Football: Fowler would have played, says Keegan

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KEVIN KEEGAN said yesterday that he will name the strongest possible England squad for next week's friendly in Hungary - and that Robbie Fowler would have started the match if he had been fit.

Premiership managers have been quick to criticise the timing of the game, but Keegan said he will have no qualms about selecting Manchester United and Arsenal players.

"I will pick as good a squad as I can under the circumstances and I hope everybody is fit and available," he said. "There will be Manchester United and Arsenal players in the squad. If there weren't then it wouldn't be an England squad worthy of the name."

Fowler's broken nose, which he is due to have reset in hospital on Friday, will keep him out of the game, but Keegan said he would otherwise have played.

Keegan was speaking after the launch of the Coca-Cola mini football scheme at Wembley yesterday.

"Robbie would have been selected," Keegan said. "But he has an operation on Friday and he won't be fit. It would have given him a boost just when he needed it. Sometimes in life you get a blow, and then something else happens - and just when you think it can't get any worse something else happens again.

"When you pick the 22 best players in England you should have him in, and I would have but for the fact that he's injured and he's not even an option. But Robbie is young and he has got plenty more opportunities."

Fowler's manager at Lliverpool, Gerard Houllier, suggested yesterday that the player's future at Anfield may be in the balance.

Houllier, usually the epitome of diplomacy, has clearly been disturbed by Fowler's recent behaviour, including his confrontation with Graeme Le Saux and his celebrations in front of Everton fans when he mimicked snorting cocaine.

"The coming weeks will be important for him and his career," said Houllier, who against Leicester tonight could give Sean Dundee his first start for the club alongside Karlheinz Riedle in the absence of Fowler and Michael Owen, who has a hamstring injury. "As a manager you have to deal with all sorts of situations. There are many coming at the same time and sometimes with the same people but I hope they will draw lessons from them.

"They start with a clean sheet, as Robbie will next season. Being a top player comes with some duties and responsibilities, and he has to live with that. He's a Liverpool player, he's a Liverpool boy. He's a good lad but he's made some mistakes. He's acknowledged that and he's been punished for that."

Fowler could have started in Budapest in the absence of the injured Owen and Chris Sutton, but Houllier explained: "He will go for an operation to have his nose re-set. It will take another two or three days before he can start running, which rules him out of the national team game.

"It's a blow for him, it's a blow for the club, it's a blow for the national team. After Friday we will know how long it will take for him to start training again but I don't think he will be able to play next week."

Houllier continued: "Sometimes you have to accept that things don't go right and you probably have to draw some lessons from that and go through some damage to build up again. We're in a very constructive process."

On a more pleasant note for Houllier, Sunderland will have an early test of their Premiership credentials when they face Liverpool in a match to mark the 100th Football League championship season. The First Division winners will play the Premiership side, who have won the League a record 18 times, on 18 May at the Wearsiders' Stadium of Light.