Football: Venables gives Le Tissier licence to roam: Apprenticeship over for the Southampton captain, who makes the England starting line-up for the first time at Wembley tonight

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The Independent Online
TERRY VENABLES yesterday decided Matthew Le Tissier's long international apprenticeship was complete and named the gifted Southampton captain in an England starting line-up for the first time.

Le Tissier, 26 on Friday, was first named in an England squad more than two years ago and has since made three substitute appearances, all under Venables.

Tonight he will assume the same role for England as he does for Southampton, floating behind a pair of central strikers with licence to roam. On his right will be Robert Lee, the Newcastle midfielder, who will be making an England debut. In attack, alongside Alan Shearer, will be Ian Wright. The rest of the side is unchanged froi the one that defeated the United States 2-0 last month.

Le Tissier has been compared to many players. To George Best by Southampton manager Alan Ball; to Eric Cantona by Ball's assistant Lawrie McMenemy; to Tony Currie by Terry Venables and to Rodney Marsh and Frank Worthington by others. None are entirely appropriate, nor perhaps is the following one, Raich Carter, the former international inside-forward who died at the weekend.

However, parts of Ivan Ponting's obituary of Carter in the Independent yesterday could have written of Le Tissier: 'A magnificent maker and taker of goals . . . impeccable ball control . . . intelligence . . . radiating self-confidence as he strutted around the pitch dictating the course of a game.'

Le Tissier to a tee. Carter, like other English analogies from Currie to the players' own hero, Glenn Hoddle, was never allowed to establish himself in the England side. Whether Le Tissier can buck the trend will depend on both Venables and his new team-mates.

At The Dell Ball and McMenemy impressed on Le Tissier the need to get in areas where he could be most dangerous and then told the team to play to and through him. His subsequent form kept Southampton up last year and has inspired them into seventh place this. In the process he has scored 25 goals (in 27 games) and created countless more.

Venables has given Le Tissier the same role but whether international players, talented in their own right, will be as deferential as his Southampton colleagues remains to be seen. Similar experiments with Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne were not successful.

"I hope he sees plenty of the ball," Venables said. "He has obvious quality and skill, he now has to produce it at international level.

"It is the right time to play him. He has been in the squad, played as substitute and generally got the feel of it," said the England coach.

Le Tissier admitted he felt settled with England and agreed that his contentment was likely to be reflected in his performance as it has at Southampton. There, having been dropped by Ian Branfoot a year ago, he has blossomed under Ball's more attractive football philosophy.

"There is a nice atmosphere there," he said. "We pass the ball, play good football and are going well with a good, young side. The position I played in before, out on the right, and the football we played meant some days I hardly got a kick. Now I am involved all the time and I am playing the best football of my career."

Le Tissier has always believed he would play for England. As a schoolboy in Guernsey he once wrote an essay about dreaming he was playing against West Germany in the World Cup final - his mum woke him up as he prepared to take a last minute penalty. Even when he was constantly overlooked by Graham Taylor, Venables' predecessor, he remained sure he would play although he added, if "I had not been included by now I might have begun to wonder."

Le Tissier's languid style has been cited as evidence of a lack of ambition. So too his reluctance - unlike England colleagues Alan Shearer, Tim Flowers and Neil Ruddock - to leave Southampton.

But he said: "People think I don't care but I have always been ambitious. I want to win 50-60 caps, until you do that you cannot be a great player.

"If Southampton had been relegated I would have had to move but as long as I am in the Premiership, playing against top players all the time, I don't see what difference it makes whether I am with Southampton or a big club. I would not have signed a new contract in the summer if I had not felt my future was there."

Shearer, incidentally, will take the penalties ('for now' said Le Tissier). His new partner, Ian Wright, has been recalled for the eighth time in 10 full appearances - only once has he started consecutive matches.

He admitted yesterday he never felt secure under Taylor. "I always thought if everybody else was fit, he wouldn't have played me," Wright said.

"He only played me when all his other options were closed. It made you feel you were playing by default."

In all Wright has played 19 times, scoring five goals, four of which were against San Marino. So far he has not looked capable of transferring his Arsenal form to the international stage but until he is given a proper run it is unfair to suggest he never will.

Teddy Sheringham got a good game under his belt against the USA. But now it is Wright's turn to have his chance: "He deserves it," said Venables. "I know that I can do the job," Wright said. "I feel I have been given a fresh chance and I want to put myself in a position where it's hard to leave me out."

Romania, deserved World Cup quarter-finalists, are considered vulnerable to pace. As such they provide the perfect test for Wright, and the test of the team to prove themselves against quality opposition.

(Photograph omitted)