FA's diplomatic offensive to placate Leicester

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The Independent Online

With a new England coach signed and sealed but a long way from being delivered, the Football Association is understandably keen to hold on to the caretaker. So keen it will today break cover from its London base to brave the flooded provinces.

With a new England coach signed and sealed but a long way from being delivered, the Football Association is understandably keen to hold on to the caretaker. So keen it will today break cover from its London base to brave the flooded provinces.

The FA's public-relations machine, complete with sponsors' logos, will set up camp in Leicestershire, from where Peter Taylor will reveal his squad for next Wednesday's friendly with Italy in Turin. With a date yet to be determined for the arrival of the incoming coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, the location has been carefully chosen to prove to Leicester City, Taylor's full-time employers, that being England caretaker will not impinge upon his regular job. That way, the FA hopes, he may yet be seconded for any matches for which they are unable to secure Eriksson's release from Lazio.

Taylor has said he is eager to include several young players though they will not include Leeds' Jon Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, a former captain of the Under-21s under Taylor. With this being the only match before their court appearance on serious charges, Taylor has been persuaded by the FA that there is little to be gained from lifting the ban on their selection.

Instead, the Elland Road youth academy could be represented by Alan Smith, who was called up as a replacement by Keegan in September, and Paul Robinson, the impressive rookie goalkeeper. The latter position presents Taylor with one of his trickiest decisions. With Nigel Martyn ruled out and David Seaman also troubled by injury, there is room for manoeuvre. Yet while David James and Richard Wright are the current understudies Taylor may prefer Tim Flowers, his goalkeeper at club level, who is in form and has 11 caps.

Since Flowers is 33 this would hardly represent a forward step but the strength of the opposition - Italy were seconds from winning Euro 2000 - means experimentation must be limited, even for a friendly. Thus there will not be the wholesale promotion of Taylor's Under-21 internationals. Not that many are deserving.

Of the 85 players capped by Taylor in his three years in charge of the Under-21s a dozen have already made the step up to senior level. Of these eight (Wes Brown, Gareth Barry, Phil Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher, Kieron Dyer, Emile Heskey and Michael Owen) have already been involved in the England squad this season while Wright was in the Euro 2000 squad.

The other three graduates - Lee Hendrie, Nicky Butt and Frank Lampard - are all outside candidates for selection today. Lampard, one of Taylor's key players with the Under-21s, is the strongest contender despite West Ham's troubled start.

Of those players who appeared under Taylor but are yet to make the final step up, Seth Johnson, being a left-footed wing-back, is the most likely to get the call despite Derby's poor defensive form. This is partly due to his left-footedness but primarily because, apart from the capped dozen, the number of Taylor's Under-21s holding down a Premiership place barely reaches double figures. A staggering 39 are not even at present with Premiership clubs.

Some have been held back by injury, some may be late developers, many appear to have wasted their potential. Looking through the old team-sheets, however, it is clear a surprising number were doing little more than making up the numbers. They were never expected to go on and become full internationals. This makes Taylor's record as coach (P23, W14, D6, L3) even more impressive. Especially when it is remembered that many of the best young players either emerged before his tenure (David Beckham, Paul Scholes) or after (Joe Cole, Steve Gerrard). Even Owen only played under him once.

It is this ability to mould a team in a short space of time and engender a good team spirit, which will be required of Taylor next week. Today he chooses his building bricks.

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