Football: Keegan plays power game

Euro 2000: England coach pulls rank over Graham as he faces up to catalogue of injuries to squad
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The Independent Online
THEY LIMPED into Bisham Abbey yesterday, carrying their sick-notes and X-ray scans, England's finest. If it was anybody but Luxembourg in opposition on Saturday, it might be time to start worrying.

Darren Anderton and Rio Ferdinand have gone home. Sol Campbell, after a power struggle with Tottenham, arrived last night but will go back to White Hart Lane tomorrow. Jamie Redknapp is awaiting the results of a scan on an Achilles injury. A decision on David Seaman, without a match this season, will be made tomorrow. Tim Sherwood, Kieron Dyer and Alan Shearer have minor knocks and did not train yesterday. Michael Owen and Tony Adams are not match-fit. Steve McManaman is yet to start a game this season. Oh, and Paul Scholes is suspended.

Which leaves 15 fully fit and available players (one of whom is 37 years old). Among topics discussed at England's press conference yesterday was pre-match dressing-room music, the theme from M*A*S*H may be the most appropriate.

That tune is entitled "Suicide is Painless", should England commit the footballing equivalent at Wembley it will be anything but. However, even with their hotel resembling a scene from ER, England should have to enough quality to brush aside Luxembourg. Poland, in Warsaw next week, are a more daunting proposition and Keegan admitted yesterday that the injuries, and the difficulty of preparing simultaneously for two very different matches, was hampering his build-up.

A lack of support from some clubs has not helped and, however Keegan dressed it up, it was clear that there had been a sharp exchange of opinion with George Graham over the Sol Campbell situation.

Campbell, having been injured on opening day and not played since, was called up last week. Graham immediately withdrew the player and re-iterated his stance on Saturday. Keegan clearly decided it was time to let the Tottenham manager know just what an international coach's rights were and, after a pointed telephone conversation, Campbell joined the squad last night.

"We see it from different perspectives," Keegan said. "George is a Tottenham man, he's paid to look after Tottenham Hotspur. I told George that I'd phoned the player. He said: `You can't phone my players'. I said: `I can, I am not with Newcastle United now'. This morning we had half hour on the phone; we agreed to disagree.

"I do feel it is my right to have the players report for a big game like this. Sol is an important part of England's future. He felt he had a slight chance and he's such a good player that was enough for me. I'll be amazed if he can play but there are certain regulations that, if we don't stick to, might catch you out at other times."

Keegan stressed that he had a policy of not risking injured players but added: "It is a trust thing."

The dispute does not augur well for the future, especially as Keegan has tried hard not to alienate managers. For example, having potentially upset Alex Ferguson by dropping Andy Cole - a player whose game is dependent on confidence - he made the point of calling the Manchester United manager after Cole scored four against Newcastle on Sunday to suggest Ferguson send him a bottle of wine for the way his decision helped "motivate" Cole.

"It was a wonderful response from Cole," Keegan said. "It is what I tried to do when I got left out of the England squad by Bobby Robson. I think I scored four goals at Rotherham for Newcastle the Saturday after.

"But it's not as if I have suddenly become not-an-Andy Cole-fan. I've worked with Andy Cole. I picked him for my first two games. I told him I wanted to look at other options. He's 27 and the door is not closed unless he closes it."

One of those other options is Chris Sutton, who did close the door as far as Glenn Hoddle, Keegan's predecessor, was concerned when he refused to play for the B team 18 months ago. Now he is back and eager to show he's as patriotic as anyone else.

"Being here means everything to me," he said. "I can't do cartwheels to prove it but it does. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do but, looking back I regret it. I regret it because I'm 26 now and I've had nine minutes on the field [for England] but I could have had more. Maybe I was rash but I believed it was right. That's in the past now, I'm looking forward."

Sutton, of course, also has an injury but it is clearly not as serious as Gianluca Vialli suggested at the weekend. Not only has he passed a bone scan but his response to the question "which foot was it?" brought the answer, according to the FA's official stenographer: "Um, I can't remember - my right, yeah."

Fortunately Keegan's tactical instructions are not thought to be sophisticated.

Pearce grateful for chance, Republic seek vital advantage, page 22