Shearer becomes leader of the pack

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The Independent Online
England trained so late at Bisham Abbey yesterday it seemed the nearby tennis court floodlights would be required to illuminate their progress. Juggling and jogging, the lengthy session underlined Glenn Hoddle's twin preoccupations with fitness and technique.

More significant than the action, however, was the inaction. Having treatment, or watching moodily from the waiting coach, were the walking wounded: Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince, Tony Adams, David Seaman, Rob Lee... and Alan Shearer.

"He has a lower back pain," said Hoddle of his striker. "He can run, but he can't do anything which requires turning. He needs a few days' rest."

Worried? No need, for Hoddle also revealed that he had decided Shearer, rather than Adams, would be his captain, a sure indication that he is expected to be fit for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Italy at Wembley. Hoddle even had to be reminded to add "if fit" when he announced his choice.

Hoddle went on to indicate that Shearer was in line to be his long-term captain. He had led the side, in Adams' absence, for Hoddle's first game in Moldova. It was to be a three-game trial but he was injured for the last match in Georgia and Adams took over. "It is the third game," Hoddle said, "but if it goes as well as the other two I will not need to reassess the position. My only doubt was whether making him captain would affect his goalscoring. That has not happened."

Hoddle added: "I just said: 'Alan, you're captain; Tony, you're not'. Tony took it like a captain, he understands. Alan was delighted. Like all great players, he commands instant respect, just as Maradona, Platini and Cruyff did. He is the first player an opponent talks about."

So far the Italians have been doing a lot of talking about how much they fear Gascoigne. It sounds rather like the old Australian cricket trick, talk up a weak opponent and con the other team into picking him.

Not that he is likely to be fit. Hoddle dismissed the wilder rumours about his mental and physical health which have been emanating from north of the border, but admitted: "He is a doubt. He is only just out of plaster." Hoddle said Gascoigne must now hope his ankle responds to treatment while also doing muscle work to compensate for the time in plaster.

The England coach was more positive about Gascoigne's mental condition. "I've spoken to him today and his state of mind is excellent. It's been three months now [since Gascoigne began receiving counselling after admitting beating his wife] and he's doing well."

Of the other injuries, Rob Lee (groin) is the most serious and Jamie Redknapp has been called into the squad. Neither Lee, Shearer, Gascoigne, Adams, who turned his ankle on Tuesday, nor Ince (strained thigh) will be able to train until the weekend. Seaman (knee) is doing light training. At least Ian Wright and Dominic Matteo have recovered from their knocks. The injuries mean that Hoddle has had to reshape his entire schedule. "It's frustrating, but there is nothing I can do,'' he said. "They are six influential players.''

Among those who did train were David Batty and Graeme Le Saux. In a bizarre choice, perhaps to illustrate the squad's (fighting) spirit, the FA then sent both to meet the media.

Le Saux, who expressed his delight at being back in the squad after a year's absence with injury, said of the pair's infamous Moscow spat: "It was a childish thing that happened. It's water under the bridge now. It's a misconception to think there's any bad feeling between us."

Batty confirmed: "There's no problem. It was embarrassing at the time and there were a lot of regrets. It's all over now."

That incident, while both were playing for Blackburn, was one which had Europe laughing at English football. "We've got our respect back now," Le Saux said. "That was one of the things that Euro 96 did for us."

Photograph, page 25