Football: Owen wings in for Caen rehearsal

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND will play an extra, final, warm-up match behind closed doors on Tuesday in Caen against the French Second Division side, kicking off at 5pm local time. The coach Glenn Hoddle is likely to take the opportunity to play his starting line-up for England's first match of the World Cup finals, against Tunisia in Marseilles on Monday week.

In the wake of the controversial omission of Paul Gascoigne, Hoddle could return to something like the team which drew with Saudi Arabia at Wembley a fortnight ago for his midfield. Though England could only draw 0-0 in an ultimately poor performance, there were initially signs that the Manchester United pairing of David Beckham and Paul Scholes could provide England with a bright and lively central thrust.

Hoddle believes that there is an opportunity for a player to emerge as a significant figure the way Gascoigne did in Italy eight years ago. "Paul came back a star in 1990, and there might be a player now who does exactly the same," he said.

One serious candidate could be Michael Owen, scorer of England's only goal in their last three games, who began to close on Teddy Sheringham in the pecking order even before the revelations about last week's nocturnal activities in Portugal - indiscreet though barely registering on the Gazzometer. Hoddle may feel that a slap on the wrist for Sheringham could take the shape of being withdrawn from the game in Caen. "Teddy has apologised," said Hoddle yesterday. "I have watched him very closely in training the last couple of days and it hasn't affected him at all. The problem is that he could be the one to lose out because his body won't be as well prepared as it might have been."

Sheringham made a prepared public statement yesterday, Hoddle and the FA having ruled out any possibility of his behaviour affecting his place in the squad. A chastened, subdued Sheringham, who was photographed drinking, apparently smoking and cavorting with a hostess, said: "I'd like to apologise for not taking Glenn Hoddle's advice in every Portugal. I accept there was a lack of professionalism in not realising how my actions were likely to be interpreted."

He expanded later: "I know it comes across that I've been a fool and when I got back and read the papers, it crossed my mind that what had happened to Paul could happen to me." But Hoddle denied there was any element of double standards over his treatment of the two players. "I'm more disappointed at how late he was up than with the amount he was drinking," the coach said. "What he's done is detrimental to the work we've done on the training ground and in terms of preparing the players' bodies; it maybe put him back to square one." Hoddle also came to the defence of Darren Anderton, reported to have been caught up in a brawl in Bournemouth.

With Gazza jettisoned, it could mean that David Batty's role as a deeper-lying foil to his forays forward becomes redundant. Beckham and Scholes are sufficiently mobile, and tackle tenaciously enough, not to need a minder beyond Paul Ince between them. Next for Hoddle would seem to be his choice of wing-backs. Darren Anderton came through well enough in recent games against the Saudis and Morocco and, with his quality of crossing, would seem to be the ideal man on the right to cover for Beckham's move infield.

Steve McManaman's second half against Morocco and the assignment of the No 11 shirt would seem to have pushed him up the pecking order but it could be another Hoddle smokescreen. The coach, one suspects, is not yet ready to go the Terry Venables way of employing wingers but instead will retain Graeme Le Saux for his ability to slip into the system of three at the back when England attack, four when they defend.

Certainly Hoddle feels he has plenty of cover for Gascoigne, even if it is impossible to replace his ball-carrying and passing - when at his best - with just one player; hence the Beckham-Scholes axis. "Not having Paul at his best would have been a loss but at this stage with the way his fitness was, I think we will be stronger," says Hoddle. "That's why I left him out. It will be a stronger squad than maybe having Gazza in that shape. In saying that, there are certain players who can give you more than Gazza in a different way."

As well as Beckham's long passing, Hoddle cites some multi-skilling in midfield. "Everyone has different styles. Steve McManaman is a runner with the ball, Paul Merson can run with it and purvey it. You have also got little Scholes who can carry the ball and beat people, so I am happy with the blend we have got."

The England party will fly out at lunchtime on Tuesday direct to Caen, in Normandy, for the game at the modern Stade D'Ornano, which has 21,500 seats, all of which will be empty. Caen, the club for whom the present Chelsea coach Graham Rix once played, finished in mid-table after being relegated from the First Division last season. Under the technical directorship of the former Swiss international Daniel Jeandupeux, they feature in their line-up the former Auxerre and France left-winger Pascal Vahirua and the one-time Paris St Germain goalkeeper Luc Borelli.