Room for Anderton alongside Barmby

England consider reviving a former Tottenham midfield partnership
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The Independent Online

It is eight years since Darren Anderton and Nick Barmby were introduced into the Tottenham side within a few weeks of each other, and more than five years since Barmby followed his club-mate into the England team under Terry Venables, who had been such an influence and admirer in bringing them through at White Hart Lane. A total of 42 international caps between them (Anderton 27, Barmby 15) may sound a significant number but, for a good proportion of the 68 England games since Anderton's glittering debut against Denmark in March 1994, a lack of fitness or form has kept one or other - if not both - out of contention.

It is eight years since Darren Anderton and Nick Barmby were introduced into the Tottenham side within a few weeks of each other, and more than five years since Barmby followed his club-mate into the England team under Terry Venables, who had been such an influence and admirer in bringing them through at White Hart Lane. A total of 42 international caps between them (Anderton 27, Barmby 15) may sound a significant number but, for a good proportion of the 68 England games since Anderton's glittering debut against Denmark in March 1994, a lack of fitness or form has kept one or other - if not both - out of contention.

Now they are back together again and could even be standing shoulder-to-shoulder as the national anthems ring out in the Stade de France on Saturday night; no new candidates have emerged to fill the hole on the left of midfield that Barmby occupied to good effect in his two brief appearances at Euro 2000, while the strong temptation to try David Beckham in a central role offers a possible vacancy on the right in a position Anderton has been playing with confidence, and full fitness, for his club so far this season.

If not exactly one of the new faces that Kevin Keegan has been urged to introduce, the Spurs man would be a fresh one, in most senses. He has been selected for a number of squads by the current England manager but has had to bring a note most times, as well as reluctantly ruling himself out of last summer's tournament. So he has not actually turned out for his country since the game in February 1999 - coincidentally against France - that is likely to mark Howard Wilkinson as the managerial equivalent of a one-cap wonder.

"Everyone knows the history of my injuries," Anderton said yesterday. "In the past I've maybe played when I shouldn't have done and that has caused me problems afterwards. My Achilles tendon was the most serious injury I've had in my career and it's something that really did worry me when it happened. The fact that I came back and everything was a success was great, but towards the end of last season I was feeling a little bit sore, the hard-grounds were coming back again and so I went to see the surgeon and he advised me not to play. I left it to him and thought that I didn't want to push it one too many. At times that's what I've done in the past."

The way things turned out, Anderton is entitled to feel that Euro 2000 was a good tournament to miss, in contrast to the European Championships four years earlier and the 1998 World Cup, in both of which he appeared in every England game and emerged with considerable credit. He said of those: "The tournaments went really well, but when I look back over the past four or five years, with the amount of injuries I've had, the only real highlights for me have been those tournaments. I want to play for the next four or five years without any problems."

The next four or five days would be a start, and Keegan must have been crossing fingers and toes when he said yesterday: "I'm delighted Darren's back in the squad, and he looks very, very fit. When he pulled out of Euro 2000 it was a blow but I think he's been proved to be right now. He's got a good close season under his belt, he's really enjoying his training, you can see that, and for the first time when he's reported he's looked like he feels ready to participate."

Anderton's first international was called by Venables (enjoying a victory in his inaugural match as coach) "as good an international debut as I can remember".

If his whole career since then has been a fragmented one because of almost constant fitness worries, Barmby's has been equally fitful since coming on as a substitute at home to Uruguay a year later, in March 1995.

Leaving Tottenham that summer for Middlesbrough, he lost his way and his England place before finding both again towards the end of last season and making a favourable impression following his traitorous move across Stanley Park to Liverpool. Cameo appearances in Charleroi against Germany and Romania gave him enhanced credibility rather than the taint of failure suffered by a number of team-mates.

"Everyone holds their hands up for the performances in the summer and everyone wants to correct it and do well for the country," Barmby said. "We had a little meeting this morning saying let's get our heads down and look forward to the France game. I think you've only got to look forward now. This is a new start if you like."

Keegan can only hope so. If it involves a new role for Beckham, then a new start for the former wide-boys of White Hart Lane would be an interesting development.

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