Football: Keegan tries to rouse passion

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN admitted last night that some England players wanted to find out if they were going to be selected before being prepared to join the squad for internationals. Keegan, who was one of those payers who would walk over the proverbial broken glass to play for his country, agreed that such attitudes went against his whole philosophy but that it was a natural consequence of the rise of the club game.

The England coach, who names a squad for the final European Championship qualifying group matches next month, added that he believed players were still passionate about playing for England but were now more aware of other commitments. "Players are trying to find out whether they are going to play or not," he said. "Some feel `If I am not going to be in there and bettering myself, I might be better off not being there at all'."

Asked if he thought that was reasonable or that players should bust a gut to be there whether they were number 1 or number 22, he replied: "You know what my answer to that is, but I am just being very honest with you."

The consequence, said Keegan, will be a reduction in friendly internationals with less opportunities to experiment with tactics and blood new players. Already England have ruled out a friendly next April after the fiasco of this year's game in Hungary when he had to give debuts to half a side.

Keegan added that club managers were often partly to blame but stressed that, having been one himself, he accepted that England only loan players from clubs.

Keegan admitted that England's difficult year had not helped. "I do believe players have the passion and want England to be special for them, but success breeds success. If we can be more successful than we have been, then we will have more people chomping at the bit wanting to be part of it.

"There is part of a professional footballer, no matter how much money he earns, [who knows] playing for his country and playing on the biggest stage of all, which is the World Cup, beats anything."

One player who has always been keen to play for England is Paul Gascoigne and Keegan confirmed that he is still in contention. "I will definitely watch Middlesbrough in the first two or three weeks,"he said, adding: "Gazza is one of a number of players, not a big band, who can do things that change a game. He has got to be playing, I couldn't pick him last year because he was not playing. It would be nice if he gets himself really fit and it is important for him that he can last 90 minutes. Players need to feel they can last the pace. His performances for Middlesbrough will tell us that. You cannot hide in the Premiership. Providing he is fit and mentally feels right it is realistic to consider him. I am deadly serious about him."