Football: Numbers problem for Keegan

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN quickly discovered the realities of his new job yesterday, when he finally stepped on to a training ground as the England coach to find he had only eight players from an original 24-man squad to work with. The rest were either injured or resting.

This left his main work as pastoral and medical. First he soothed, for the time being at least, the festering row between Graeme Le Saux and Robbie Fowler. Then, in an ironic twist, he saw Le Saux's former bete noir, David Batty, and his current rival for an England place, Andy Hinchcliffe, return to Yorkshire with injury.

Batty's absence, caused by a virus which has set back his attempts to regain match-fitness after a rib injury, is a particular blow. In the absence of the suspended Paul Ince it appeared the Leeds midfielder would have started Saturday's European Championship qualifier against Poland.

Keegan may now be forced to give Tim Sherwood a debut at Wembley in the anchor role. With 37 caps, Batty had been one of the most experienced players in the squad.

Keegan was also faced with a minor goalkeeping crisis after both David Seaman and Nigel Martyn reported with knocks following their weekend matches. Although both are expected to be fit by Saturday, Keegan did not want to risk either in training until they had recovered. Having already called up Ian Walker, the Tottenham goalkeeper, he has also promoted Paul Robinson from the Under-21s to provide further cover. There is no prospect of Robinson, Martyn's understudy at Leeds, being involved in the senior game at the weekend, however. Should the injuries to Seaman and Martyn prove more serious than thought, a more experienced goalkeeper would be called up.

The three other injury worries, Michael Owen (hamstring), David Beckham (calf) and Chris Sutton (groin), underwent treatment yesterday while players from those clubs who played on Sunday, Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa, were rested. Keegan will decide today if he needs further reinforcements.

The departure of Hinchcliffe, who has a back problem, increased the importance of Keegan's diplomatic overture to Le Saux and Fowler, who fell out at Stamford Bridge last month when Le Saux reacted violently to Fowler's allegedly homophobic taunts.

The pair are understood to have kissed and made up (though not literally, a manly shake of hands was the preferred option) as soon as they met at the team's Buckinghamshire hotel on Sunday night. Keegan then held a 20- minute meeting with them.

The Football Association described this as "a clear-the-air meeting" in which "both made it clear there was no personal animosity and that they were happy to continue as international team-mates."

Keegan said: "I'm delighted Graeme and Robbie were able to shake hands even before I asked them to come to my room. It's very important for them to be able to do so in private rather than publicly.

"I'm satisfied that in no way will our preparation for such an important game be disrupted either as a team, or with them as individuals, by what may have happened in the past. That's all that matters. As far as I'm concerned the issue is over and done with."

This is not the case as far as the FA is concerned, as there is still a misconduct charge hanging over both players. With that in mind, neither player felt able to comment "on legal advice", which suggests all is not as hunky-dory as Keegan would hope. Nor was there a public handshake for the media. The players were said to have felt it would appear "contrived".

It is understood they will not be sharing a room but they may well be on the same side when Keegan holds his first full training session at Bisham Abbey this morning. The press are invited and any further conflagration between the pair would be "unhelpful".

More serious interest will revolve around Keegan's plans for central midfield. Aside from Sherwood he could ask Paul Scholes to curb his attacking instincts and fill the holding role or move Gareth Southgate into midfield. Beckham, Darren Anderton and Jamie Redknapp are contenders for play-making responsibilities.

Meanwhile, the England Under-21 side's hopes of qualifying for the European Championship finals have suffered a setback with the withdrawal of the Leicester striker, Emile Heskey. Capped 15 times, Heskey has been forced to pull out of the squad for Friday's group match with Poland at The Dell with a recurrence of a back problem.

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