BY GLENN MOORE
It may be an increasingly common excuse for missing training these days, but Terry Venables has decided an England squad is no place for the apology, "Sorry I'm late boss, I've been up in court".
As a result, Paul Ince will join Dennis Wise in temporary exile when England play Uruguay at Wembley on Wednesday week. Ince is alleged to have assaulted a fan in the Selhurst Park fracas that followed Eric Cantona's infamous leap into the crowd. He appears in court in Croydon on Thursday, the same day that England are due to meet up at Bisham Abbey.
Wise, who was pulled out of the last squad after being charged with common assault and criminal damage, is now awaiting an appeal after being found guilty earlier this month.
Along with the sinners, a saint has also been discarded. Matthew Le Tissier, charged with nothing worse than being out of form, has gone from being in the team for the abandoned match with the Republic of Ireland, to being out of the squad. It is rare to suffer such a rapid fall from grace under Venables, who usually attempts to retain continuity.
The hand of the England coach has been partly forced by the return of the four Liverpool players who missed the Dublin match because of a Coca- Cola Cup semi-final. But he has also made room for another, Jamie Redknapp, outstanding in Liverpool's win over Manchester United on Sunday.
Redknapp's eclipse of Ince in that game strengthened the belief that the United midfielder has been feeling the pressure of his position. It is for this reason, rather than moral or disciplinary concerns, that Venables has left him out.
Venables said he had consulted Alex Ferguson, the United manager, just as he had Glenn Hoddle, the Chelsea manager, in Wise's case. Like Hoddle, Ferguson felt it was better to take the spotlight off his player. Ince, who is expected to plead not guilty, will take a few days' break after the case, which is expected to be adjourned.
Venables is clearly unhappy about not being able to select Wise and Ince but, in the current climate, had no real choice. He insists, though, that there was no pressure from the Football Association. Despite the impression given in recent months, the appearance of international footballers in court is rare, and the England coach has not been helped by the lack of precedent. Thus he called yesterday for the FA to establish guidelines under which footballers and managers would know where they stand in these situations.
The problem with these two cases is that they may not be resolved until the summer, a situation which may affect Venables' plans for the June tournament with Brazil, Japan and Sweden. The suspicion is that he would be inclined to pick them unless they are actually in jail. Scotland, facing a European Championship fixture, seem to have adopted that policy with Duncan Ferguson. However, Wise could be in jail by then, as he is appealing against a three-month sentence.
Venables has become accustomed to having his squad depleted by circumstances outside his control and takes a positive line, using it as a chance to try other options. Which makes it particularly instructive that, with two midfielders out, he has still dropped Le Tissier.
The Southampton captain did play poorly in the 27 minutes of play in Dublin but, if that were the criterion, he would have had to drop nearly everybody, especially Peter Beardsley. Le Tissier, while an acknowledged talent, remains unproven at the highest level, but it is unusual for Venables to drop a player so quickly, especially one whose form is so dependent on confidence.
That said, the promotion of Redknapp is to be applauded, though he may be whisked away by the Under-21s, who play the Republic of Ireland next week.
Barry Venison returns after injury, and may well take over Ince's holding role. Ian Walker comes in for David Seaman, who has cracked ribs; Sol Campbell and Les Ferdinand, who are both struggling with injury, drop out; as does Ian Wright, despite his spectacular winner, in front of Venables, in Auxerre last week. Wright and Le Tissier were told their fate on the phone by Venables on Sunday, which is a decent touch, but none of the parties will have enjoyed the calls.
Uruguay, who missed out on the last World Cup, have just begun playing again after a single game in 1994. They lost to Mexico in San Diego in February, but have since drawn 2-2 in Spain. They meet the United States in Dallas on Saturday, a game that will be watched by Ted Buxton, Venables' scout.
They can be expected to provide testing opposition with hard, sometimes cynical defenders, and forwards like Daniel Fonseca and the veteran Enzo Francescoli, respectively present and past Serie A players.
Amid the shame of Dublin, the match itself was almost forgotten. It was, however, England's worst display under Venables, and there remains the need for a good performance to restore momentum.
Calderwood's Scotland call-up, Uruguay squad, page 39