Whether it was the nature of yesterday's back-page headlines that upset Glenn Hoddle, or the news that Paul Scholes had joined Alan Shearer and Michael Owen in pulling out with a hamstring strain, was impossible to tell; but for once the decent humour that has just about carried the England coach through the turbulence of the past three months was conspicuous by its absence.
By the evening, however, after training in the bracing afternoon chill and in the absence of Paul Ince and Tony Adams as well as Shearer, Hoddle was feeling sufficiently extravagant to name Tottenham's Sol Campbell as his captain for the night. David Seaman and Gareth Southgate were the other obvious contenders but naming Campbell, who led his country against Belgium in a World Cup warm-up game in Casablanca, was undoubtedly the most positive gesture Hoddle could have made in the circumstances.
"Sol leads by example and the players respond to him," Hoddle said. "He did a good job when he led the team in Morocco but Wembley will be different. I'm sure it will be a proud occasion for him and some time in the future he could be earmarked for the job full-time."
Owen apart, Campbell was England's outstanding player at France '98 and he continues to lead by example for Spurs, never more so than with his outstanding performance against Liverpool in last week's Worthington Cup tie.
"It is a great honour and a wonderful feeling," Campbell said. "There is an added feeling because the game is at Wembley, but I must not let the occasion take over my performance."
Hoddle's critics once again found plenty to home in on, most notably the memory of England's last match at the national stadium, a sterile goalless draw with Bulgaria in Euro 2000.
The stakes are not so high tonight, but whatever he learns from an experimental line-up the result and the nature of the performance will, inconveniently for Hoddle, be of more significance than he has been prepared to admit. "It's important that some of the players who haven't played for a while get a chance to show us what they can do against good quality international opposition," he insisted. "For me as coach that's the most important reason for the game. We would like to learn those things in a winning way of course, to get the confidence going, but Poland and Sweden are the two games that we've got to make sure we get right."
The injuries to Shearer and Owen obliged him to scrap his original plans for this game. "I would like to have brought in certain players and I had a certain situation in my mind," he said, "but that had to go out of the window and it's the second or third option that I'm looking at. That's not to the detriment of the side I'm going to put out but there are certain players I might have played if, say, Michael and Alan had been fit."
In normal circumstances that would mean giving youth a chance, and as far as the industrious Lee Hendrie is concerned that might yet be the case. But with Leicester's Emile Heskey still struggling with an ankle injury, Hoddle's options in attack are not as fresh, although few players deserve another chance more than the thirtysomethings, Dion Dublin and Ian Wright, who are likely to be paired together.
In Scholes' absence Paul Merson could, like Hendrie and Dublin, benefit from Aston Villa's present run of collective good form and it will be a surprise if Rio Ferdinand is not given another chance to impress in the sweeper role. But while Hoddle may be tempted to tinker even more with his line-up, the desire not to be embarrassed by a Czech side with a 100 per cent record from three European Championship qualifying games, and the lingering hope of a happy christmas, may temper his enthusiasm.
ENGLAND (possible): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Man Utd), Ferdinand (West Ham), Campbell; Anderton (both Tottenham), Beckham (Man Utd), Hendrie (Aston Villa), Le Saux (Chelsea); Merson (Aston Villa); Wright (West Ham), Dublin (Aston Villa).Reuse content