The sorcerer meets his apprentice

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The Independent Online
They sat together. Not quite father and son, more Fagin and Artful Dodger; Peter Beardsley, all jutting jaw and craggy features, and Nick Barmby, baby-faced and freckled.

When Paul Ince, the captain of the champions and occasional leader of England, meets the press, a Football Association official acts as minder. When Barmby embarked yesterday on his first press conference as a full England squad member, it was Beardsley who rode shotgun.

An interesting role, given that Barmby is widely seen as Beardsley's successor in the England team. As such, you might expect a few phrases along the lines of "the kid's got potential" - "he's one for the future" and "I'll be teaching him all I know."

Far from it. Barmby could not have received a more glowing testimony. "He could come in now and do my job," said Beardsley, 34, of Barmby, 21 last Saturday. "He has stood out this season in a team of great forward players. He has looked at home alongside Jrgen Klinsmann and not been overawed.

"This morning [as England trained at Bisham Abbey for tomorrow's match with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin] he stood out. Ian Wright said to him: `You've been top man all morning'."

Barmby, shy and level-headed, sat quietly through all this, perhaps pinching himself as he recalled the Saturday afternoons spent watching Beardsley play for Liverpool at Anfield.

"He was my favourite player," Barmby said. "When I was at [The FA National School at] Lilleshall they took us to matches and I would just watch what Peter did. He had everything."

The pair have never played together but Beardsley's influence is clear. He admits he can see much of himself in the way Barmby plays (which, perhaps, explains the tribute).

Neither would be in the squad if it were not for Terry Venables, the England coach. Beardsley's subtleties were lost on Graham Taylor, his predecessor, who cast him aside four years ago. Barmby was signed and developed by Venables at Tottenham.

Both have a versatility that Venables seeks. Both like operating just behind the attack but, while Beardsley's best work has been behind a central striker - Gary Lineker with England or Andy Cole at Newcastle - Barmby has shone behind Klinsmann and Teddy Sheringham.

Venables said yesterday that the pair "could" play together in the same England team. But he did not seem too keen. Given that Beardsley, Ince, Alan Shearer, David Platt and Darren Anderton seem certain to play tomorrow, Barmby can only be included at the expense of both Matthew Le Tissier and a more traditonal partner for Shearer.

Le Tissier appeared to be in pole position until his bout of influenza and a poor display in front of Venables at Norwich on Saturday. He has started just once for England, against Romania last October, and admitted yesterday: "I had the chance and did not take it. I have to be patient to get another chance.

"That first start was a weight off my mind but I did not play well. I cannot be brilliant all the time but I dream of playing for England the way I do for Southampton. I believe I can do that.

"I am playing the best football of my career. I have scored 36 goals in 49 games since Alan Ball became Southampton manager. I have always been confident of my ability and the way I have been playing recently has given me even more self-belief."

That belief, for all his innate confidence, can only be eroded if Venables continually omits him. With Dennis Wise - Le Tissier's impressive replacement in England's last game, against Nigeria - and John Barnes unavailable, he will feel very low if not included tomorrow.

Against that neither Ireland's style, nor the rugby-length grass at Lansdowne Road, will help his passing game. And Barmby might find an away debut, against familiar faces, an easier introduction than facing unfamiliar ones at Wembley. Yet Le Tissier must be given a run soon: better for him to be tried and found wanting than to be wasted like Tony Currie, Alan Hudson and too many others.

Though Venables remains more concerned with the performance than the result, he clearly wants to win: "They have a much better record than us in recent years and I don't like it. We are going there to win."

n The Republic are down to 16 of their 22 players, plus one late call- up, Liam O'Brien of Tranmere. Roy Keane, John Aldridge, Tommy Coyne, Ray Houghton and the Leeds full-back Gary Kelly are all injured, while Jason McAteer has been withdrawn because of Bolton's Coca-Cola Cup commitments. Jack Charlton is likely to give a debut to the Southampton defender Jeff Kenna and a rare front-line place to David Kelly of Wolves.