"The past is the past," England's manager Fabio Capello likes to declare, and he will not be going back to the future when naming a squad tomorrow for next week's European Championship tie at home to Montenegro, the other team in the group with six points from their opening two games. He did try to, in asking Emile Heskey to make a one-off appearance for the sake of old times and injuries, but no such invitation is being extended to those other ghosts of World Cups past, Michael Owen and David Beckham.
With the midfield depleted by the absence of Frank Lampard (injured) and James Milner (suspended), Liverpool's Joe Cole, ignored since the World Cup (and for most of the tournament) has slightly more hope, after being selected as one of the 34 names put on standby last week. So does Aston Villa's Stewart Downing,who also merited a mention. Around the younger generation, however, there is some of the usual confusion that tends to result from Capello's use of English, even with an Italian translator sitting next to him. His plans for Arsenal's Jack Wilshere and Newcastle's Andy Carroll remain less clear, as does the captaincy issue.
Of the golden (oldie) generation, there was less ambiguity. Given injuries to Bobby Zamora, Jermain Defoe and Gabriel Agbonlahor, plus uncertainty over Wayne Rooney, was Owen under consideration for a dramatic return after almost three years, Capello was asked at Wembley last week. "No," was the blunt answer. "He has just played 15 minutes and he played in the Carling Cup." The abundance of wide players, even with Theo Walcott not yet ready for Arsenal and Aaron Lennon in modest form at Tottenham, means there is no need to consider recalling Beckham, who had apparently been written out of the script in August: "At this moment, no. He's been out for six months. I'm reallyhappy he is fit."
Wilshere has been named for the Under-21 side's play-off against Romania, the first leg of which is at Norwich on Friday. After initially suggesting "I have to decide," about the Arsenal midfielder, Capello implied a few minutes later that the decision had been made: "He will play the first game for the Under-21s. After, he will be with us." Thus missing the second leg in Romania, which will be crucial to the squad's hopes of qualifying for the finals in Denmark next summer. Carroll, on the other hand, has been left out of the Under-21s, fuelling the suggestion that he would be named in the senior squad. Yet Capello initially spoke of an injury, which is not the case.
There will be no place for Mainz midfielder Lewis Holtby, who has an English father but was named on Friday in Germany's Under-21 squad. He is being monitored by the FA, but with little apparent enthusiasm.
As for the captaincy, it has always been thought Rio Ferdinand would lead the team when available but Capello has muddied the water by refusing to confirm that he will take the armband again if fit on Tuesday week. "I can't speak about who will be captain and who will not," he said. "I hope all the players will be fit and then I will announce it." Steven Gerrard, he said, "is a really good captain, captain of Liverpool, and like a captain he alwaysplays like a leader".
More sympathetic to Rooney's personal predicament than he was to John Terry's, the manager said: "It is young men with a lot of money. When you play it is better because you are focused on the game, training, but it's a private problem. When he played with us, he played very well."
Linguistics aside, this is a more confident Capello, promising that England will be better in future than in South Africa, self-belief restored by three successive wins. "I know what I can do," he declared. "I think I know my value." Something over £5m per annum, it would seem.
Possible squad Hart, Carson, Foster; G Johnson, Jagielka, Ferdinand, Terry, Cahill, Upson, Lescott, A Cole; Barry, Gerrard, Carrick, Wilshere; A Johnson, Wright-Phillips, Young, Downing or J Cole; Bent, Rooney, Crouch, C Cole or Carroll.