Football: Beardsley and Waddle likely to lead gift selection: Skill and form will be the overriding criteria when Terry Venables announces his first England squad today. Joe Lovejoy reports

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TERRY VENABLES will be marked as much for style as for technical merit when he names his first squad as England's coach today, and the early omens are good, with the most gifted footballers in the country all assured of selection for the friendly at home to Denmark on 9 March.

It should be a statement of the obvious, of course, but it was not always the case in the all-too-recent past, when some of Graham Taylor's choices were as offensive as his language. To the regret of none bar the blue and white half of Sheffield, the new broom will sweep out the Carlton Palmers in favour of men who really belong on the international stage. Welcome back Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle.

Venables is anxious to win over all sections of the public, who are not as united as the media when it comes to applauding his appointment, and also to set the right tone. Choosing Beardsley and Waddle, both illogically ignored by the previous regime, will help to do both.

The overriding criteria are to be skill and form. Age, or an independent mind, will no longer be grounds for disqualification. At the same time, the man whose brief is to build a team good enough to win the 1996 European Championship has a healthy respect for experience, and will not be making changes for change's sake. The baby will not be tossed out with the bathwater.

The skeleton of Taylor's team - Adams and Ince, Platt and Shearer - will remain, but the bones will be fleshed out in more abundant fashion. Venables will have more time for players with potential, such as Matthew Le Tissier and Darren Anderton, and less for the proven under-achievers, like Nigel Clough and Ian Wright.

To start at the beginning, the goalkeepers pick themselves, with Tim Flowers ready to displace David Seaman, and Kevin Pressman of Sheffield Wednesday rated third.

The most notable casualty is likely to come in defence, with Stuart Pearce tipped to lose not just the captaincy but his place in the squad. Venables has a long-standing admiration for Nigel Winterburn, and also speaks highly of Graeme Le Saux, who has come on in leaps and bounds since his transfer from Chelsea to Blackburn Rovers, and is now widely regarded as the best left-back in the country.

Pearce's regular partner at full- back, Lee Dixon, is also under threat, the new coach admitting in the past to a preference for Paul Parker.

Tony Adams and Gary Pallister are automatic selections in central defence - a situation which is no longer true of Des Walker, who seems to have been in decline since his morale-sapping sojourn in Italy. Venables is a Neil Ruddock fan, but has found the 'Razor' disappointingly blunt of late and, for all the anti-ageist talk, Steve Bruce is probably a bit long in the tooth, in his 34th year, to get a first call.

Earl Barrett provides cover at right-back, as well as in the middle, and if another specialist centre-half is deemed necessary, Wimbledon's John Scales would win most managerial votes.

Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne and David Platt - all rivalling Adams as potential captains - are certainties in midfield, as must be David Batty on the evidence of his bristling form since Blackburn removed the defensive yoke which inhibited him at Leeds United. Andy Sinton, an adaptable all-rounder, is very much a Venables-type player. So, too, is Ian Crook of Norwich City. Carlton Palmer, praise be, is definitely not.

As ever, most interest will focus on the glamour boys - the forward positions, where Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Andy Cole all feature ahead of Ian Wright, who has been found wanting time and again at international level. If Wright gets in, it will be because Venables favours the selection of blocks of players from one club as a short-cut to cohesion. Seaman, Adams, Winterburn, Wright and the versatile Paul Merson would provide one such cadre. Flowers, Le Saux, Batty, Shearer and possibly even Jason Wilcox from Blackburn could be another.

From the collective to the unique. Beardsley, the cleverest footballer in the Premiership, is back at 33 to manufacture goals for Shearer like he used to make them for Gary Lineker. We must hope he scores a few more this time, too. Ditto Waddle, a month Beardsley's senior, and just as close in terms of talent and technique.

While their return is as invigorating as the change in management, and should get the new era off to a passing, pleasing start, it is unlikely that they will still be around come '96. By then, Venables expects the Andertons and the Le Tissiers to have learned enough from them to take over.

ENGLAND (possible squad): Flowers (Blackburn), Seaman (Arsenal), Pressman (Sheff Wed); Parker (Man United), Barrett (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Man United), Scales (Wimbledon), Winterburn (Arsenal), Le Saux (Blackburn): Ince (Man United), Gascoigne (Lazio), Platt (Sampdoria), Batty (Blackburn), Sinton (Sheff Wed); Waddle (Sheff Wed), Beardsley (Newcastle), Shearer (Blackburn), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers), Cole (Newcastle), Merson (Arsenal), Le Tissier (Southampton).

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