Football: Why Hoddle cannot turn a blind eye to McManaman
In the days before the fragmentation of the fixture list, the explosion of television coverage and invention of video recorders, the England coach was dependent on the eyes and ears of others. At best he would personally attend three matches a week and catch snatches of action on Match of the Day and The Big Match. Inevitably, some players were picked when playing like drains while the form of others went unrewarded.
Now Glenn Hoddle can see half-a-dozen games in the flesh and twice the number live on television or later on tape. The last European week, for example, all seven English clubs were shown live and on Tuesday Hoddle sat channel-hopping between Arsenal, Leicester, Aston Villa and Liverpool. There are now no excuses for not knowing who is in form and who is not.
Thus, if Steve McManaman is not in this morning's England squad for next month's crucial World Cup tie in Italy, it will be clear that the omission is personal, not form.
McManaman missed Le Tournoi de France for a knee operation but his brace of stunning goals against Celtic and Villa have underlined his return to form and fitness. Significantly, given his early season episode with Barcelona, Roy Evans also made him captain when Paul Ince was injured. "His football is brilliant again," the Liverpool manager said. "He's ready for England, he always is."
While McManaman was undistinguished against Italy in February, that was partly because of Hoddle's curious team selection involving Matt Le Tissier. The Saint is not in contention for the Italian job, having suffered a broken arm and pulled hamstring this season.
Also ruled out is Stuart Ripley, admittedly a very different type of winger to McManaman while Stan Collymore barely justifies a place in Villa's team on form let alone England's. He did, it is true, look good when coming on against Moldova but it would have been hard not to against such a poor and, by then, dispirited outfit.
Even in the continued absence of Alan Shearer, Hoddle has several other striking options though none are without doubts. Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham, Robbie Fowler and Andy Cole have all just returned from injury which, in other circumstances, could have led to a chance for the in-form but uncapped Chris Sutton. However, this is no time for experimenting and the only forward change from the party chosen to play Moldova should be Fowler coming in for Emile Heskey.
Elsewhere, the squad is more predictable. Ince will return after suspension and Tony Adams after injury - Rio Ferdinand dropping out. Stuart Pearce and Martin Keown remain injured but Ian Walker's place is under threat from fit-again Tim Flowers.
Dennis Wise was an outside bet for inclusion until his two-footed lunge at Patrick Vieira and the midweek fracas with Roy Keane and David Beckham revealed the continuing fragility of his temperament. Another possibility, in the absence of Ripley, is Jason Wilcox. He was sent off when playing for Blackburn Rovers against Coventry City yesterday, and, with Ferdinand likely to start on the bench, Hoddle will probably settle for the width provided by the wing-backs.
Whoever Hoddle picks, he will now have an anxious week waiting to see who gets injured.
Probable squad: Seaman, Martyn, Walker; G Neville, P Neville, Le Saux, Southgate, Campbell, Adams, Pallister; Batty, Butt, Beckham, Gascoigne, Lee, Ince; Scholes, Sheringham, Ferdinand, Wright, McManaman, Fowler.
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