Venables eyes the future

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The Independent Online

Football Correspondent

Terry Venables' bold faith in young talent could have ramifications far beyond both tonight's friendly with Colombia and his ostensible goal, next summer's European Championship.

Venables has selected a Wembley team who have less than 100 completed internationals between them. Seven of them have yet to complete even 10 games and it is the most inexperienced team of his 12-match reign.

The average age is 25, which is about the same as the current Manchester United team. And, like Alex Ferguson, it would appear that Venables is looking beyond the immediate prize, to the greater one that could follow.

Ferguson is attempting to build a passing team equipped to win the European Champions' Cup in three or four years time, rather than settle for the blend of power and pace that brought domestic hegemony and European ignominy.

Venables is unlikely to be concentrating on the future quite as intensely. His position is rather less secure and it would be foolhardy to sacrifice the first international competition to be held within these shores for 30 years.

However, his growing emphasis on young players, who are often more open to absorbing his methods and tactics, is likely to pay its greater dividends in the long term, and the 1998 World Cup, than the short.

The three players who will start an international for the first time tonight, Steve McManaman, Nick Barmby and Jamie Redknapp, are all typical Venables players. Intelligent and versatile, they are eager to learn and quick to understand.

Barmby was brought up by Venables at Tottenham. The other two have been tutored in the Liverpool way; short passing and support play comes naturally to them.

The other young players, Gary Neville and Steve Howey, also come from good footballing backgrounds. "They are all grown up for their age," Venables said. "Some players are more experienced at 20 than others are at 30. The accepted wisdom is that you cannot win anything with young players but Ajax have shown that you can," Venables added. "A lot of their players are only 18 or 19. It is a case of whether they are made of the right stuff."

However, for all the interest surrounding the youngsters, the attention will be on an experienced player who has not always acted his age - Paul Gascoigne.

The Rangers midfielder, who last started an England match in March, 1994, will be the centre-point of a midfield that promises movement and excitement. What it does not appear to threaten, however, are Colombian limbs: there is no recognised midfield anchor.

Thus the midfield five will have to demonstrate the desire to cover and chase that Venables believes Matt Le Tissier, the forgotten maestro, lacks. It will be hard work as the Colombians are experts in retaining possession. Bryan Robson, Venables' assistant, remembers Colombia's last visit to Wembley seven years ago as the hardest game he has ever played in, in terms of the chasing required to get the ball.

The only time Venables' England have operated without an anchor, such as Paul Ince or David Batty, Sweden tore through the exposed middle in the 3-3 draw at Leeds. However, Venables does not believe they are a necessity.

"Gascoigne will tackle back and Redknapp is good at holding a position," he said. "The main thing is everyone hustles as a unit. But we have good technicians and can make them run about, too."

Dennis Wise will start on the right flank and McManaman on the left but both will have licence to swap. Barmby will act as the link man between Alan Shearer and a central midfield pairing of Redknapp and Gascoigne.

Barmby, who partly, but not entirely, owes his selection to a knee injury to Peter Beardsley, said he was to play the same role as he had under Venables at Spurs.

Though the Colombians are a late replacement for Croatia, they ought to be testing opposition. Rene Higuita, their goalkeeper, hit the bar from a free-kick against the United States during the Copa America and David Seaman, who regains the goalkeeping spot at a significant time, said: "If he scores against me I'll pack it in."

If he does, there will be no shortage of headlines urging Venables to do the same but, whatever the result, there should be enough English promise to ensure he will not.

COLOMBIA: Higuita (Nacional Medellin); Santa (Nacional Medellin), Bermudez (America Cali), Mendoza (Junior Barranquilla), Perez (America Cali), Alvarez (America Cali), Gaviria (Deportes Tolima), Rincon (Real Madrid), Valderrama (Junior Barranquilla), Asprilla (Parma), Valenciano (Junior Barranquilla).

Colombian showmen, page 25