FOOTBALL: ENGLAND CALLING: FIVE FRESH THOUGHTS FOR KEEGAN'S FIRST SQUAD
Sunday 14 March 1999
Two years ago this month, the triumphal chant of "Ye-Ye-, Ye-bo-ah" finally became no more than a forgotten whisper around Elland Road, after the unpredictable Ghanaian was dropped, fined and banished by George Graham. "Lee-Lee-, Lee- Bow-yer", similar sounding but in honour of a very different sort of player, was always likely to become the more enduring song of praise under Graham, who - pace Ginola - loves a willing worker. Taken to Leeds by Howard Wilkinson (now, of course, a friend in high places), who had made him Britain's most expensive teenager when paying Charlton pounds 2.6m for a 19-year-old, Bowyer is now being used in his most effective role, as a box-to-box player particularly adept at picking up pieces within shooting distance of goal. His vision and range of passing have improved, while his bite in the tackle was never in doubt, sometimes erring on the rash side of committed. More mature off the field too, he deserves to be forgiven for once turning down an England Under-21 tour, and awarded a chance at the higher level, where he could become a valuable amalgam of David Batty and David Platt.
After a year of "hell" - according to a Sun headline - could Chris Sutton discover that there is a footballing heaven after all, under Kevin Keegan? After being put in purdah by Glenn Hoddle for refusing to play for England B against Chile last February, the Blackburn striker suffered numerous injury setbacks. Although Keegan is not enamoured of anyone who will not play for a national side, he also does not believe "you should close the door on someone completely". It is to be hoped that logic will prevail and the former Norwich man will be selected for the squad to face Poland in the Euro 2000 qualifier on Saturday week. By any criteria Sutton (below) should have made far more than his one England performance. If Keegan intends to start with Alan Shearer, there are few more lethal partners for the England captain than his old ally at Ewood Park, thus reuniting the famous "SAS". Though inclined to be moody at times, Sutton, at 26, has developed into a player with excellent ground skills with good heading ability who links well with his colleagues. He is also a proficient finisher, as he displayed last season when his 35 Premiership goals equalled the records of Dion Dublin and Michael Owen.
All that Ray Parlour did wrong in the era of Glenn Hoddle was to make a joke about Eileen Drewery's faith-healing. His suggestion that she gave him "a short back and sides" cut him off from the eccentric coach's plans. So England forfeited the benefits of an Arsenal player who has unexpectedly benefited enormously from the arrival at Highbury of Arsene Wenger. Let's not pretend that Parlour could live in the same front room of creative excellence as Zinedine Zidane, or has the natural skill of David Beckham (who some argue, unconvincingly, could not play in the same team without duplication of responsibility). But with Paul Ince suspended and in decline, Nicky Butt injured and David Batty lacking match fitness, Parlour is the player to give England the essential industry that was missing in the last match against France. Wenger is forgivably biased. On the other hand, he is also surprised by the way in which this once wayward talent has prospered. "I always knew that he had great energy, but the most important thing is that he gives you reliability." For Keegan, reliability is a priority. Parlour may not have breathtaking originality, but few English players do responsible, simple things so well at such pace.
Sherwood has been the best attacking English midfielder in the country for the past two seasons, yet his claims for international recognition were consistently overlooked by Glenn Hoddle. He is as combative a tackler as Paul Ince, a superior passer over any distance and has a more acute eye for goal. So where's the logic? He could play behind Shearer and Owen or equally adopt Ince's more defensive station. Admittedly, neither Sherwood's surly public image nor his suspect temper, witnessed most recently at Leeds on Wednesday night, further his cause much, but many good judges think the Tottenham man could do a passable impression of Bryan Robson, Captain Marvel himself. He has the engine for the role and while no Bobby Charlton in terms of the incisive long pass, was the hub of the Blackburn side who won the championship. Tottenham's own unbeaten run, ended by Leeds, coincided with Sherwood's arrival and he has already contributed some critical goals to their revival, as he showed again yesterday. Perhaps, now that he is back in the more fashionable realms of his home city, he will catch the eye more readily. He has four games. If Roy Hodgson, his old coach at Blackburn, gets the England job after Keegan, I wouldn't fancy his chances.
Steve Guppy has a cross to bear. He has more than one, actually - so many, indeed, Kevin Keegan must surely be considering national service for the winger he deemed too timid to play in the top flight for the Magpies. Only David Beckham has come close to delivering as many crosses in the Premiership this season as the late developer who was rejected by Southampton at 19, started his working life as a bricklayer and who played for the England semi-professional team against Wales at Cheltenham in 1992. Guppy (right) will be 30 on 29 March, two days after the England professional team meet Poland at Wembley. He is not the same player as the 25-year- old that Keegan plucked from Wycombe for pounds 150,000 in August 1994 and off- loaded to Port Vale for pounds 225,000 three months later. He was only given a bit-part role at Newcastle, as a second-half substitute against Manchester United in a League Cup tie. Keegan felt he was overawed even on the training ground. But now "Nervous Norris", as he was cruelly nicknamed by his colleagues, has proven his mettle and shown his worth. The evidence is right there at the top of the Carling OPTA crossing chart.
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