Many have been called but only a few have been regularly chosen. There have been a cluster of new faces and a sprinkling of older ones, but in general, Glenn Hoddle's England teams have continued the modernising progress begun by Terry Venables.
Hoddle's team to play Italy on Saturday will be his 13th. Venables, playing friendlies exclusively, had capped 39 players by that stage. Hoddle, playing mainly World Cup qualifiers, will have capped 35 and called a staggering 48 into his squads. That he has won six of the seven matches that mattered prior to Saturday is quite an achievement.
In this he has been helped by Venables' policy of introducing promising young players, a trend continued by his successor. Of Hoddle's 35 picks only five (Manchester United youngsters David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, Liverpool's David James and late developer Andy Hinchcliffe) are new caps.
Venables, at the same stage, had chosen 19 new faces which was an indication of how radical a change his football philosophy was from Graham Taylor.
Hoddle has chosen three players Taylor capped and Venables ignored, Nigel Martyn, Martin Keown and Stuart Ripley, but has generally relied upon the same core - David Seaman, Gary Neville, Gareth Southgate (who has appeared in 11 of Hoddle's matches, more than any other), Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham.
Darren Anderton and Tony Adams would have featured more if fit. Of Venables' other key players, David Platt was quickly forgotten, Steve McManaman left on the periphery, Graeme Le Saux recalled when back to fitness and Stuart Pearce persuaded out of retirement.
Yet, despite the familiar faces, this is recognisably Hoddle's team. He will be grateful to Venables for blooding Sol Campbell, but he had only played 29 minutes, while Ian Wright, David Batty and Rob Lee had been discarded, Hinchcliffe never considered and Beckham and Scholes were not then ready. In addition, Matt Le Tissier, rejected by Venables, would have been consistently involved under Hoddle had it not been for injury.
The team's playing style has also evolved. Hoddle, having begun with a rigid 3-5-2 based on the German model has, like Venables, introduced greater flexibility while concentrating on having numbers in midfield.
But while Venables, building towards a European Championship on home soil, sought to create a side with the emphasis on possession and attacking width, Hoddle has had different aims. With a World Cup in France as the long-term goal, he has moulded a side which is at its best when counter- attacking.
As a player, Hoddle was not only a purist's delight but also an outstanding exponent of the early long ball - not the "hoof" but the ball played to a runner. Beckham, Sheringham and Scholes are all fine long passers and Wright's rejuvenation has provided an outlet first offered through Shearer's mobility. As England proved in Georgia, Poland, and at Le Tournoi, international defences can be vulnerable to the long pass if it is played accurately behind a defence which has been drawn forward.
With the onus on Italy to attack, this could be an ideal tactic on Saturday and the Italians know and fear it. They will not want to be drawn forward, but the longer the game goes without a home goal, the more they will have to. Thus it is of paramount importance that England do not go behind early on. If they do, and are forced to make the running, they will be vulnerable, as was shown at Wembley against Italy and, especially, Poland.
Defeat, and Hoddle must think of the play-offs, while a draw would allow him to continue developing his side with a series of friendlies. The big question is whether he would think there is enough time to adopt the sweeper system he favours.
Jamie Redknapp, who would have been tried out in Le Tournoi had he not been injured, is back playing for Liverpool's reserves this week, but time is relatively short.
First England have to get there and Redknapp is one of eight players, including Anderton, unavailable through injury - in a week when Hoddle feels he has been lucky with injuries. It is a further indication of the difficulty of building an international team.
So is the identity of Hoddle's first goalscorer, Nick Barmby, in Moldova. He played well then but his poor club form, out of range of Hoddle's influence, means he has not played since. If that sunny afternoon in Chisinau seems a long time ago to Hoddle, it is another era to Barmby.Reuse content