Football: Keegan gives Sutton his chance

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN sprang a surprise when he unveiled his first England squad yesterday: he named a balanced party with nine defenders and only six forwards.

One of those was Chris Sutton, whose inclusion, after just one match back for Blackburn, was perhaps the biggest shock, though Tim Sherwood could not have expected his first call-up. He is one of two uncapped players in the 24-man selection for tomorrow week's European Championship qualifier with Poland at Wembley, the other being Ray Parlour.

In all there are six changes from the last squad, picked by Glenn Hoddle and named by Howard Wilkinson, which faced France last month. Phil Neville, David Batty and Steve McManaman are also recalled while Dion Dublin, Paul Merson, Nicky Butt, Paul Ince, Kieron Dyer and Richard Wright drop out. Ince is suspended, Dyer injured, Butt has not recovered his place since injury while Dublin and Merson have not regained form. Wright reverts to the Under-21s as Keegan has opted for two goalkeepers with Ian Walker on standby.

Few would argue with the broad make-up of the squad. As Keegan said: "There are only around 50 potential England players, some of those are too old or have had a chance, some are on the verge of playing but not ready, some are not involved with their clubs for various reasons - like Rob Lee, some are suspended and some are injured. It comes down to about 32 players of which I've chosen 24."

A fair point, but there are inconsistencies. McManaman, for example, is even less involved with Liverpool than Lee is at Newcastle, yet he was chosen. This may have something to do with the dearth of players able to play on the left flank, but it is also because Keegan, because of his Fulham commitments, is having to back hunches.

He admitted he had only been able to watch one Premiership match in the flesh, Liverpool's match at Derby last week. Fourteen of the 22 players and all 10 substitutes were foreign. McManaman, the reason for the visit, was omitted. The only beneficiary appears to be the promising Steven Gerrard, of Liverpool, who will join the squad, along with Jonathon Woodgate, of Leeds, for experience.

McManaman was still chosen, perhaps because Keegan can empathise with the problems created by his decision to join Real Madrid in the summer.

"I know how he feels, I have been through the same situation myself, [when he was leaving Liverpool for Hamburg in 1977]. It's not for me to get involved with the politics but if he played he might feel he has something to prove. He's not a player who needs a lot of training to be fit, and I would have no qualms about his fitness if he was selected to play." The same applied, he said, to Batty.

Fitness, he conceded, "is a slight worry" where Sutton was concerned but the Blackburn striker is unlikely to start the match. Keegan admitted his reaction when Sutton rejected the chance to play for the B team last spring was "Why?" but he added: "Everybody deserves a second chance. I walked out on Don Revie [after he was omitted from a match against Wales in 1975] so I can't criticise too much. Sometimes you do things under pressure which you can't understand yourself. Maybe he'll tell me why when we meet up."

Sutton will not be the only player doing some explaining. The FA has not yet had a chance to conduct the hearing into Graeme Le Saux and Robbie Fowler's spat at Stamford Bridge so Keegan intends to shut them in a room with him when the squad meets on Sunday night "and have 15 minutes with them repairing the damage. This is not the FA's idea, it is mine. They are part of an England squad together and the last thing we need is friction between players."

Of the new players, Keegan, who conducted an impeccable press conference, said: "Sherwood gives me options, he's playing as well as he's ever played and is unlucky not to be capped before. Parlour, I would have taken him to the World Cup. I don't know what else he had to do, he was and is playing with some outstanding players and some weeks is the best on the park."

Paul Gascoigne, on the other hand, "has not had the chance to prove his fitness," said Keegan, adding: "The door is still open to him - he can win games." Dublin, Merson and Les Ferdinand also received a mention in dispatches.

Keegan added: "We need to win all three of the European Championship games [under his caretaker reign]. That's not bravado, you just have to look at the table to know that. But we are capable of doing it."

ENGLAND SQUAD V POLAND

Seaman (Arsenal)

Martyn (Leeds Utd)

Adams (Arsenal)

Campbell (Tottenham)

Ferdinand (West Ham)

Keown (Arsenal)

G Neville (Manchester Utd)

P Neville (Manchester Utd)

Le Saux (Chelsea)

Hinchcliffe (Sheff Wed)

Southgate (Aston Villa)

Parlour (Arsenal)

Scholes (Manchester Utd)

Beckham (Man Utd)

Batty (Leeds Utd)

McManaman (Liverpool)

Anderton (Tottenham)

Sherwood (Tottenham)

Redknapp (Liverpool)

Cole (Manchester Utd)

Shearer (Newcastle Utd)

Owen (Liverpool)

Fowler (Liverpool)

Sutton (Blackburn Rovers)

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