Football: Reality tempers Keegan's fervour

England's Euro 2000 hopes remain in jeopardy, but Glenn Moore finds the coach in his usual high spirits

WHEN KEVIN KEEGAN left Sofia last June following England's disappointing draw with Bulgaria he looked tired and a little disillusioned. His honeymoon as England coach was not just over - some observers were already suggesting a divorce.

Seven weeks of R&R later, his natural optimism is back. With 11 days to the start of the season he is already trying to work out how to see all the matches he wants to.

"It's a fantastic early season," he said yesterday, as he sat in the Sir Stanley Rous room at the Football Association's Lancaster Gate head- quarters. "I'm having a problem with the fixtures, thinking, `What's the biggest game here?' Some Saturdays you pick three matches you want to go to and you are glad there is one on a Sunday and another on Monday. Then you think, `I am watching six games this week and they are all good games.' That's exciting."

But Keegan's enthusiasm is now tempered with a greater sense of the realities of his position. Yesterday he issued another ebullient rallying cry, but added a cautious rider or two.

England, he said, can be ranked within the world's elite, but much depends on the availability and fitness of players. David Seaman's calf injury, suffered in a friendly on Monday, made him the third key player on the injury list after Tony Adams and Michael Owen.

"Of course it affects me when I see Seaman coming off," Keegan said, "but it is still just over a month before I have to announce my squad. With Owen it has already gone from `He will definitely miss the start of the season' to `There is a possibility he will play'."

Once picked there is no guarantee, of course, that all the squad will turn up. "One of the things that amazes me about this job," he added, "is that you get your squad together on a Sunday night but it's Wednesday before you even have a clue of the team. There's games on a Sunday and Monday to be played so you think, `It's no good getting the players together on a Sunday night when seven or eight aren't going to be there, let's give them another day off'. But that takes another day of time that you could have preparing them.

"I would like to have a full squad to pick from, but I accept that that's probably never going to happen. I am going to always end up with about 16 of the original 22; on average about a quarter pull out through injuries or whatever."

The suspicion is that this is through overuse, with the hamstring injuries suffered by Owen and David Beckham at the tail end of last season being cited for the prosecution.

Keegan is unconvinced, but is aware that players are now being stretched to the limit. The back-pass rule and the proliferation of ball-boys and spare balls around the touchline have speeded up the game. Overseas tours, like Manchester United's recently concluded trip to Australia and Asia, may not be helping but, again, he can understand why.

"The game has got quicker. The ball's actually in play for 60 minutes but in that 60 minutes, [the players] are on the move all the time. It used to be possible to kill a game. Not now.

"You can say it is down to playing too much but sometimes if you rest players and then they come back into a game, having got used to playing game on game on game, they can do their hamstrings as well.

"They are fit boys, they are finely tuned but if you look at athletes, the difference is that they pick their matches. When Linford Christie was at his best, he would choose to miss Zurich and go to Copenhagen. It's difficult to do that with football.

"Some of the tours are because the clubs have commercial commitments, like Brazil did with Nike, and I think that's a dangerous line to go down. I certainly wouldn't want the sponsors telling me where I have to go and play.

"But we have to accept football has changed. If [sponsors] are putting vast amounts of money in they are going to make demands. Players cannot then say, `I want more money but less games'. It doesn't fit, does it? If you say to players: `Ideally, how many matches would you like in a season?', they say: `I don't want to play 60 games, I would like to play 40'. So you say, `Right, would you take a cut in wages of a third?', the answer, you know and I know, would be no."

But that was enough moaning. Problems or not, Keegan was looking forward with optimism. Even the continued influx of foreign players could be a plus.

"It may be harder for young Englishmen to force their way into a side but when they do you know you have a real England player. If Stephen Hughes [currently on loan to Fulham] gets in the Arsenal side and puts out Emmanuel Petit - that's when you know you have got an England player."

Other players are closer to selection, with the form of Chris Sutton and Kieron Dyer, following their moves to Chelsea and Newcastle respectively, of interest to Keegan.

"It's a big move for Chris Sutton, Chelsea are a club that have ambition and I want to see what he is all about in that side. I think Sutton can adapt.

"Dyer going to Newcastle is interesting one because he is now playing in the Premiership, so we won't need to guess whether he can play there any more. Kevin Phillips and Michael Gray are also back playing in the Premiership [with Sunderland]."

Further afield Keegan has already asked for a fixture list from Spain and will be booking a flight as soon as Steve McManaman gets in to the Real Madrid team.

"I am still very optimistic, I think we have had a good rest and I believe in the players, I really do. We have got work to do to justify being at Euro 2000 but we have still got that opportunity and if we qualify, we will have as much chance as anybody else. We are ranked 14th in the world now but I look at some of the teams above us and I think, `if we had to play them...'.

"I don't make any argument with Brazil, but you look at those below them and I think we are as good as anybody. I see us as a top four team in the world."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living