Aaron Lennon's form in Tottenham's fine start to the season has earned him a chance to restart an England career that seemed to be stalling. He will be named this evening in Fabio Capello's squad for the Wembley matches at home to Slovenia in a friendly on Saturday and against Croatia in the World Cup on Wednesday week, when victory would confirm England's qualification for next summer's finals.
As one of the few successes at the 2006 tournament, when only 19, Lennon was expected to take David Beckham's right-wing spot on a permanent basis. Steve McClaren, replacing Sven Goran Eriksson, gave him two starts, but came to prefer Shaun Wright-Phillips, as did Capello until late last season. Lennon then started in successive games against Slovakia and Ukraine without making any great impression.
This month, however, he has been in exciting form and now Capello, who saw him score an excellent goal at West Ham last weekend, wants to give pace a chance. "Speed is always important," Capello said. "He's a very interesting player, he's young and he played well at West Ham. Potentially he's really good. You have to understand it's potential. Confidence is really important. He can play one-on-one and be really dangerous because he's quick, and can shoot right and left [footed]. But I think he has to improve in confidence."
Therein lies the problem for young wingers, unless they are blessed – or cursed – with the self-belief of a David Bentley (now well below Lennon in the queue for club and country); confidence can be either boosted or undermined by the first couple of attempts at taking on a defender. Wright-Phillips has faced the same dilemma. Theo Walcott also did so in the away game with Croatia a year ago and emerged triumphant with the hat-trick that brought about the best result of Capello's tenure.
Now Lennon will be in the squad because Walcott is injured. Arsène Wenger had claimed his young Arsenal protege suffered from playing in the European Under-21 Championship this summer but Capello says: "I met Arsene, the relationship is perfect."
After watching Lennon play for Spurs against Birmingham yesterday, he will take in Portsmouth's game with Manchester City today, to check on David James, Wright-Phillips, Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge. Barring injuries in today's three Premier League matches or any declared non-runners overnight, there will be few other changes from the squad that recovered to draw 2-2 in Holland earlier this month.
James should return now that he has some games under his goalkeeping jersey, though the same cannot be said of Peter Crouch, who has hardly featured for Tottenham and will find Carlton Cole ahead of him after making a good impression in Amsterdam. The injured Rio Ferdinand will be absent, which should offer an opportunity for either his club-mate Wes Brown or Bolton's Gary Cahill. Capello likes to name two players for each outfield position and with Micah Richards named in the Under-21 squad playing European qualifiers, Brown, if fully fit, is the only obvious understudy at right-back for Glen Johnson.
There will be no Michael Owen yet, despite his protestations at Wigan about how few chances he has missed in a Manchester United shirt. He may or may not take some comfort from the fact that Capello says he does not necessarily believe in having a little and large combination and would be happy to use Wayne Rooney alongside Jermain Defoe; and therefore, presumably, Owen. Slovenia have been chosen as the Wembley warm-up act because of their stylistic similarity to Croatia. West Bromwich Albion's Robert Koren may be the only vaguely familiar name in the squad, but they have done well in a tight qualifying group, beating Northern Ireland and drawing in Poland. For England, of course, the result next Saturday will be of little or no importance compared to the one four days later.
David James (Portsmouth), Ben Foster (Manchester United), Robert Green (West Ham); Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Joleon Lescott (Man City), Gary Cahill (Bolton) or Wes Brown (Man United), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Wayne Bridge (Man City); David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Man City), Aaron Lennon (Spurs), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Gareth Barry (Man City), Michael Carrick (Man Utd), James Milner, Ashley Young (both Aston Villa); Wayne Rooney (Man Utd), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Jermain Defoe (Spurs), Carlton Cole (West Ham).