Football: Keegan may pick Parlour

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The Independent Online
HAVING TAKEN one of his teams to a 12-point lead at the top of the Nationwide League's Second Division on Tuesday night, Kevin Keegan will today begin the task of lifting the other one towards the summit of Group Five of the European Championship qualifying tournament.

Fulham's chief operating officer will thus reinvent himself as the England coach, and issue a squad that begins with David Seaman rather than Maik Taylor.

The bulk of the party for Saturday week's crucial Euro 2000 qualifier against Poland at Wembley will be much the same as the one chosen by Glenn Hoddle - but there are likely to be a few changes.

The most high-profile candidates are Paul Gascoigne, who has not played for England since he was controversially dropped before the World Cup, and Chris Sutton, who was banished by Hoddle for refusing to play for England's B side.

Though Keegan said he is starting with a clean sheet, he is unlikely to choose either. Gascoigne's form remains inconsistent, while Sutton is still regaining his match fitness.

Instead, Keegan's thoughts are likely to centre on another Hoddle reject, Ray Parlour, whose excommunication followed his alleged request for a "short-back-and-sides" as Eileen Drewery laid her hands upon his head.

Hoddle's favourite faith- healer has since denied that that comment was ever made but, whatever the truth of the matter, the shaggy-haired Arsenal midfielder was dropped without even pulling on an England shirt.

The 26-year-old may now get that chance under Keegan, which would be appropriate because his approach to the game echoes the caretaker's own playing career far more closely than it does Hoddle's.

Like Keegan, Parlour's energy and enthusiasm has enabled him to make the most of limited natural technical ability. After a spell in his early 20s when he appeared to go off the rails, he has flourished under the influence of Arsene Wenger and fatherhood.

While Parlour would be a useful addition to the squad, he would not solve England's problem position - the left flank. This was hidden in Hoddle's system but, as Howard Wilkinson discovered against France, reverting to 4-4-2 highlights the weakness. Thus the recent mentions in dispatches for Steve Guppy and Scott Sellars, both of whom were bought and sold by Keegan at Newcastle United.

Guppy is more likely to feature. While Sellars is playing in the Nationwide League with Bolton, he at least is in the Premiership with Leicester. He is also in fine form and will play at Wembley on Sunday. As neither are young - Sellars is 33, Guppy 30 later this month - and both are uncapped, Keegan may be better served by recalling the 27-year-old Jason Wilcox, though he is presently operating in central midfield for Blackburn.

Other former Newcastle players are inevitably likely to feature in Keegan's thinking. In midfield Rob Lee and David Batty could be recalled after injury, though Lee Bowyer and Tim Sherwood will also come under consideration. At the back, Steve Howey, whose England career has never recovered from the injury he suffered preparing for Euro 96, has found form at the right time.

The biggest question will not be answered until next week. Having decided to retain Alan Shearer as captain, who will Keegan play alongside him? Michael Owen or Andy Cole? Since Keegan has been juggling Geoff Horsfield, Barry Hayles, Paul Peschisolido and Dirk Lehmann in his day job, he will at least be used to such dilemmas. England will hope his choice is as successful.