Sheringham's return signals subtle approach

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The Independent Football

While Howard Wilkinson's team selection for tonight's World Cup tie with Finland generally resulted in bewildered looks yesterday, one name was greeted with universal agreement among seasoned observers of England's faltering footballers.

While Howard Wilkinson's team selection for tonight's World Cup tie with Finland generally resulted in bewildered looks yesterday, one name was greeted with universal agreement among seasoned observers of England's faltering footballers.

Teddy Sheringham was not even in Kevin Keegan's squad for tonight's match but his immediate recall by Wilkinson seemed to signify the change in emphasis from a reliance on heart to the appliance of brain.

Under Terry Venables's England stewardship, Sheringham, like Peter Beardsley before him, underlined the value of fielding split strikers at international level. As Mehmet Scholl showed against England on Saturday, someone who can drop off the target man is able to find space between their opponents' central defence and midfield. From there, especially if armed with Sheringham's passing range, they can be the fulcrum for attacking moves.

Whether the 34-year-old actually plays "in the hole" tonight is still unclear. If not Wilkinson is wasting his talents. Worryingly for tonight, his last England appearance, and only one under Keegan, came as part of a three-striker formation in Bulgaria 15 months ago. It was not a personal or team success.

Wilkinson would not be drawn on Sheringham's position but said: "Teddy has shown in the past, and to me can still show, that he is better suited to international football than domestic football. His track record at Manchester United shows he can deal with occasions like this and perform, that he is a winner."

That Sheringham's recall is at the expense of Michael Owen is ironic. Sheringham, who scored the last of his nine England goals in April 1998, lost his starting place to Owen in the subsequent World Cup finals. He was not the media, or the public's, preferred choice then and, with appearances at United limited, his international career seemed behind him. However, age has not withered him, having never been quick the loss of what pace he had has not been vital and his quickness of thought has compensated handsomely.

"I never thought England had passed me by," he said. "I always lived in hope that my performances would warrant involvement at the highest level. I'll let you know when I abandon that hope."

Sheringham, who said that of similar players he admires Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola, added: "I'm in good form because I'm playing in a good team, things are going well for us."

Sheringham said he heard about his call-up on Sunday. It was clearly unexpected. "When I got the call I was visiting my son [Charlie] in London," he said. "My boots were still in Manchester and I had to have them sent down."

He joined up on Monday to find a "sombre" mood. "The main problem," he said, "was the bad result."

Sheringham, not having been present on Saturday, nor a favourite of Keegan, seemed unaffected by the squad's depression but one subject did put a scowl on his face. Incredibly, he has not spoken to tonight's strike-partner and Manchester United team-mate Andy Cole for nearly three years. The impasse follows a row over who was at fault for a goal by Bolton.

Yesterday, when asked about the matter, Sheringham's eyes narrowed. "It is not a barrier to understanding on the pitch," he growled.

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