Football: Scholes suited to Gascoigne role

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND LOWERED the drawbridge to their training camp yesterday and allowed press and public to assess their mood. After seeing Brazil stumble and Italy nearly humbled it was, not surprisingly, buoyant. All 22 players are fit, in training, and, barring setbacks, available for selection for Monday's opening game against Tunisia in Marseille.

"It is a nice situation to be in," said Glenn Hoddle, the England coach. "We've had problems in the past but now it is other teams whose injuries I'm hearing about on the television."

Hoddle, who played at the Stade Velodrome with Monaco, is looking forward to the occasion. "It's a marvellous ground and a city which is passionate about football. There will be 60,000 there and I'm delighted as we seem to play better the bigger the occasion, like in Rome."

Since `Rome' has now taken on a mythical status with Hoddle it seems pertinent to remember, every now and again, that England, well though they played, did not actually win there and almost lost. Paul Gascoigne has since gone and Michael Owen arrived, but it is Paul Scholes who may become the most significant addition to that team. He played Gascoigne's role in England's friendly in Caen on Tuesday and, said Hoddle, "was terrific."

We have to take Hoddle's word for this as no-one was allowed in to watch. Hoddle's explanation, that he wanted to keep the game low-key to reduce the risk of injury, did not adequately explain why the media were kept out along with the public. The press corps is large but it hardly constitutes the sort of crowd to give a footballer an adrenalin rush.

With other teams allowing much freer access to press and public it was another example of the way England seem paranoid. Whether the secrecy - which has even extended to banning other guests at their hotel from using the pool - bonds the team or makes them withdrawn and fearful is yet to be seen.

One reason why the match may have been in camera was because it highlighted Hoddle's most obvious squad selection error. Not the omission of Gascoigne, which most people now agree with, but the exclusion of Phil Neville. This left Hoddle with only one left-sided defender in Graeme Le Saux who promptly went down with a bug. Hoddle thus played Rio Ferdinand at left-wing-back at Caen. It was the first time the right-footed teenager had ever played full-back.

The whole process brings to mind Graham Taylor's problems 1992 European Championships. Taylor ended up using David Batty at right-back after not taking enough cover. Ferdinand, said Hoddle, had been "excellent" in the position in training and it "gave us another option". What next? David Seaman on the wing?

Hoddle said the match was a worthwhile exercise and that he now knows his team. This may well include Scholes as Hoddle also added of the Manchester United midfielder "Nothing fazes him and I admire and working with him." However, given Hoddle's keenness for smokescreens his praise for Scholes may just be a red-haired herring.

While impressed with Scotland's performance against Brazil, Hoddle was not being drawn into judgements on the holders. "They always had that assured feeling that they are world champions and, if they keep plugging away, something will happen."