Football: The luxury Venables must afford: Ian Ridley believes that there should be room in England's adaptable set-up for the talents of Matthew Le Tissier

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The Independent Online
ANKLE of Platt, groin of Anderton, hamstring of Venison, shin of Cole . . . because of injuries, Terry Venables's England brew will be short of some potent ingredients for Wednesday's match against Romania at Wembley and changes will have to be made. Some decisions should come easily, though one more troublesome is threatening to become the sort of debate about industry versus ingenuity that searches the soul of the national game and team from time to time.

There should be a first cap for a Robert Lee, bearing a goalscoring and passing resemblance to David Platt, whose leggy leadership Venables has chosen to replace with the call to arms of Tony Adams. Paul Ince should reclaim his holding midfield role with Barry Venison injured, while Peter Beardsley will probably take over from Teddy Sheringham.

An assumption has been made that Darren Anderton's absence has opened the way for Matthew Le Tissier to start a match for the first time after three appearances as a substitute. Venables, though, was at Liverpool yesterday to consider the claims of a more orthodox winger in Steve McManaman, suggesting he has doubts about whether the Southampton player can fill the role.

Le Tissier himself said before last month's match against the United States that he had been told by Venables when left out in the past that the choice lay between him and Beardsley. The widespread belief therefore was that he would replace the injured Newcastle player. It proved false.

How to integrate Le Tissier's talent was a problem that Graham Taylor could not solve. One expects Venables, with his commitment to bright players of adaptable abilities, at least to address the question. Now that the curious case of Andy Cole - fit for club twice a week but not for country - is temporarily closed, Le Tissier becomes an indicator of the coach's intentions.

Venables's utterances last week suggested either an open- mindedness or uncertainty that may only be resolved during training over the next few days. Yes, Anderton's absence may 'enhance' Le Tissier's chances. 'If you have got a talent, you have got to try and integrate it,' he said, adding that certain top players - Zinho and Mazinho of Brazil, Aron Winter of Holland - have been deployed out of position effectively. Indeed at Tottenham, Venables converted Paul Stewart from striker to midfield player and got from him the best spell of his career.

Then again, Venables said, though he was talking of Cole: 'If you start changing around when everybody gets on a bandwagon, it's going to be a jamboree. You have to get some stability and when you are satisfied with that and someone comes in, you hope that the team have got some confidence and that he is going to stay in. When there is a change, it has got to be fully justified.'

Venables has admired in Anderton a defensive dimension that Le Tissier does not possess, hence the attraction to McManaman, even though in attacking terms Newcastle's Ruel Fox appears to have the wider range. Le Tissier's elegant appearance, moreover, has often given the mistaken impression of laziness.

The Southampton man counters: 'Alan Ball has helped a lot in getting the team to get the ball to me more. It is a burden but I enjoy that. The more I see of the ball the more I am in the game. I have been criticised for not being involved in the whole game and this is a way of answering it. Being captain has helped as well.'

The languid look? 'It's true I don't get over-excited. Perhaps it is to do with the place I was brought up in,' says the man from Guernsey. 'I am relaxed even going on at Wembley. I very rarely get nervous. But I feel that players play better when relaxed rather than tense or hyped-up. That's me. If it looks as if I don't give a toss, well, that's too bad.'

Venables will play a similar system to that already used, and the 4-4-2 of the US match scarcely differed from his previous 'Christmas tree' formation, with attacking players still expected to support, and rotate around, Alan Shearer, but drop deeper to draw out defences. 'We can't have days and days of getting the team play established so we have to keep the simple formula of a shape.'

The problem for Venables in accommodating Le Tissier in it is that he is not a winger to replace Anderton, though insistence on the full-backs getting forward - Rob Jones needs more instruction than Graeme Le Saux - should counter a potential lack of crosses.

Venables will worry about too many changes and too little experience against such technically gifted campaigners as Gheorghe Hagi. Romania, who so illuminated the World Cup, are likely to provide the best opponents he has so far encountered, even allowing for their emotional and physical fatigue after last night's qualifying match against France.

'They will try and soak the pressure up and they are probably the best at hitting you on the break before you know what has happened, which is great practice,' says Venables. 'What I want to get out of this is to see if we can deal with it at that level. If we can't, we might learn a lot from that.'

He might, too, learn much from giving Le Tissier his head; whether the criticism that he flounders when asked to seek out the ball - which was the worry of Ron Greenwood in the debate about Glenn Hoddle - is valid. We might see, too, how balanced, or otherwise, England look with him aboard.

A manager was once asked if one of his charges was a luxury player. 'It's the bad ones who are the luxury,' he replied. It is time for a Matt start.

England (possible): Seaman; Jones, Adams (capt), Pallister, Le Saux; Le Tissier, Ince, Barnes; Lee, Beardsley; Shearer.