Football: Hoddle gives youth a chance

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE has called on the young ones, while leaving Manchester United's Andy Cole in the shadows for England's friendly international at home to the Czech Republic next Wednesday.

Young dreams, as Sir Cliff used to sing, should be dreamed together, so Emile Heskey, of Leicester, Aston Villa's Lee Hendrie and the Ipswich goalkeeper Richard Wright are promoted en bloc from a successful under- 21 squad. With Michael Owen hamstrung, his partner Robbie Fowler is preferred to Cole, and some older hands - Paul Ince, Tony Adams and Paul Gascoigne - are left to rest or recuperate.

Others in the squad may not get as far as Wembley. Unlike this season's previous international weeks, there is a full Premiership programme to be negotiated first. Arsenal and Manchester United, with important Champions' League matches the following week, will not be expected to give England the benefit of any doubt over their players' fitness this time; nor will they be dismayed by the absence of Ray Parlour and Phil Neville from the list.

"You can plan your team and it can fall apart," said Hoddle, who regards this game as critical preparation for the Euro 2000 qualifiers against Poland and Sweden. "Mentally, we have a stand-by squad." He would do well to keep his mobile phone switched on this afternoon.

Heskey is already out of Leicester's game today after being taken off at half-time during the midweek Worthington Cup tie against Leeds with an ankle injury, but has as much incentive as anyone to turn up if he possibly can. Although not a prolific scorer he has discomforted defenders at under-21 level with his power and pace, which were not the only attributes Hoddle picked out in discussing his qualities yesterday.

"He's not the finished article, but he's learnt a lot over the last 12 months and there are subtleties in his game now, like knowing how to shift defenders," said the coach.

Hendrie, only brought into the Villa side late last season, has benefited from standing out whenever Hoddle has watched him: "There's a lot of talent there, but this lad has the temperament as well."

Ipswich's Wright is the one Nationwide League player in the squad, though his club-mate, Kieron Dyer, also received an honourable mention yesterday, as did Frank Lampard. The West Ham midfielder narrowly lost out to Hendrie this time.

There was a time when the gap between under-21 level and the senior side was considered too formidable to be bridged in one leap by all but the most accomplished players. In offering this fast-track promotion, Hoddle is making a significant point, which he expanded on: "In many countries that's been happening for five or six years and they're ahead of us. Now the FA have allowed a full-time under-21 manager [Peter Taylor], which is a step forward."

There can be no complaints about the performances of Owen and Rio Ferdinand, the two previous graduates. Ferdinand is likely to start again on Wednesday. "There won't be seven or eight just being tried out," said Hoddle. "And if we throw three youngsters in at the same time, we could fall on our face."

There are older fringe players to be considered, such as Nigel Martyn, Martin Keown, Nicky Butt, Paul Merson, Dion Dublin and Fowler, who returns for the first time since being injured before the World Cup, despite his own modest form and Cole's recent rush of goals.

It was eight years ago that a game against Czechoslovakia, as they then were, offered Paul Gascoigne the stage to convince Bobby Robson that he was worth a place in the World Cup finals. Having failed to persuade Hoddle of the same thing last summer, Gascoigne was yesterday given hope that his day might yet dawn again. "I'm pleased he's addressing his problems," Hoddle said. "He needs more time for that. Any coach would want him if he was back to his best. What we need to know is if he can get back."

ENGLAND SQUAD: Goalkeepers: Seaman (Arsenal), Martyn (Leeds United), R Wright (Ipswich); Defenders: Keown (Arsenal), Hinchcliffe (Sheffield Wednesday), Le Saux (Chelsea), G Neville (Manchester United), Ferdinand (West Ham); Midfielders: Butt (Manchester United), Hendrie (Aston Villa), Batty (Newcastle United), Anderton (Tottenham), Beckham (Manchester United), Merson (Aston Villa), Redknapp (Liverpool), Scholes (Manchester United); Strikers: Shearer (Newcastle United), I Wright (West Ham), Fowler (Liverpool), Dublin (Aston Villa), Heskey (Leicester City).

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