Football: Angry Cole insists he is fit for England duty: Venables omits Newcastle's striker from squad to face Romania at Wembley after Keegan says injury should rule him out

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The Independent Online
THE debate over Andy Cole's continued omission from the England squad changed yesterday from the question of whether Terry Venables was ever going to pick him to whether he is allowed to do so.

Cole is suffering from shin splints and although he is an ever- present with Newcastle this season, his manager is not prepared to allow him to play for England. That, at least, is the England coach's understanding after speaking to Kevin Keegan, Newcastle's manager, on Friday.

The player himself last night insisted that he was fit enough to play and doubted that Keegan would have said otherwise. Perhaps unwisely, he then intimated that Venables had other reasons for leaving him out of the 19-man squad to face Romania at Wembley next Wednesday.

'I have done as much as any centre-forward in the squad,' Cole said. 'I outscored them last season and this season I have scored 11 goals in 11 games.

'If Kevin Keegan tells me tomorrow he has pulled me out that is fair enough, but he has said nothing to me yet and I don't think he would have done so without telling me. That is not his style.

'This is the fourth time I have been left out, but the first time it has got to me. I'm gutted. I don't think shin splints is the reason for it. I have played every game this season and though I am only 80 per cent fit I do not think it is showing. Why am I not in? Your guess is as good as mine.'

Keegan is in France and Venables has been unable to speak to him since Friday. However, the England coach insisted: 'Kevin said if Cole was selected he would have to be withdrawn.

'He said he has been playing him because he is such a specialist finisher that, even if he is only at 70 per cent, it is worth it at club level. But at international level he would not be ready and, since he spends most of the week resting, there would be no point in him even coming to train.'

Venables would not be drawn on whether he would have picked Cole if fit but added: 'He has been doing very well this season and I have been looking closely at him. He has improved from last year but has looked restricted by the injury. If he is going to be judged with England it is only fair that he is fit.'

Cole's ire is understandable and it discounts an earlier suggestion that he was not bothered about playing for England. However, Terry McDermott, Keegan's assistant, put the issue in perspective when he said: 'I can understand that he is disappointed but it is probably for his own good.'

Such is the profusion of in-form strikers that Cole's absence is unlikely to concern Venables. He is less fortunate when it comes to cover for another possible absentee, the midfield anchor, Paul Ince.

Ince, who has a niggling knee injury, is in the squad, but there must be a strong chance that he will be pulled out after Manchester United's match on Saturday. With Barry Venison, Kevin Richardson, David Platt and David Batty all injured, it is hard to see who else can assume his role. Venables will not welcome a weekend call from Alex Ferguson, Ince's manager.

An alternative is to play three central defenders, which would enable Venables to give a debut to the impressive Neil Ruddock. However, Venables intends, if possible, to maintain the 4-4-2 formation that beat America last month.

One likely debutant is Robert Lee, who Venables agreed was a natural replacement for Platt. Tony Adams, as expected, will captain the side in Platt's absence. He becomes England's 35th post- war captain. It is an honour that seemed inevitable after Adams' memorable debut against Spain in 1987, but inconceivable after he was jailed for driving offences three years ago.

Romania have been reminded by the Football Association that they agreed to bring a full-strength squad to Wembley. Romania play France in the European Championship on Saturday and have already gathered their players to prepare. Angel Iordanescu, the coach, has suggested it will be hard to keep his squad together.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Romania, Wembley, 12 October): Seaman (Arsenal), Flowers (Blackburn), Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester Utd), Ruddock (Liverpool), Le Saux (Blackburn), Pearce (Nottm Forest), Anderton (Tottenham), Lee (Newcastle), Beardsley (Newcastle), Le Tissier (Southampton), Ince (Manchester Utd), Ferdinand (QPR), Wright (Arsenal), Shearer (Blackburn), Sheringham (Tottenham), Barnes (Liverpool), Wise (Chelsea).

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