Football: Ruddock and Jobson join Venables' list

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The Independent Online
WE ALL knew it was going to be difficult without the World Cup, but a squad announcement for a non-existent friendly tested even Terry Venables's renowned ingenuity.

The Football Association was concerned, but it need not have worried. Under the new regime, even the non- events are fascinating.

It is not without irony that the most imaginative England selection in memory should be chosen for the match that wasn't, but Venables has managed to put the cancellation to good use, by summoning the best of the rest for a getting-to-know-you exercise. Next week's trip to Germany was scrapped because it coincided with Hitler's birthday, and half a dozen of the 24 players named yesterday must have thought it was theirs.

Richard Jobson, 31 next month, probably thought his international prospects vanished with the change of management, and others, such as Neil Ruddock, Robert Lee, Jamie Redknapp, Jason Wilcox and Chris Bart-Williams will have been hoping for the chance, but thinking in terms of next season, at the earliest.

Instead, they get the opportunity to strut their stuff and catch the selectorial eye during a Sunday- through-Tuesday get-together at Bisham Abbey. Venables' inaugural match, against Denmark, was a time for intensive work, and the smaller the group the easier it was to devote 'quality time' to each individual. A team was more than enough.

With no game, and no result to worry about, the squad is expanded to have a look at as many fringe candidates as possible in the environment of England's traditional training camp.

The atmosphere will be relaxed, the workload light at a time when players everywhere are in need of rest rather than extra exertion, but there will probably be a match between two sides picked from within the pool on Tuesday.

Venables reported 'excellent co- operation' from club managers who might have been reluctant to release their best players at such a critical stage in the season, but no one from Arsenal or Wimbledon had been considered because of their Premiership fixture next Wednesday and David Platt is required by Sampdoria for the second leg of the Italian Cup final, against Ancona.

Their absence has given others an earlier opportunity than they might otherwise have expected - notably Ruddock, who stands in for his drinking mate, Tony Adams, and Chris Sutton and Andy Cole, whose presence will give Ian Wright food for thought. The threat was obvious, even before Venables spelled it out.

'People sometimes come in from nowhere and grasp an opportunity,' he said. 'It is about taking it by the scruff of the neck and saying, 'I'm going to make it bloody difficult for you to leave me out.'

It will be hard for anyone to make that sort of impression without playing in a proper match, and there cannot be too many openings, anyway, after that promising beginning against the Danes, but young bucks thrive on encouragement, and it will do their morale, and commitment, no harm to know that they are part of England's plans.

The newcomers - nine of the 24 are uncapped - were improvers who had been picked on current form, with one exception. Ruddock's game has dipped since the start of the season, and he is not playing as well as he did at Tottenham but, blunt edge or not, 'Razor' is very much a Venables man, and the intention is to heighten his motivation, possibly by giving him a kick up that spreading backside next week.

'I know all about Neil,' the coach said, knowingly. 'I want to talk about his strengths, not weaknesses. He is a winner, and I like to have that sort of player in my team. His aerial ability is good, and his passing is much better than people give him credit for.'

Wise was also 'an underrated player'. Capped five times by Graham Taylor, he was a contentious choice when picked ahead of Chris Waddle, but Venables shares his predecessor's regard for the Chelsea spitfire. 'He is bright and sharp, he can play anywhere across the midfield, his passing and crossing are good, and he will score a goal or two.'

Of the others, Lee had 'improved and gone on improving' and was the pick of the Newcastle United midfield - as was Redknapp at Liverpool, where he had established himself as an automatic selection and was playing 'with a lot of authority'.

Wilcox, who supplies Alan Shearer from the left flank for Blackburn Rovers, was within a whisker of being the surprise choice for the Denmark game. He had got 'better and better' during Rovers' charging pursuit of Manchester United and would give any team 'good balance on the left'.

Sutton and Cole needed no explanation. 'Sounds like a place near Birmingham,' Venables said. Dream on, Villa.

ENGLAND SQUAD (for training at Bisham Abbey): Flowers (Blackburn), Coton (Man City); Jones (Liverpool), Parker (Man Utd), Pallister (Man Utd), Jobson (Oldham), Ruddock (Liverpool), Walker (Sheff Wed), Pearce (Nottm Forest), Le Saux (Blackburn), Anderton (Tottenham), Lee (Newcastle), Batty (Blackburn), Ince (Man Utd), Redknapp (Liverpool), Bart-Williams (Sheff Wed), Wise (Chelsea), Le Tissier (Southampton), Wilcox (Blackburn), Shearer (Blackburn), Beardsley (Newcastle), Sutton (Norwich), Cole (Newcastle), Ferdinand (QPR).