Venables pointed the Mercedes towards Norwich yesterday to watch their match against Southampton. Not just down the road from his west London home to Chelsea, where four of the Tottenham players in his squad for the match against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday were performing, nor Arsenal, who provide him with three. Not even the Manchester derby, which also offered the chance to see several of the Irish in action.
There could be only one man he wanted to evaluate: Matthew Le Tissier, the people's choice, if not so far his own, but now in line, it suddenly seemed, for a recall. At which point Venables called up his Russ Conway smile and left without further hint about anything or anyone else he might call up.
Le Tissier was first summoned to the England squad by Venables, fuelling anticipation that finally an outstanding talent was to be recognised, then made three appearances as a substitute before being given his first start against Romania last October. An early flick and volley just over the bar flattered, but though his name was not mentioned afterwards, Venables talked about the work ethic and instructions being ignored.
The Saint was dropped for the sinner the following month against Nigeria and Dennis Wise's stock rose faster than Tottenham's after their FA Cup reprieve with a display of industry and accurate passing. Le Tissier, again a late substitute, was left looking forlorn.
The Chelsea captain would undoubtedly have played at Lansdowne Road until agreeing to jump before the FA pushed him, as a result of last week's court case. The little midfield player grows in quality, as his performance in the midweek FA Cup hurly-burly against Millwall confirmed, though an occasionally unacceptable spiteful side still undermines him.
It all appeared to open the way for Nick Barmby to win his first cap. Yes, Venables said, he could play in the same side as Peter Beardsley, whom the youngster most resembles, having modelled movement and passing on him. Then came the evidence, in Venables's choice of entertainment yesterday, for Le Tissier's recall.
The Southampton man has provided plenty of evidence himself so far this season. The one-man show that has been Goal of the Month has been exhibit A. Beyond the scoring of 21 goals, there have also been the picking of passes and threading them through. Most significant has been his consistency and determined reaction since being dropped by England.
The Luton Town manager David Pleat, a fair man and a fair judge, was the latest to enrol in the fan club after his side had lost 6-0 at Southampton last Wednesday. He went through the litany of qualities and added one not usually ascribed Le Tissier: a mental strength.
Pleat's call for the England team to be built around him is not one that Venables is likely to heed, however. The possibility of injury ruining such a scheme, as it did with Graham Taylor's plan for Paul Gascoigne, is simply too great. Le Tissier does need an extended run of matches in the team, however. In return he has to impose himself on the squad and to integrate himself into Venables's pattern of play - industry with the odd flash of inspiration - rather than expect it to assimilate him.
In some ways, it is unfortunate that the new opportunity arises at Lansdowne Road, where the grass at this time of year, due to rugby internationals, is long and where workhorses rather than thoroughbrends tend to thrive. Spain's Michel was bypassed into anonymity here; it was here that Taylor once dropped Gascoigne. Should Le Tissier perform well in this daunting atmosphere, though, he should be able to do so anywhere.
His inclusion would also offer a glimpse of the more wholesome pleasures of this English season, some of whose unsavoury elements were reflected in Venables's original choice of squad. It does look as if probity is not the requirement for selection it once was but, in changing times, the coach offers mitigation.
Ian Wright's suspension from club but not consequent exclusion from international football, as was once the practice with England, is simply following the practice of other countries, Venables says. Omission for playing reasons should have precluded him, however.
Then there is Wise, whose international future will be reviewed when sentence is passed next month. "Having been on the end of some very strange judge's decisions myself, I suppose I have a little sympathy," said Venables with that smile, adding that Wise had not been sacked, and it would be unfair for him to be punished twice for what was an offence unrelated to football. He had looked at the precedent of Tony Adams, once jailed, and concluded: "You can't get punished for it for the rest of your life. You serve that punishment then get back to work."
Paul Ince retains his place, Venables added, because he has not so far been charged with any offence in the aftermath of the Cantona affair. There was a veiled warning, however, with the pressures that go with next year's European Championship finals in this country in mind.
"All the things I see will be taken into consideration," he said. "Any player who has got himself into trouble has to be a concern. You want to make sure you are not going to have these problems if it's possible. If you feel someone is unfairly treated you take that into consideration. If you think he is being really stupid, you take that into consideration, too. That's what your judgement is all about."
Ince should again anchor midfield, needing to show Venables some maturity of temperament, though a potentially stirring contest against his Manchester United team-mate Roy Keane, with whom he apparently had a side bet on the outcome, will not materialise because of an injury to the Irishman. Any hostility in the most companionable of crowds is due to volume rather than malice, however.
On the field at least, it is, Venables agreed, similar to the Scotland v England fixture of old, with an added ingredient being the Englishman Jack Charlton's stewardship of the Irish. "We have got to accept that they have had the better of us in recent years. It will be stiff competition and we have got to come up against that style of play. It's a good game for us."
Despite it being an away match - his first - Venables says he is unlikely to alter his approach or formation. A first cap at right back seems probable for Warren Barton, and Darren Anderton appears certain to return after missing the Nigeria match through injury.
And while Le Tissier looks the more likely to get the nod on the left, the Venables protege Barmby could at some stage be given the chance to offer England a more acceptable association with the Nick.
England (possible): Seaman; Barton, Adams, Pallister, Le Saux; Anderton, Platt, Ince, Bearsdley, Le Tissier; Shearer.
Republic of Ireland (possible): A Kelly; G Kelly, Kernaghan, McGrath, Irwin; Houghton, Sheridan, Townsend, Staunton; Quinn, D Kelly.Reuse content