Football: Keegan calls on Pearce's punch

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The Independent Online
THERE WILL be jokes about zimmer frames, ear trumpets and bus passes but none will be made to his face. Stuart Pearce may be 37 years of age but he still packs a formidable presence and, when he joins up with the England squad on Monday, respect will be the watchword.

At a safe distance, however, there will be critical voices and possibly some mocking ones. Are England really so desperate for international-class players they have to call up a player 32 months short of his 40th birthday? The blunt answer is yes, especially on the left side of defence. The general shortage of quality players was underlined when Kevin Keegan also named four who are yet to start a match this season and three still to play a whole one. His predicament was confirmed when one of these, Sol Campbell, withdrew with a calf injury within two hours of being selected.

That left 26 players, a necessarily large squad given the injury doubts, but not big enough to include Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne or Andy Cole of the old guard, or Emile Heskey, Frank Lampard and Lee Bowyer of the new.

Chris Sutton is in, as are Alan Shearer, Kevin Phillips and Kieron Dyer, the only uncapped member of a squad that has been chosen for the European Championship qualifiers against Luxembourg at Wembley on 4 September, and Poland in Warsaw four days later.

England must win both to make the play-offs, but it is for the latter match Pearce has been selected. He has been to Poland before, in 1991 and 1993, and knows what to expect. Even so, it is quite a return. He won the last of his 76 caps in June 1997 and, after playing just 12 times for Newcastle last year, was released in the summer. Since joining West Ham, however, he has had a new lease of life.

"He was a bit gobsmacked when I rang him," said Keegan. "I think he thought I was going to ask him to play in a testimonial for me, but he is in on merit. I like players who, when they play for England, look like it means something very special. Pearce is that kind of player. It is crystal clear now we have to win both games. We need men to do men's jobs, that is why I picked Stuart."

His inclusion is partly because Graeme Le Saux and Nigel Winterburn are injured, partly because Keegan does not believe Michael Gray and Michael Ball are ready, and partly because Phil Neville is likely to have to deputise for his brother Gary at right-back.

Gary Neville, like Tony Adams, David Seaman and Michael Owen, has not kicked a ball this season. Steve McManaman has not started a game while Sol Campbell and Teddy Sheringham have not completed one. Campbell is unlikely to be the only player to pull out especially as most have a game this weekend and Manchester United, who provide five players, have two.

Like McManaman in Madrid, Sheringham has been the victim of his club's playing riches, but it is telling that Cole, who usually keeps Sheringham on the bench, is dropped. Cole is one of four players - Gray, Heskey and Le Saux are the others - missing from the party that featured in England's disappointing draws against Sweden and Bulgaria last summer. "I've talked to him and told him I want to try other options," said Keegan.

Among them is Robbie Fowler who, said Keegan, was "working harder than for several seasons". He also had praise for Darren Anderton and consoling words for Ince, who is six years younger than Pearce.

"People say it is a big squad and he's not in it, but I say the door is still open for Paul. You may laugh at that but I have seen him play this season and I will watch his progress. He can take heart from Stuart's recall. He has a chance, along with every other player who is English. The Premiership is not exactly full of English players."

Elaborating, Keegan added: "I have about 70 players in the country to pick from, 15 of them not good enough, 15 are too old, and there are bunch of youngsters coming through. The rest have been picked."


(European Championship Group Five qualifiers v Luxembourg, Wembley, 4 September; v Poland, Warsaw, 8 September): Goalkeepers: Seaman (Arsenal), Martyn (Leeds United) Walker (Tottenham Hotspur). Defenders: G Neville (Manchester United), P Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (West Ham United), Woodgate (Leeds United), Ferdinand (West Ham United), Keown (Arsenal). Midfielders: Batty (Leeds United), Dyer (Newcastle United), Anderton (Tottenham Hotspur), Beckham (Manchester United), Parlour (Arsenal), Redknapp (Liverpool), Sherwood (Tottenham Hotspur), Scholes (Manchester United). Forwards: Shearer (Newcastle United), Fowler (Liverpool), Owen (Liverpool), Sutton (Chelsea), McManaman (Real Madrid), Sheringham (Manchester United), Phillips (Sunderland).