It is the one Saturday when Steve McClaren will be the coach of an England team playing second fiddle in the public consciousness to their rugby union cousins – so just his luck that today he makes one of his bravest decisions. Frank Lampard has not reclaimed his place in the England side to face Estonia and so one of the oldest taboos is broken for the first time in a generation.
The end of the pretence that Steven Gerrard and Lampard can form an effective partnership is upon us; one of those occasions when the English nation gives up something that they knew in their hearts was never inherently right: like the British Empire or outdoor lavatories. But Gerrard be warned. If there is just one place now for a central, goalscoring midfielder the Liverpool captain must deliver, and certainly more effectively than he has done for his club in recent weeks.
That old rule about the stars of this team and their apparently divine right to a place in it has been re-written with Gareth Barry's selection. Under Sven Goran Eriksson it would have been unthinkable and, until now, it seemed that McClaren, too, was unwilling to accept that the Gerrard-Lampard axis was immovable.
It is no slur on Lampard, although he will undoubtedly feel bruised by the experience. He is a brilliant professional and an inspirational goalscorer but not – as no player should be – an automatic choice for the England team. The inclusion of the humble Barry, an accomplished midfielder, shows that it is possible to earn a place in this England team for a Euro 2008 qualifier on the basis of two outstanding games – which is, of course, exactly how it should be.
There is a case for saying that McClaren could have been even more radical and not reinstated Wayne Rooney to the England team for the first time since March, although he has done just that. It was asked of McClaren yesterday why he thought Owen, when in partnership with Rooney, scored on average one goal every 201 minutes as opposed to one every 82 minutes with Emile Heskey. It was not even mentioned that Owen's goal ratio with Peter Crouch – who is available, unlike Heskey – is about one every 90 minutes. The Liverpool man has been the week's forgotten man.
McClaren was unwilling to accept the argument about Owen and Rooney. Otherwise he was confident and calm for a manager who has just lost his captain, John Terry, to injury in the previous 24 hours. While he would not publicly confirm the selection of Barry over Lampard he said that his mind had been made up at the start of the week. "I have been delighted with Frank's reaction," he said. "He has looked fresher and sharper than I have seen him for a long time. That made the decision more difficult. But I had made my mind up on Tuesday and that never changed."
Ashley Cole is also in the side at left-back despite a serious discussion within the England camp that he should be rested in favour of Nicky Shorey because another booking would mean he was suspended for the game against Russia on Wednesday. McClaren said that Terry's replacement would be Sol Campbell although he sounded more upbeat about his captain's chances of playing against Russia than recent medical reports might suggest. "John Terry is a lot better than he was yesterday," he said. "There's still hope, and we're trying everything possible to get him fit."
The rehabilitation of Campbell was inevitable for McClaren with so many injuries and the retirement of Jamie Carragher. In August last year the Portsmouth defender was part of that group with David Beckham and David James who were discarded by McClaren in an entirely reasonable attempt by a new manager to break with the past. Unfortunately it was not the past that turned out to be the problem – it was the failure of the present generation to adequately replace them. And so McClaren has had to go back to all three at different times.
Despite Campbell's slightly unfathomable disposition, his 70th cap will mean just as much to the 33-year-old as Beckham's return did to him.
Among the other surprising admissions from McClaren yesterday was that Rooney was not a "world-class player" – whatever that means. The statistics would agree with the sentiment, given that Rooney has scored only three times since Euro 2004 and none of them have been on competitive matches. In this new mood of ruthlessness with the star names how long will the boy wonder himself survive?
"He's not making excuses, he knows the potential he's got and what he has to do to realise that," McClaren said. "From my point of view, Wayne Rooney has the potential to be a world-class player. He's still got a long way to go and a lot to learn. I would say that he's been a little unfortunate with England. He hasn't really had the consistent run with the England squad that you actually need."
Asked to draw a comparison with his counterpart Brian Ashton in charge of the England rugby team McClaren picked out "overcoming adversity". "There comes a challenge and you either sink or swim," he said. "It shows great character to be able to bounce back." The rugby team achieved it against Australia; the football team, according to McClaren, against Andorra. Their journey is evidently a little longer.Reuse content