Old Trafford's left touchline is normally graced by Ryan Giggs, the finest left winger the British Isles has produced in 30 years. To see him in full flow is as good a reason as any to visit the Theatre of Dreams.
Today, however, spectators must look elsewhere for their thrills. England are in town and though Giggs was brought up in Salford and played for England schoolboys he was never, contrary to urban myth, eligible for the senior team. Thus his regular beat will instead be patrolled by an out-of position right-footer.
Sven Goran Eriksson indicated yesterday that Trevor Sinclair and Darren Anderton will share the role. Neither will complain. Anderton has not played for England for a year and Sinclair, having been called up 10 times since 1995 without winning a cap, will be delighted to finally pull on the shirt. However, since Anderton is currently playing in central midfield for Tottenham, and Sinclair is more commonly found on West Ham's right flank, both could struggle to produce their best form.
If so they would not be the first to so suffer. The left flank is England's problem position. Only a decade ago England were spoilt for choice, with John Barnes and Chris Waddle competing for the role. Neither were fully appreciated by England fans but they represent a golden era compared to the present situation. In the 30 internationals since the resignation of Glenn Hoddle, who got round the problem by playing wing-backs, 18 different players have been tried on the left flank.
Few will recall the experience with any relish. A staggering 12 were cast aside after just one chance. They include Jason Wilcox and Steve Guppy, the only genuine wingers given a chance (Steve Froggatt having only made the squad). Others, after being press-ganged into the job, floundered, an ordeal suffered by Nicky Butt, Tim Sherwood, Ray Parlour and, most recently, Owen Hargreaves. None have subsequently prospered, with Sherwood never playing for England again. Nor has Jamie Redknapp, who played consecutive matches on the left without suggesting he was suited for the role and was then struck down by injury.
Unexpectedly, one of the more successful lefties has been Emile Heskey. First played there by Howard Wilkinson, who remembered Heskey playing there early in his career for Leicester, he has terrified a few full-backs with his strength even if his dribbling technique is not exactly in Giggs' class. Eriksson, however, wants to find another option so he can use Heskey in his more accustomed forward role. He said yesterday: ''Heskey can do it and he will do it very well if we ask him to. But at this moment I think he is very important up front so you have to make a choice.
''I am looking for someone to play well out there. Steve McManaman can because against Barcelona the other day he was very good. Hopefully he will play like that for England."
However McManaman, though he has played on the left on-and-off since Terry Venables first capped him in 1994, has been inconsistent for England. So has Barmby, who has not lived up to the early promise he showed on the flank under both kevin Keegan and Eriksson.
The Swede also gave Joe Cole a run, against Mexico in May. He looked good but has since been injured. With Barmby also injured and McManaman on club duty Eriksson had to look elsewhere this time. His options were few. The only left-footed players in the current 26-man party are Robbie Fowler and Chris Powell, a striker and a defender. There are some excellent left-flank players in the Premiership, such as Giggs, Robert Pires, Harry Kewell, Boudewijn Zenden, Laurent Robert, Christian Ziege, John Collins, Damien Duff and Hassan Kachloul. The trouble is, none of them are English. With Eriksson curiously reluctant to play Graeme Le Saux, who was Hoddle's preferred left wing-back, opportunity now knocks for Sinclair, Anderton – who has played on the left for England under both Venables and Wilkinson – and, possibly, Liverpool's Danny Murphy.
Should today's trialists prove as ill-at-ease as their many predecessors then Eriksson has precious little time to cast his net wider. Other possibilities include David Dunn and Lee Hendrie, though they usually play in central midfield for their clubs, Seth Johnson, if he can win a place at Leeds, and, in the long term, Jermaine Pennant.
For now Eriksson is putting his faith in Sinclair and Anderton. Both players have reportedly turned down moves to Manchester United in the past but today they will be in the home dressing room looking for Giggs' peg and hoping some of his stardust rubs off.Reuse content