Another season, another international, but two familiar old names still dominate the England manager's press briefing, much as they have done for the past decade and more.
David Beckham, his patriotic enthusiasm undiminished by becoming a globetrotting millionaire, will be involved in Wednesday's game against Holland; Michael Owen, another former Real Madrid galactico, has been left out of a squad missing the Portsmouth goalkeeper David James, who has a knee injury, and his former team-mate Peter Crouch. Manchester United's Ben Foster and West Ham's Carlton Cole are included instead.
Written off and then recalled by Fabio Capello in Madrid and Steve McClaren for England, Beckham has spoken to England's general manager, Franco Baldini, and stressed his keenness to make the long journey from Los Angeles to Amsterdam this week. Not satisfied with even 112 caps for his country, he dearly wants to finish the season by competing in a fourth World Cup.
So does Owen, but despite being five years younger he finds himself where Beckham was three years ago, needing to prove by his club form that he is worth calling in from the cold. A move from the corroding environment of Newcastle to a much healthier one at Manchester United will undoubtedly help – not least for the opportunities afforded to play and train alongside a potential England partner in Wayne Rooney. But as yet Capello appears unconvinced.
Having watched Owen miss several chances in last Wednesday's friendly against Valencia, Capello suggested: "He played a good game," before observing cuttingly: "He missed a lot of chances to score goals." Lest that appeared harsh, it was diluted with: "It's a fantastic chance for Owen to play for a really important team. He has to play well and score goals and be back to the same player he was before last season. The door is always open and we choose the best players."
The best five strikers in Capello's opinion – and his squad – when England rounded off last season by scoring 16 goals in four games were Rooney, Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe, the unfortunate Crouch and Cole. It would have been odd if four goals on a tour of Asia against teams such as Hangzhou Greentown suddenly propelled Owen ahead of any two of those and into contention for Wednesday. His only hope is therefore a crop of withdrawals, which cannot be ruled out in the final week before the Premier League kicks off. On the other hand, players will be as reluctant to lose their place in a World Cup season as their understudies are desperate to stake a claim.
Capello insists he will show some understanding for club managers while demanding they do the right thing by him: "I speak with them always about the general situation of the players, but I have the final say. I will help them but they have to help me. If they say, 'Fabio, this player is tired, can only play 45 minutes', OK, but I decide."
From Geoff Hurst in 1966 to Theo Walcott 40 years later, a player has often made a late run to win a place in a World Cup squad. Stuart Pearce will be pushing some of the Under-21 squad he guided to the European Championship final in June; Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested Danny Welbeck, although Capello sounds more impressed by Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, who was outstanding in last weekend's Emirates Cup.
"He surprised me," the England manager said. "Big confidence and playing without fear. And the other players always passed the ball to him. That's not normal, so young but so good. If he goes to South Africa, we have enough months to decide. It will depend a lot on Arsène [Wenger] if he plays [for Arsenal]." Wilshere might have been fast-tracked into the Under-21 squad this week but will play instead at The Hawthorns on Tuesday for the Under-20s, who are preparing for the World Cup in Egypt next month.
More immediately, it is Holland who will command attention; the first European side to qualify for South Africa, they are third in the world rankings behind Brazil and Spain, four places ahead of England. The one concern for coach Bert van Marwijk is that all his Real Madrid contingent are being squeezed out by new galacticos.
Seven Premier League players past or present are in the squad of 25; Martin Jol's Ajax have made a good start and supply the first-choice goalkeeper in Maarten Stekelenburg but Steve McClaren has been short of luck, FC Twente losing a Champions' League qualifier on an away goal in the last minute to Sporting Lisbon. Some things never change.
SQUAD: Ben Foster (Manchester United), Robert Green (West Ham), Paul Robinson (Blackburn); Wayne Bridge (Manchester City), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Joleon Lescott (Everton), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham); Gareth Barry (Manchester City), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Aston Villa), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Aston Villa); Carlton Cole (West Ham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).Reuse content