Football: Keegan defends decision on Cole: Premiership leaders' manager defends his stand over key striker

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN, the Newcastle manager, yesterday defended his decision to deny his striker Andy Cole the opportunity to play for England against Romania at Wembley next Wednesday because of an on-going shin injury, writes Clive White.

Keegan, speaking on the controversy for the first time, insisted: 'Cole isn't fit to play for England. He knows it, I know it and now Terry Venables knows it.

Cole, who has scored 11 goals in 11 games this season, expressed surprise and disappointment at his omission from the squad when it was announced on Monday. 'Why have I been left out? Your guess is as good as mine,' he said angrily.

Keegan explained. 'It's very simple - the lad can't train because of his shin injury and that means he couldn't do himself justice with England. Andy's first priority must be to Newcastle - he wants to play for both club and country but we must overrule him on occasions.'

Keegan, who had a meeting with Cole yesterday to discuss his stand, continued: 'We monitor every game as it comes and he has a scan every three weeks.'

Keegan had no doubt, though, that Cole would eventually figure in one of Venables' England teams. 'His big chance will definitely come - all he's got to do is be a little more patient.'

Instead of extolling the international virtues of Cole, Keegan enthused yesterday about another club's young striker, whom, ironically, Keegan has selected for the England Under-21 squad to contest a European Championship qualifer in Austria next week.

Keegan, who is standing in for Dave Sexton, said of Leeds' Noel Whelan: 'He has been outstanding and looks like a player who will do well on a bigger stage.'

Keegan, who has also introduced the Wolves right-back Jamie Smith, added:'Terry has given me the chance to pick the squad and team, and say how I want them to play. That surprised me but I think it's right. My opinions are not much different to Terry's'

Despite Football Association fears to the contrary, Cristian Bivolaru, a spokesman for the Romanian football federation, said that his country would be sending to Wembley the same squad as that on duty for a European Championship qualifier in France this Saturday and it would include all their leading foreign-based players.