Keegan looks to future by calling up Cole

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The footballer who represents England's future may yet be part of the team that closes a chapter on its past after Kevin Keegan called Joe Cole into the squad for England's final game at the old Wembley Stadium.

The footballer who represents England's future may yet be part of the team that closes a chapter on its past after Kevin Keegan called Joe Cole into the squad for England's final game at the old Wembley Stadium.

Cole is the only uncapped player in a 27-man squad from which the teams to play the World Cup qualifiers against Germany, at Wembley on 7 October, and Finland, in Helsinki on 11 October, will be selected.

In what might be regarded as a good omen, the 18-year-old West Ham midfielder has played at Wembley once before, in a 2-1 win over Germany for England Schools three years ago.

This match will be a very different proposition, but, while Cole is unlikely to start, a substitute appearance cannot be ruled out, especially if England need a goal in the later stages.

"Joe is a rare talent," said Keegan yesterday. "He can turn a game that's tight, he can change its course. He is stronger than last year and playing regularly for West Ham. I believe he's ready, willing and able to perform at the very top level. If you're good enough, you're old enough. He is good enough. He's got a tremendous future." Cole, who made his West Ham debut in January 1999 and has been carefully nurtured by Harry Redknapp ever since, is the heir apparent to Paul Gascoigne who showed, at Filbert Street on Sunday, the sort of lock-picking passing England have been missing since Glenn Hoddle called time on his fading international career just over two years ago. Cole lacks Gascoigne's physical power, but has the same ability to make things happen on the pitch and, so far at least, thankfully appears to lack his selfdestructive personality off it.

While Cole is unlikely to start he would appear in better shape than either Robbie Fowler, who is making a gradual return from injury, or his team-mate Emile Heskey, who is injured at present, both of whom have been included at the expense of the resurgent Teddy Sheringham. The in-form Tim Flowers is also overlooked.

Missing from the 24 selected for the friendly with France are Sol Campbell and Darren Anderton, both of whom are injured. They are replaced by Jamie Carragher, who was dropped by Keegan after playing 28 minutes as a substitute on his debut 18 months ago, and the fit-again Ray Parlour. Graeme Le Saux, who has missed 14 matches with injury, also returns.

The forward-looking appearance of a squad which includes six players aged 21 or under is highlighted by Keegan's decision to select David Beckham as vice-captain in Campbell's absence. With Tony Adams continually troubled by injury there is a very real chance that Beckham, 25, will lead the side at some stage in the two matches.

"I don't worry about his temperament and I wouldn't make him vice-captain if I did," Keegan said. "I see him as a future England captain. He's a leader and that's important." With Adams' fellow central defender Rio Ferdinand another injury doubt, and Campbell absent, the door has opened for for Carragher. He has spent much of this season operating as adefensive midfielder but, said the coach, "he is a gem of a player - you ask him to do a job and he does it.

"He's come through the ranks. Nobody has played more often for the Under-21s [27 caps]. He is as versatile as they come and very consistent." Carragher also provides cover for the injury-prone Steve Gerrard though Keegan is "optimistic" he will be able to play against Germany at least. Of their Anfield team-mates, Keegan seemed to think Heskey's knee problem might ease in time for the Finland match while Fowler - "a player I really believe in" - simply needed match practice.

Keegan would normally be described as facing an anxious weekend while he waits to see who else gets injured but, his mother having passed away early this week, he will have little trouble putting such worries into perspective. The Germany match may be important and historic, but even Bill Shankly's most ardent pupil will be painfully aware that it is only a game.

* The Liverpool pair Christian Ziege and Dietmar Hamann are among the squad named by the Germany coach, Rudi Völler, to face England. Völler has kept faith with the players who beat Greece on 2 September, the only change being that the party has been trimmed from 22 to 20.