affecting my England chances, I would have to go to Gerry and have a word with him."

Uruguay showed their quality in drawing with Spain recently and they ought to provide a stern test for England. Ruben Sosa, the Internazionale striker, fondly remembered by Aston Villa fans for missing in the Uefa Cup penalty shoot-out against their side earlier this season, is injured but Daniel Fonseca should play. The Roma forward has been in rich form this season and England must beware of giving him the chance to demonstrate his prowess at free-kicks.

Equally significantly, after events in Dublin, the night will be a test for England's supporters. Both Venables and the Football Association want fans to maintain the respect recently accorded to foreign anthems at Wembley. Much hangs on a trouble-free night.

European Championship, page 38