McClaren drops Walcott's to under-21s

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The Independent Football

Steve McClaren put some distance between himself and one of the most controversial decisions of Sven Goran Eriksson's regime yesterday when he dropped Theo Walcott from the senior squad to play Greece this month. The Arsenal striker, who is not 18 until next March, will play for the Under-21s instead.

When he publicly named his World Cup finals squad in May, Eriksson famously revealed that McClaren had reacted with a stunned silence when he informed him of his choice to take Walcott to Germany, suggesting that it was not a decision to which McClaren had contributed. Walcott was not selected to play a single minute of the tournament, and McClaren has assigned the player to a more realistic level.

There are those who might suggest that even the Under-21s are a step too far for a teenager who has yet to play in the Premiership and whose senior performances are limited to 25 minutes of an international friendly against Hungary. However, McClaren has decided not to punish Walcott for Eriksson's bizarre decision.

Instead, Walcott will join up with Scott Carson, who was Eriksson's third choice goalkeeper in Germany, and the striker Darren Bent in the Under-21 squad to face Moldova in Tuesday's European Championship qualifier at Ipswich Town. It is a move designed to emphasise that McClaren does not believe Walcott is ready for senior international football but that his part in the squad in Germany was, as is widely known now, a plan cooked up by Eriksson and his assistant, Tord Grip.

"I wanted Darren, Scott and Theo to have the chance to play some competitive Under-21s football," McClaren said. "They are still in my plans. I see the Under-21s as a very important stepping stone to the senior team and I will keep a close eye on them this season."

Aaron Lennon is not in the Under-21s squad which suggests that his impressive performances in Germany mean that he stays in the seniors. The exclusion of Bent and Walcott, with the long-term cruciate knee ligament injury to Michael Owen, will mean a recall for Jermain Defoe and a place in the squad for West Ham's Dean Ashton. Anton Ferdinand and Nigel Reo-Coker are in the Under-21s, too. With Carson out, Chris Kirkland, newly loaned to Wigan could make a return inching his father, Eddie, a step closer to collecting on that bet he made when his goalkeeper son was 13 that one day he would play for England. Manchester United's goalkeeper Ben Foster, who was the stand-by for the World Cup squad is also a contender.

Although details concerning Terry Venables' contract with the Football Association are yet to be finalised, McClaren hopes to announce the former England manager as his assistant and technical advisor tomorrow when he names his captain and squad to face Greece. He is also likely to give a part-time job to Steve Round, the 35-year-old who was his assistant at Middlesbrough.

Round is an interesting choice given that his role was originally earmarked for Alan Shearer - a figure who McClaren hoped would have the respect of the players for his international achievements. By contrast, Round played nine times for Derby County before injury cut short his career.

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