Sven Goran Eriksson yesterday accepted that he must begin preparing for his most important match as England coach without his defensive bulwarks. Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and David Seaman will all be absent when the England squad regroups after the summer break for Wednesday's friendly against the Netherlands at White Hart Lane. The match is crucial to Eriksson's build-up to the World Cup tie with Germany in Munich on 1 Sept-ember, a match England have to win to maintain any realistic chance of automatic qualification for next year's tournament.
Campbell's absence is convenient as it forestalls any possible confrontation over his controversial summer move from Tottenham to Arsenal. However, Eriksson stressed he had been left out on fitness grounds alone, not because of threats made against him.
"I talked to Sol and Arsène Wenger [the Arsenal manager] and we all decided it would be better for him to work on getting himself fit. He has been out of the game for four months. That is the only reason that he will not be playing."
Wenger yesterday largely supported Eriksson's version of events, saying that Campbell was "a bit short physically. Only a very, very small part was psychological."
Ferdinand, Seaman and Steve McManaman have been also been omitted to give them time to recover their fitness and all should be back for the Germany game. Encouragingly for Eriksson, Manchester United were happy to release all seven players required. These include Andy Cole, who finally scored on his last England outing, in Albania in March, but was then suspended for the June trip to Greece. Those United players who survive Sunday's Charity Shield will be reunited, with England, with their former club coach Steve McClaren who has been allowed by his new club, Middlesbrough, to return to England coaching duties.
The absence of Campbell and Ferdinand provides hope for two of McClaren's new charges at the Riverside, Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu. Ehiogu, who made the most of a surprise call-up in Eriksson's first game, but then dropped out due to a lengthy domestic suspension, is the only unexpected name in a 26-man squad.
Eriksson may prefer Martin Keown, however, who learned yesterday that his appeal against a misconduct charge will not be heard by the Football Association until next month, clearing him to play in Arsenal's first three games of the season. This means he should be match-fit for England's games against Germany and Albania.
As anticipated, Owen Har-greaves, Bayern Munich's multi-national midfielder, is included. Frank Lampard is recalled, Nick Barmby and Gary Neville return after injury, and Richard Wright is back to replace his new club-mate Seaman. Ray Parlour has been dropped.
Hargreaves, said Eriksson, "has always played well when I have seen him." He added: "I am curious and wanted to see him at closer quarters. He has a lot of qualities. He is very fit and is a good winner of the ball but also has good ability when in possession. He is playing regular first-team football for Bayern Munich, which in itself is evidence that he is a good player."
While the timing of the fixture is hardly ideal, coming three days before the start of the Premiership season, it is unavoidable, given the importance of the World Cup qualifier in Germany less than a fortnight later. Since England have an abysmal record in September qualifiers, Eriksson, notwithstanding his good start, will need all the help he can get.
Sensibly, the Swede has come to compromise agreements with coaches like Gérard Houllier, whose Liverpool team face a demanding start to the season, to only use players for a maximum 45 minutes where possible. He may thus decide to start with his preferred first choice, as much as injuries allow, before looking at other candidates, including Hargreaves, in the second period.
Houllier's players, being further down the line in preparation due to their Champions' League campaign, could play a significant part. David Platt, the Under-21 coach, said he was particularly impressed with the form of Michael Owen, who scored a hat-trick in Europe in midweek. "The injuries are behind him and he looks better than ever," said Platt.
Owen may himself up against a familiar face as Sander Westerveld, the Liverpool keeper, is one of eight Premiership players in the Dutch squad, two more than that provided by their domestic league. The octet also includes three Chelsea players, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mario Melchiot and the new signing Boudewijn Zenden.
The latter is joined by five former Barcelona team-mates. One of them, Frank de Boer, features despite his drugs ban. Surprisingly, both he and Edgar Davids, who is also banned for drugs offences, are allowed to play friendly matches, even international ones.
England V Netherlands Squads
England (Friendly v Netherlands, White Hart Lane, Tottenham, 15 August): Martyn (Leeds), James (West Ham), Wright; Ashley Cole, Keown (Arsenal), Powell (Charlton), P Neville, G Neville, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Brown, Andy Cole (Manchester Utd), Mills, Smith (Leeds), Carragher, Gerrard, Barmby, Owen, Fowler, Heskey (Liverpool), Southgate, Ehiogu (Middlesbrough), Carrick (West Ham), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Lampard (Chelsea).
Netherlands : Van der Sar (Fulham), Westerveld (Liverpool), Waterreus (PSV Eindhoven); Van Nistelrooy, Stam (Manchester Utd), Oude Kamphuis (Schalke 04), Davids (Juventus), Petta (Celtic), Hasselbaink, Melchiot, Zenden (Chelsea), Van Bronckhorst (Arsenal), Hofland, Van Bommel (PSV Eindhoven), Kluivert, Cocu, Overmars, Reiziger, F de Boer (Barcelona), Paauwe, Van Hooijdonk (Feyenoord), Landzaat (Willem II Tilburg), Makaay (Deportivo la Coruña).Reuse content