Captain Keown is England's man for a crisis

Wilkinson turns to to another Arsenal stalwart for Finland game as Adams joins the growing casualty list
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Martin Keown emerged from the wreckage of England's embryonic World Cup campaign yesterday and answered the call for a leader issued by the caretaker-coach, Howard Wilkinson, as he became the fourth England captain in as many matches.

Martin Keown emerged from the wreckage of England's embryonic World Cup campaign yesterday and answered the call for a leader issued by the caretaker-coach, Howard Wilkinson, as he became the fourth England captain in as many matches.

Keown will captain the national side against Finland in the Olympic Stadium tomorrow night after his club captain, Tony Adams, withdrew with a back injury before the team left Luton Airport yesterday afternoon.

Adams was joined by Paul Ince, whose wife is due to have a baby this week, and Graeme Le Saux, who has a calf injury. The party has been strengthened by the arrival of Teddy Sheringham, but Wilkinson is still left with a daunting task as he attempts to forge a winning combination.

With no manager, no captain, no vice-captain, no ground, and no World Cup qualifying points, the team would appear to be a shambles. In addition, PaulScholes (foot) and Gary Neville (ankle) are nursing injuries while Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey and Steve McManaman are not match-fit.

Since David Beckham - who led the team in the absence of the unfit Sol Campbell when Adams went off injured in Paris - had also been the vice-captain, Wilkinson's hunt for a man to lead the team out at the Olympic Stadium resembled the search for a shadow cabinet minister with a drug-free past. Only David Seaman of the remaining players had done the job before but, with his latest lapse at Wembley on Saturday underlining his fading powers, Wilkinson, a fan of Nigel Martyn, was disinclined to anoint him.

So problematic was the position, England stepped on to the plane without a leader, Wilkinson having postponed the decision. With morale haemorrhaging, Wilkinson's call, on Sunday night, for the "leaders" in the team to stand up and be counted was beginning to sound more like a plea than a rallying cry. In the event, Keown is the latest successor to Alan Shearer.

In the circumstances, Wilkinson is due considerable sympathy. As with his previous match as caretaker, against the world champions, France, he has neither the time nor the players to put out the team he would prefer to be represented by.

With very little time to work, he cannot bring in major tactical changes, but the personnel constraints are equally limiting. Widely regarded as a 4-4-2 man he has brought in 4-3-3 at junior international level but may struggle to produce a back four of quality tomorrow. While he still has three central defenders, the full-back positions present a problem. Gary Neville has a knock and his brother, Phil, has barely played since his tackle put England out of the European Championships, while the inexperienced Gareth Barry is really a centraldefender.

In midfield there is no one with the ingenuity of a Beckham, an absence which the Finland coach, Antii Muurinen, said yesterday, gave him hope as "he was England's only world-class player". Sheringham, who joined the squad yesterday, will thus have to start if the team is not to be devoid of craft, possibly alongside Scholes and behind either Michael Owen or Andy Cole in an arrowhead-shaped attacking trio.

Before he broke down in training Adams had said the players had been "shocked" by Keegan's resignation, but did not feel the players' poor performances meant they bore responsibility for it. However, he admitted they had been "sloppy" in conceding Germany's goal at Wembley and "there was a lot of work to be done".

Adams had spoken privately with Keegan for several minutes before Adam Crozier, the Football Association's chief executive, arrived in the dressing-rooms to try and persuade him to change his mind. Adams would not disclose what he had said, but added: "I liked the man, I thought he was a warm human being, very kind, very genuine. We all liked him, even those who were out of the team."

The Arsenal captain, who is 34 today, has already served under six England managers, including Wilkinson, quite a contrast to a 16-year-club career spent under just three, George Graham, Stewart Houston and Arsÿne Wenger.

The last of those is among the favourites for the England job, but Adams would not even be drawn on the general benefits of a foreign coach, let alone enter the minefield of discussing Wenger's suitability to be his seventh international manager.

Comments