The England manager, Steve McClaren, last night opened the door for a number of fresh faces who have been knocking on it with increasing conviction in recent months - and revealed that a couple of former stalwarts discarded since the World Cup were pressing their claims for a recall.
England have won three straight games since McLaren replaced Sven Goran Eriksson, including back-to-back Euro 2008 qualifiers against Andorra and Macedonia. But McClaren made it clear that the squad for the next double-header, which is less than a month away, is not necessarily complete.
McClaren, in Berlin to represent England at a post-World Cup symposium for national managers, appears to be no closer to recalling David Beckham, especially since Aaron Lennon's knee injury is not nearly as bad as originally believed.
But both David James and Sol Campbell, who have played key roles in Portsmouth's whirlwind start to the season - Harry Redknapp's side are the only Premiership outfit not to have conceded a goal - should not consider their international careers over, said McClaren.
"We've got a squad but there's no way we are not looking outside," said McClaren. "I've said it before, I'll never close the door on anybody and James and Campbell are two examples. To get in the England team you have to perform well at your clubs and we are looking at a lot of other players outside of the squad. The likes of James and Campbell are not discarded. Ledley King has come back to fitness and Jonathan Woodgate has joined Middlesbrough and has already done well."
Sam Allardyce has long been pressing the case of Kevin Nolan for England recognition and McClaren said the Bolton midfielder was one of several newcomers being carefully watched. "We are even looking at the likes of both Kevin Nolan and Jimmy Bullard, players who maybe are off the radar at the moment but who, believe me, we are watching because the squad we have in two years may not be the squad we have now," McClaren said.
With a potential banana skin next up - Macedonia at home - followed by a pivotal trip to Croatia, McClaren insisted that no one should be carried away by England's solid start.
"That's the one thing that has always been levelled at the England team, the over-hype and over-expectation," he said. "We mustn't get carried away with the results or the performances. We know that we can do better. We have done nothing yet. We have proved nothing yet. That's my message to everybody, the players and the country as a whole."
McClaren also hinted that England need to be less rigid. "We want to play a certain way but we also need to be adaptable and flexible. This is one thing we need to learn and develop as we go along and it's not there yet. We have to teach that and develop the players into that way of thinking."
McClaren says being present at what is effectively a three-day World Cup post-mortem has been invaluable experience, especially listening to the likes of Italy's triumphant coach, Marcello Lippi, one of the keynote speakers.
But his predecessor, Sven Goran Eriksson, is conspicuous by his absence. The Swede was invited to share his views with the rest of the 70-odd national team coaches, past and present, but turned it down.
McClaren, however, clearly believes the trip has been worthwhile. "You've got all the top coaches all in one room and all willing to open up and share their views. This is where you learn and develop - by talking to people who are going through the same experiences as you."Reuse content