Football: Hoddle looks to Owen to lead the new generation

Dublin given chance to do a Hurst for England
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The Independent Online
With the World Cup just over four months away Glenn Hoddle has made a striking experiment for England's friendly against Chile next week. Shades of 1966, perhaps? Phil Shaw reports.

Form is temporary, they say, but class is permanent. Michael Owen and Dion Dublin, strikers from the opposite end of the age spectrum, have satisfied Glenn Hoddle on the first criterion. Now they must prove that a hot streak in the Premiership can translate into a place in England's World Cup plans.

The diminutive Owen, who did not turn 18 until mid-December, and the towering Dublin, who reaches 29 in April, were the only uncapped players named yesterday by Hoddle in a 24-man squad to face Chile in a friendly at Wembley a week tomorrow.

Their inclusion in the senior party, rather than for the B international the previous night, did not, however, represent the only surprise. Robbie Fowler, Owen's attacking partner at Liverpool, has not been selected for either fixture, despite starting England's last game, the 2-0 win over Cameroon in November.

At 22, Fowler has time on his side, although the discarded Gary Pallister, Stuart Pearce and Matthew Le Tissier may have collected their last caps.

Alan Shearer is back in Hoddle's squad after starting just two competitive matches this season, yet it is the coach's boldness in picking Owen and Dublin that is more likely to light up the box-office switchboard.

Owen, who did not make his Liverpool debut until last May, would become the youngest England player this century were he to appear against Chile. The current record holder, Duncan Edwards, was 18 years and 183 days old when he faced Scotland in 1955.

Hoddle was excited by the teenager's pacy contribution to Liverpool's draw with Blackburn on Saturday. The previous weekend he had watched Dublin play a major part in Coventry's FA Cup defeat of Derby. "I've got six games [between now and the finals] to look at people," he said. "With the form Owen and Dublin are in, it's a good time to see if they can handle international football."

Contrary to the impression Hoddle gave in December, when he made a baffling and unsubstantiated aside about about Owen's "off-the-pitch situation", he now believed he had "the right temperament". He added: "I want to have a look at him and see the differences between him and Robbie Fowler. But what Michael's doing week in, week out for his club suggests he could get into the final 22."

Although Owen's career total of first-team goals, 14, is one less than Dublin's tally this season, the Coventry centre-forward's elevation comes into the category of a shock rather than a surprise. Released by Norwich without playing a League game, he made his reputation in John Beck's long- ball team at Cambridge United.

After a pounds 1m move to Manchester United, he netted on his debut only to break a leg in his third match. He has been a regular scorer for Coventry, though Hoddle revealed that it was in his role as a stopgap centre-back that he first came to England's attention.

"He was very close to getting in last year as a defender. This season I've had fantastic reports of his forward play and his display against Derby was the best I've seen all season by a target man."

While it may seem rather close to the World Cup to be experimenting, there is a striking precedent. Thirty-two years ago this month, five months before England's opening match in the finals, Alf Ramsey first took a chance on Geoff Hurst. The rest is history.

The remainder of Hoddle's senior squad is much as expected, although Steve McManaman, substituted on Saturday with a hamstring strain, and Martin Keown, who was absent with a shoulder injury, may have to drop out.

Andy Cole is an obvious candidate to be one of the starting strikers, especially after Hoddle admitted that if Shearer played at all it would be as a substitute.

Les Ferdinand may consider himself a trifle fortunate to be involved, considering that he has also suffered from the "indifferent form" the coach detected in Fowler. Thought was given to playing the latter in the B match but Hoddle said: "Robbie has nothing to prove to me."

The squad for the B game, to be played at West Bromwich, is a hotch-potch of players with an outside chance of making it to France, those who have progressed beyond Under-21 level and late developers.

The 19-man selection was also as notable for who was overlooked as for who was included - no Tim Sherwood, no Stan Collymore - but Hoddle will be particularly keen to see how Rio Ferdinand shapes in his likely role as constructive sweeper.

The West Ham defender, a relative veteran at 19, also played against Cameroon. The coach bracketed him with Owen when he said: "They could become good international players in five years. My dilemma is whether they can do it in five months."

ENGLAND SQUAD (Friendly v Chile, 11 February, Wembley): Martyn (Leeds), Flowers (Blackburn); G Neville (Man Utd), P Neville (Man Utd), Adams (Arsenal), Campbell (Tottenham), Southgate (Aston Villa), Keown (Arsenal), Le Saux (Chelsea), Hinchcliffe (Sheff Wed), Batty (Newcastle), Ince (Liverpool), Butt (Man Utd), Scholes (Man Utd), Lee (Newcastle), Beckham

(Man Utd), Gascoigne (Rangers), McManaman (Liverpool), Owen (Liverpool), Sheringham (Man Utd), Cole (Man Utd), L Ferdinand (Tottenham), Shearer (Newcastle), Dublin (Coventry).

ENGLAND B SQUAD (v Chile, 10 February at West Brom): Hislop (Newcastle), Pressman (Sheff Wed); Watson (Newcastle), R Ferdinand (West Ham), Matteo (Liverpool), Dyer (Ipswich), Wilcox (Blackburn), Parlour (Arsenal), Quashie (QPR), Merson (Middlesbrough), Barmby (Everton), Eadie (Norwich), Sutton (Blackburn), Heskey (Leicester), Huckerby (Coventry), Scimeca (Aston Villa), Carragher (Liverpool), Lampard (West Ham), Guppy (Leicester).