Fabio Capello will take a careful look at the youngsters in his new-look England squad before deciding which lucky pair will play against Germany in Berlin on Wednesday. Including Theo Walcott, Capello has picked five players eligible for under-21 duty in his 23-man squad, plus another couple who are only just making their mark in the Premier League.
Given withdrawals can be anticipated over the next 48 hours, notably the captain John Terry who is due to have a scan on the foot he injured during Chelsea's win at West Brom this evening, Capello needs to choose wisely. For, after four straight World Cup qualifying wins, he does not want to see confidence drain away by placing his trust in too many "rookies". "It is dangerous to put too many new players into a team that has trained a lot together," Capello said.
"It is best when you put one or maximum two in. I just want to know them better, which I will do during the camp. "I want to study what they do in training, then I will decide." While the inclusion of Gabriel Agbonlahor and the Manchester City pair of Micah Richard and Joe Hart had been anticipated, even before Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney were declared unavailable by Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday afternoon, the selection of Michael Mancienne is a shock.
Mancienne, 20, is still to play for Chelsea and while his appearances for Wolves have caught the eye, it is a surprise Capello has chosen to pluck him from the Coca-Cola Championship to the senior international squad even if he has received rave reviews from the England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce. Even if Terry misses out, it is doubtful Mancienne will play a significant role as Richards and Matthew Upson would be favourites to fill the central defensive berths, which Everton's Joleon Lescott is also capable of doing.
Hart and Agbonlahor have more chance of being selected, although there would be little point in picking the Portsmouth keeper David James, 38, unless he was going to play. James' continued presence proves Capello does not believe age is a barrier to selection. Instead, the omissions of David Beckham and Michael Owen are justified on form grounds. In Beckham's case it is down to an MLS season that came to an end almost a month ago, since when he has had no competitive football. For Owen, it is due to a lack of match practice after a recent groin injury.
"It is not enough to play one or two games," said Capello. "You cannot find enough form to play an international match in that time." For all Capello's assertions, there are plenty who feel Owen is condemned to miss out unless the Italian has a major change of policy. Beckham's experience at Real Madrid suggests such an about-turn is possible, although Capello tends to stick to his opinions, which in the veteran midfielder's case is clear enough.
"Beckham is not in the squad because he has not played for three weeks," Capello said. That situation has already been addressed with Beckham due to join AC Milan on a loan deal in January that should allow him to join Bobby Moore as England's most capped outfield player when the Three Lions tackle Spain the following month. However, Capello stressed he had played no part in the short-term transfer. "I am a friend of [the AC Milan vice-president] Adriano Galliani and he told me about what they were going to do," he said. "But they told me after they decided to sign him, not before."
* PA Sport