Football: Pearce promoted to head a familiar cast

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FRESH start, same old faces. Anyone expecting the players to carry the can for England's palsied performance at the European Championship will have been disappointed by the squad named yesterday for the first match of the new season, against Spain in Santander next Wednesday.

Disappointed not just by the familiarity of the cast list, but also by the script, which had Graham Taylor refusing to discuss his tactics, and insisting that Sweden was not all bad, after all.

In fairness, there were a couple of interesting newcomers, but against the exciting potential of David White and Rod Wallace must be balanced the known shortcomings of Adams and Dixon, Batty and Palmer.

In all, 14 of the 20 players who failed to live up to Taylor's expectations in June have been invited to try again. Gary Lineker has retired from international football and Martin Keown and Tony Daley were also unavailable, injured, so only three are dropped - Keith Curle, Neil Webb and Alan Smith.

After a mind-boggling 102 changes in Taylor's first 24 matches, continuity is suddenly, belatedly, the order of the day.

The failure to progress beyond the first phase of the European tournament, which had been his minimum expectation, was given a liberal daubing of whitewash yesterday. 'The longer it goes on,' he said, 'the more people will think that we did absolutely nothing whatsoever right in Sweden.'

A fair assumption, some would say. But not Taylor. 'I have to be very careful not to fall into that trap, and so do the players. It was unfortunate that the second half against Sweden was so disappointing, because that's what everybody remembers. It is always better to have a good second half and finish well, and unfortunately we came out of it the wrong way for everybody - myself included.'

The tentative shilly-shallying against Denmark and France forgotten, changes were kept to a minimum. So it was that Adams, not Steve Bruce or young Andy Awford, came in for Keown in central defence, David Seaman was preferred to David James as the third goalkeeper, and Palmer, the beanpole the Dutch dubbed the basketball player, was licensed to caper on in midfield, ahead of Paul Ince or Chris Bart-Williams.

It was not all bad, of course, and a more enthusiastic welcome will greet the return of Rob Jones and Mark Wright, two automatic selections in the back four (or five) who missed the European Championship through injury.

The presence of Ian Wright, too, comes as something of a relief after the puzzling exclusion of the First Division's most prolific scorer from the 20 taken to Sweden.

The retirement of Lineker, the striker Wright hopes to replace, necessitated the appointment of a new captain and, having given Stuart Pearce the job, Taylor hopes he will grow into it, and keep it through to the World Cup finals in 1994.

A clenched-fist leader, who inspires others by the depth of his personal commitment, Pearce could scarcely offer a greater contrast to Lineker's laid-back manner. The combative left-back would probably have had the job before now, but for the short fuse which can get him into trouble on the field, and his aversion to the public relations responsibility off it.

David Platt, his principal rival, lost out partly because of Taylor's reluctance to appoint a captain in exile, and also because the manager had been greatly impressed by Pearce's gimlet-eyed sincerity and unswerving determination.

The sort of team he will lead is far from certain, Taylor having refused my invitation yesterday to clear up the confusion created by his final press conference before the retreat from Stockholm.

Had he meant to imply that England would be long-balling their way to the World Cup? Wait and see was the gist of his reply. 'Let's get the Spain game out of the way and talk about it then.'

The composition of his squad offers few clues. The inclusion of Brian Deane, Sheffield United's bustling centre-forward, may point to the direct approach, but then what are we to make of the retention of that subtlest of playmakers, Nigel Clough?

Unused in Sweden, and critical of the management since, Clough could not have expected to keep his place, yet here he is again, with Taylor proclaiming, to raised eyebrows all round: 'I brought him into the squad; I've promoted his cause more than anyone else.'

If there is a hint as to the new strategy, it may lie in the two wingers, White and Wallace, who are accustomed to directing their crosses at lofty target men at Manchester City (Niall Quinn) and Leeds (Lee Chapman) respectively.

Again, Taylor was giving nothing away, saying only: 'They are both flank players who want to score goals and are prepared to come inside.'

Pretty inscrutable stuff, but at least he was talking.

It was left to Lawrie McMenemy the trusty lieutenant, to explain his Greta Garbo act in Oslo last week. Yes, Taylor had been hurt by the criticism he had received during, and after, the European Championship.

The man from the Sun wondered whether their portrayal of the manager as a turnip had been 'below the belt'.

'If you've got turnips below the belt you have got problems,' McMenemy said, 'but carrying the thing on like you did was a bit unfair.'

Laconic Lawrie will have a rival as camp jester next week, when Paul Gascoigne accompanies the squad to Santander - albeit as a non-playing member.

Taylor explained: 'He's had a thigh strain which has put back his comeback by another 10 days, but Lazio have agreed that it will do him good to come with us, whether he is fit to train or not. He hasn't played for 16 months, after all.'


ENGLAND SQUAD (v Spain, Santander, 9 September): Woods (Sheff Wed), Seaman (Arsenal), Martyn (C Palace); Jones (Liverpool), Dixon (Arsenal), Pearce (Nottm Forest), Dorigo (Leeds), Walker (Sampdoria), M Wright (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Platt (Juventus), Steven (Rangers), Batty (Leeds), Palmer (Sheff Wed), Merson (Arsenal), Sinton (QPR), White (Man City), Wallace (Leeds), Shearer (Blackburn), Clough (Nottm Forest), I Wright (Arsenal), Deane (Sheff Utd). Stand-by players: James (Liverpool), Pallister (Man Utd), Thomas (C Palace), Ince (Man Utd), Campbell (Arsenal).

ENGLAND UNDER-21 SQUAD (v Spain, Burgos, 8 September): Walker (Tottenham), Watson (Barnsley); Jackson (Everton), Minto (Charlton), A Wright (Blackburn), Ehiogu (A Villa), Whelan (Ipswich), Awford (Portsmouth), Hendon (Tottenham), Froggatt (Aston Villa), Bart-Williams (Sheff Wed), Harkness (Liverpool), Clark (Newcastle), Parlour (Arsenal), Heaney (Arsenal), Watson (Newcastle), McManaman (Liverpool), Cole (Bristol City), Sheron (Man City), Anderton (Tottenham), Barmby (Tottenham). Stand-by. Livingstone (Aston Villa), Small (Aston Villa), Hall (Southampton), Sutch (Norwich), Sutton (Norwich).