Obscured view leaves Keegan with old hands

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The Independent Online

The first week of the Premiership has not been especially revealing for Kevin Keegan. With a squad for the friendly against France in Paris on 2 September to be announced this lunchtime, the England coach took in three matches.

The first week of the Premiership has not been especially revealing for Kevin Keegan. With a squad for the friendly against France in Paris on 2 September to be announced this lunchtime, the England coach took in three matches.

At Stamford Bridge on Saturday he saw Joe Cole and Graeme Le Saux confined to cameo appearances from the substitutes' bench, while Rio Ferdinand did not even manage that. At Highbury on Monday, between dismissals, he saw a similarly truncated role for Michael Owen. Then at Portman Road on Tuesday he discovered Andy Cole, hailed for his goal on Sunday - when Keegan was not present - had also been dropped to the bench, coming on finally for less than half an hour.

In all, 79 footballers have passed across Keegan's gaze this week but only 32 have been qualified to play for England and just 19 of those played the whole match. Subtract the likes of Nigel Winterburn, whose England days appear to be behind him, the Ipswich defender Titus Bramble, who is beginning his international career in the Under-21s, and his team-mate Mark Venus, who is unlikely to ever wear the three lions, and Keegan managed a decent look at barely a dozen candidates.

However, there have been some plus marks. Dennis Wise and Stuart Pearce showed they are still defying the years; David Seaman, at fault for Niall Quinn's Sunderland goal on Saturday, looked in commanding form against Liverpool on Monday; David Beckham, amid a rusty Manchester United performance, showed his deadball prowess is undimmed; and in opposition Richard Wright was excellent.

The week's performance which will most have intrigued Keegan, however, came from David Johnson, the Jamaican-born striker, 24 last week, whose international future remains vague.

Last season, in between scoring 22 First Division goals for Ipswich, he flirted with Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland before being informed he could only play for England or Jamaica. He has already represented England at schoolboy and B international level.

Johnson, though prone to stray offside, worried United throughout with his pace and strength on Tuesday night and, but for a wonderful save by Fabien Barthez, might have stolen the winner. He is not yet ready for the step up to the full England team, certainly not against France, but with Alan Shearer retired, Robbie Fowler injured, and Kevin Phillips yet to convince at international level, Keegan might decide it is worth bringing him into the fold with a view to the future. Especially as Scotland are reconsidering their eligibility rules.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said of the player he released as a teenager, after Johnson went through a wayward period: "He is a handful, a powerfully built lad who gives defenders a hard time."

George Burley, the Ipswich manager, added: "He caused Manchester United problems all night with his movement. If he keeps improving, the sky is the limit for him."

Johnson apart, the England squad is unlikely to show many changes from the 22 that failed at Euro 2000. Steve McManaman, following his problems at Real Madrid, is short of match practice and therefore vulnerable, as are Dennis Wise (33), Paul Ince (32), Nigel Martyn (34), Martin Keown (34), Tony Adams (33) and Seaman (36), on the grounds of age.

However, Keegan places a premium on loyalty and most, maybe all, will survive for now, with Adams likely to regain the captaincy following Shearer's retirement.

With a full Premiership programme before the party meet up next week the squad will be be expanded, creating space for Cole and Le Saux, who missed Euro 2000 through injury, plus Ferdinand (if fit) and Kieron Dyer, who just failed to make the final 22.

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