England axe will do James good says Hoddle

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The Independent Online
It may be, to quote a former incumbent, "the impossible job", but an England coach does have some advantages over his club counterparts.

One of those is the luxury of choice and Glenn Hoddle exercised it yesterday. He acted where Roy Evans must delay and dropped David James. While the Liverpool manager has only two novice alternatives to his hapless goalkeeper, Hoddle was able to pick four capped No 1s in the squad to face Georgia in the home World Cup qualifier tomorrow week.

Evans had asked Hoddle to keep faith with his goalkeeper to prevent his confidence from slipping even further, but Hoddle thought a rest from international duty would do James good.

"It was a tough decision but as other goalkeepers are now ahead of David on form it would be difficult to justify keeping him in," Hoddle said. "I watched him on Saturday and he made a few mistakes as he has been doing recently. I spoke to him afterwards and he can come back. All goalkeepers go through these spells.

There is concern that James needs every encouragement in case his collapse proves as terminal as Mervyn Day's many years ago, but Hoddle feels sure his form and confidence are not irrecoverable.

"Taking him out of the England set-up might be the right thing to do," he insisted. "It is completely different to the Paul Gascoigne situation [when he was kept in the squad], this is purely a football matter."

Hoddle revealed that Ray Clemence, England's goalkeeping coach, has already visited James at Melwood, Liverpool's training ground, to conduct a goalkeeping clinic with him. Further visits are possible and Clemence is in touch with Joe Corrigan, his former England rival and now Liverpool's goalkeeping coach.

Since Georgia hardly tested England while being well beaten in Tbilisi, and David Seaman is back from injury, James' absence is more important to the player than England. More relevant for Hoddle is the presence of Alan Shearer.

Assuming neither are injured before next Wednesday, Hoddle will be able to pair Shearer and Teddy Sheringham - Terry Venables' cutting edge - together for the first time in his six-match reign. Shearer and Seaman are part of a near-team full of returning injury victims. Also recovered are Ian Walker, Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Tony Adams, Gary Pallister, David Beckham and Les Ferdinand.

Graeme Le Saux has been retained, although his public discontent at Blackburn means he is unlikely to play club football for the rest of the season. "At least he will not get injured, I wish a few more would fall out with their club," Hoddle said. With all but the Newcastle quartet in action this week, he was not entirely joking.

Even with the inevitable withdrawals, England should easily overcome Georgia. Since losing 2-0 at home to England in November, the East Europeans have changed managers without any discernible improvement.

To make way for the returnees, eight players who were either chosen or called-up for last month's win over Mexico have been omitted.

Among them are Matt Le Tissier, who even Hoddle accepts is injured this time; Dominic Matteo, fit for a change but no longer in the Liverpool side, and Nick Barmby, whose loss of form has finally been noticed. The perpetually injured Darren Anderton is also out, while David May, Stan Collymore and Lee Bowyer, late call-ups last time, will again have to rely on injuries to figure.

Gascoigne, after four days' training and 20 minutes of first- team action, was judged to be not yet ready to return, but Hoddle made it clear he would be back for the trip to Poland in late May.

Another Italia '90 veteran may not be so lucky. Despite a return to fitness and goalscoring form, David Platt is again left out and his England career would appear to be over at the age of 30. This is Platt's reported view and, although Hoddle asserts that "the door remains open" he has yet to play the former England captain.

If Platt does not return, his gradual, unremarked exit from the international stage has an element of sadness. While he has not been everyone's favourite, his goalscoring record - 27 goals in 62 appearances - is remarkable for a midfielder and the last-minute volley against Belgium in Bologna will long be remembered. His last act as an England player was to score in the penalty shoot-out against Germany in Euro 96.

England squad

World Cup Group Two qualifier v Georgia, Wembley, Wednesday 30 April

Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Spurs), Flowers (Blackburn), Martyn (Leeds); Adams (Arsenal), Keown (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester Utd), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Southgate (Aston Villa), G Neville (Manchester Utd), Campbell (Tottenham), Le Saux (Blackburn), P Neville (Manchester Utd), Beckham (Manchester Utd), Ince (Internazionale), Batty (Newcastle), Lee (Newcastle) McManaman (Liverpool), Redknapp (Liverpool), Butt (Manchester Utd), Shearer (Newcastle), Ferdinand (Newcastle), Sheringham (Tottenham), Fowler (Liverpool), Wright (Arsenal).