The England manager Fabio Capello has cemented his relationship with Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson by leaving Wayne Rooney out of Wednesday's friendly match against the European champions Spain in Seville.
The England manager Fabio Capello has cemented his relationship with Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson by leaving Wayne Rooney out of Wednesday's friendly match against the European champions Spain in Seville. But David Beckham, enjoying a profitable loan spell with Milan, is in the squad and is likely to equal Bobby Moore's total of 108 caps, probably as one of the six substitutes Capello intends using.
Last night he also named James Milner and Luke Young among the growing Aston Villa contingent, as well as Everton's Phil Jagielka and West Ham's Carlton Cole and Robert Green. Among those dropping out are Scott Parker, Darren Bent, Curtis Davies, Joleon Lescott and Scott Carson. Rooney is expected to be a substitute for United at Upton Park today, but Capello believes it is too early to pick him after three-and-a-half weeks out with a hamstring strain. That leaves Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor, now Villa team-mates, as a possible starting pair in attack.
There is also an element of keeping onside with leading managers during a busy period for English clubs. "It's not a fantastic time [for] this game because a lot of teams play the FA Cup, play the Premier League," Capello said. "This is one time when it is possible some players will be tired. I try to help the manager. Also the manager, he has to help me."
When Capello picked his first England squad a year ago, Beckham was out of season with the LA Galaxy, out of fitness and apparently out of favour. David Bentley took his place in the squad and the team, and was widely deemed the best player in a laboured 2-1 win over Switzerland. Yet Bentley has neverstarted another international, Beckham walking straight back into the side and even briefly reclaiming the captain's armband at the end of last season.
Shrewdly switching to Capello's old club Milan on loan this winter, he has improved his fitness and impressed both his club and country's coaches. The Italian side now wish to keep him, though the Galaxy last night told them to improve upon an offer of £6.7 million.
So Capello found himself following predecessors Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren in having to calm another outburst of Beckham-mania. "It's incredible," he said. "We have to play against Spain, and not only to speak about David or the other players. Why not the 23 players? For me, all the players are very important."
Theo Walcott and, after he was injured, Shaun Wright-Phillips have started the most recent games ahead of the 33-year-old Beckham, whose last four England appearances have been as a substitute, totalling only 30 minutes between them. But Capello was still prepared to admit: "Beckham is a very important player. The form of David is OK now, I've watched him in one game in Milan and [Italo] Galbiati and Franco Baldini saw his other games. He is fit now. Every player in the squad has to play, not just train. This is important for David and for us. He is better than he was six months ago."
He insisted it was too early to consider the possibility of Beckham still being around for the 2010 World Cup, which England are well placed to reach, and as for the chances of equalling Bobby Moore's record of 108 caps for an outfield player on Wednesday: "I never think about this when I choose a player or make a substitution."
The bookmakers do, and have him 3-1 on to start the game, never mind picking up another cap at some stage. It is not a tempting bet at those odds, especially since Wright-Phillips should be the man in possession after an excellent performance in the stunning 2-1 victory over Germany in November.
The Manchester City player will discover tomorrow if he is to be banned by the Football Association for kicking out in retaliation at Stoke's Rory Delap, but these days club suspensions do not affect England selection.
Milner, who also plays on the right of midfield, is picked at last after collecting a record number of Under-21 caps. His inclusion, and Jagielka's, are less of a surprise than that of Cole, who just before Christmas seemed to have lost all confidence before embarking on a sudden scoring burst. The list is bad news for Gary Neville, who would have hoped to have regained his place ahead of Luke Young, and for Carson, who was at fault for Germany's goal.
Even without the injured Cesc Fabregas, who did not always start under Luis Aragones at the European Championships last summer, Spain have a formidable squad. England will hardly be sorry if Rafa Benitez can persuade his countryman Vicente del Bosque not to use Fernando Torres for long. With Rio Ferdinand due to return alongside John Terry, the defence will have their hands full coping with David Villa, the Valencia striker who scored in each of Spain's opening four World Cup qualifiers, all of which have been won.
Goalkeepers: R Green (West Ham), J Hart (Man City), D James (Portsmouth).
Defenders: W Bridge (Man City), A Cole (Chelsea), R Ferdinand (Man Utd), P Jagielka (Everton), G Johnson (Portsmouth), J Terry (Chelsea), M Upson (West Ham), L Young (Villa).
Midfielders: D Beckham (LA Galaxy), G Barry (Villa), M Carrick (Man Utd), S Downing (Middlesbrough), F Lampard (Chelsea), J Milner (Villa), S Wright-Phillips (Man City), A Young (Villa).
Strikers: G Agbonlahor (Villa), C Cole (West Ham), P Crouch (Portsmouth), E Heskey (Villa).