Football: Platt in focus as Venables pictures his captain: Joe Lovejoy reports from Genoa on the advancement of an England exile with national leadership potential

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The Independent Online
TEN minutes after meeting Terry Venables for the first time, David Platt was calling him 'Gaffer' and England's new coach had his captain. The formal announcement of the succession will be delayed until the end of the month when Venables names his first squad, but the criteria he spelled out yesterday amounted to a photofit description of the man who was sitting alongside him.

Platt, who had the job as a stand-in when Stuart Pearce was injured, will get it back on a permanent basis when Denmark come to Wembley on 9 March.

The second leg of Venables' fact-finding mission to Italy was just as rewarding as the first. In Rome, Paul Gascoigne had provided encouraging evidence of an overdue return to fitness and form. Here, England's other international in exile made a favourable first impression, handling himself with the confidence and maturity of a natural leader.

Strangely, Venables and Platt had not met before and when the man of the moment disembarked at Genoa airport he half expected to find England's principal goalscorer waiting with a placard bearing his name.

'Hallo, David', 'Congratulations, Terry.' The introductions over, it was down to business, with the airport cafe commandeered for a joint press conference. Venables said he was looking for a captain to inspire his team by dint of personal performance. 'I believe the ideal choice should set an example, either by the way he plays or by his contribution tactically. It is an important job. Too often captains are picked without sufficient thought, just because a team needs to have one.'

Berndt Schuster had done the job well at Barcelona; ditto Gary Lineker at Tottenham. All eyes swivelled to the man seated on Venables' right - a Lineker clone who personifies the responsibility and conformity. Gascoigne, Pearce and the rest were clearly destined for disappointment.

Platt had suffererd his share of that these last three months. 'No, I'm not over missing out on the World Cup,' he said. 'I don't think anyone in England will be over it until the tournament is finished. In some ways, it's worse for Paul (Gascoigne) and myself than for the rest of the players back home. Here, we're playing week in week out with players who are preparing for America and talking about it all the time. It will be a relief when the Denmark game comes. At least then we'll be able to think about something else.'

Fluent in Italian and an enthusiastic convert to the latin lifestyle, Platt has changed his mind about coming home when his contract with Sampdoria expires at the end of next season.

'It has always been my intention to finish my career in England,' he said. 'I left Aston Villa without winning things and when I see the Cup final on television I feel nostalgic and jealous. My attitude is changing, though, and rather than leaving next year, I'm inclined to try to further my career here.'

Venables would encourage him to stay. 'I don't go along with the belief that players shouldn't go abroad,' he said. 'I don't see how you can reach the very top without having that experience.'

Well satisfied with this week's getting-to-know-you exercise, he will now turn his attention to the recruitment of a coaching staff, with Don Howe expected to be named as his assistant on Friday.

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