Will Capello’s new boys blossom where previous England manager’s ones have failed?

BecksAfter Fabio Capello's first game as national boss, FFC columnist Martin Kane takes a look at eight England managers and the surprise inclusions that were included in their first respective squads. A fascinating insight into the thinking behind England manager's squad selections, some players have never pulled on a Three Lions shirt again.


Fabio Capello's first squad wasn't one to set pulses racing.  Tragically, the most exciting selection in the squad, Gabriel Agbonlahor, picked up an injury and had to pull out, while the other potential new cap, Curtis Davies was cut before he'd had the chance to raise the ‘congratulations' bunting in his living room.  The only other interest was a return for the likes of Matthew Upson, Jon Woodgate and the B&Q Scarlet pimpernel himself, Glen Johnson.

Most managers new to the job pick one or two uncapped or forgotten players, either because of their familiarity with them at club level, or simply because the squad needs refreshing. Some of these newcomers and returnees will go on and enjoy fabulous England careers, others will almost immediately be returned whence they came, the previous incumbents reclaiming their spots.

Here are a few of them…

1990, Graham Taylor: Gordon Cowans

Of all the managers to ascend to the England throne in recent years, none came at an apparently better time than Taylor. He inherited a squad unlucky not to win the World Cup, the bulk of which still had many good years left in them, and England's qualifying group for Euro 92 was relatively speaking, quite easy. Taylor retained the majority of Italia 90s returning heroes, however he did add one player from the Aston Villa team he had recently managed, Gordon Cowans. Cowans was not a debutant, already having won 9 caps during the 1980s, however he was only a few months short of his 32nd birthday and had not represented England for four years. That he had significantly less hair than the last time he played for England only emphasised the regressive nature of the selection. Nevertheless, Taylor pitched him in for England's match with Ireland in Dublin, arguably the most difficult game of the group. It finished in a one-all draw, a great result, with Cowans putting in a robust if unspectacular performance in midfield. Cowans never played for England again, this selection a case of horses for courses, Taylor choosing a man he knew he could rely on for a difficult qualifying opener.

1994, Terry Venables: Graeme Le Saux, Matt Le Tissier, Darren Anderton and Peter Beardsley.

After the tragic debacle of Taylor's reign came Terry Venables. Where Taylor took control of an England squad in the ascendancy, Venables inherited a squad low on confidence and about to sit out USA '94. His opening game against Denmark, saw 3 new caps; Le Saux, Anderton and Le Tissier. The latter of these a baffling omission to many observers over the past couple of years, what with his penchant for spectacular goals and ability to score so many in a struggling Southampton team. Le Saux was Venables first choice at left back; in addition to his defensive ability he was a buccaneering type who got forward at every opportunity.

Anderton was an exciting young winger; a key member of the Portsmouth side that very nearly dumped Liverpool out of the 1992 FA Cup. A move to Tottenham had followed and a bright start at Spurs now culminated in England honours. The final new face in the squad, was a selection that pleased many; Peter Beardsley. Ignored by Graham Taylor, Beardsley had fallen down the Liverpool pecking order, eventually being sold to Everton. After a couple of years, he moved on to Newcastle where he established an outstanding partnership with a young Andy Cole. His return to England was initially a success, he scored the second of England's five against Greece in Venables' second game in charge. However, the emergence of young strikers such as Fowler and Barmby, the excellent form of Les Ferdinand, and crucially perhaps the development of the Shearer/Sheringham partnership, saw Beardsley finding himself out of contention.

He retired from international football shortly before the Euro 96 squad was announced. By this time, Le Tissier was long gone from Venables' thinking, resurfacing briefly under Glenn Hoddle before disappearing for good. Of the four called up for Venables opener, only Anderton played in Euro 96 (though Le Saux doubtlessly would have but for injury).

1996, Glen Hoddle: David Beckham and Andy Hinchcliffe

Hoddle, like Taylor six years earlier arrived at a time when English football was in rude health. Euro 96 had been a footballing carnival, the sport healing many of the wounds that hooliganism had inflicted in the 1980s. The team had played well, destroying Holland 4-1 in a match that, to this day, is the best England game I have ever watched. Indeed, Hoddle only had the job due to alleged off the field shenanigans that forced Venables to resign.

Hoddle was a proponent of the 3-5-2 formation, and his first squad included an ideal left wing-back in Hinchcliffe. A notable benefit was Hinchcliffe's corners, which in tandem with Duncan Ferguson's head almost single-handedly kept Everton in the Premiership a couple of years earlier. The other newcomer was Man Utd's young midfielder David Beckham. Beckham had enjoyed a very good 1995-96 season, and began this season with his half-way line lob over Neil Sullivan. The goal created a groundswell of opinion for Beckham's inclusion and Hoddle duly obliged, starting both him and Hinchcliffe in Moldova. Both players performed well in a 3-0 win, an excellent start to Hoddle's reign.

With Beckham, the rest as they say is history. Hinchcliffe played in Hoddle's first three matches before injury ruled him out for 6 months. However, he did return, surviving until the final squad cull at France '98 and finishing up with 7 caps.

1999, Kevin Keegan; Chris Armstrong

Like Venables before him, non-footballing reasons spelt the end for Hoddle, his comments on disability getting him the boot. Kevin Keegan, the Fulham manager, took over on a temporary basis, amid a wave of public euphoria at his appointment. The sudden departure meant no nice friendly for Keegan to warm up, or even much time to ponder his first squad, and as such there were no debutants in his opening game. The closest we can get is Chris Armstrong, a late call-up to this squad after the originally selected strikers pulled out. Without wishing to be unkind, Armstrong's selection reminded me of the type you used to get in cricket where England would be playing in New Zealand, get a couple of injuries, but remember that Tony Pigott was wintering at his brother-in-laws house in Wellington, and thus could be selected for the Test Match. Armstrong had the seat behind Keegan on the bench, which meant that whenever KK was in shot, there was Armstrong in his England warm up kit. In any case, no injuries were recorded up front, and a Paul Scholes hat-trick saw England home. Armstrong fell out of the England reckoning almost immediately and was last seen at Wrexham.

2000, Peter Taylor; Seth Johnson

Taylor only got one game as England's caretaker, yet he still found time to give Seth Johnson his only cap. Johnson, soon to join Peter Risdale's circus at Leeds, is one of those players for whom things could have been so different, his first touch in international football, a shot which could, and maybe should have gone in. After the match, David Beckham's first as England captain, Sven Goran Erikkson was appointed, and Johnson never got a sniff of another cap. Still only 28, Johnson is currently without a club having been released from his contract by Derby last June.

2001, Sven; Michael Ball, Ugo Ehiogu, Gavin McCann, Chris Powell

To this day I can remember reading the ‘probable' squads the day Sven announced his first line-up. To my immense delight as a Southend fan, Chris Powell, a former Shrimper, featured in all of them, and was duly named later that afternoon. Precisely no-one in my office shared my buoyant outlook. Yet Powell was worthy of his chance, and how he seized it, nutmegging Spain's right winger in the first minute, yet looking composed and tidy at the back. His first 45 minutes as an international won him considerable acclaim before a slight injury saw him withdrawn in favour of Michael Ball. This was Ball's debut, and he was joined at half time by Gavin McCann and Ugo Ehiogu. Strictly speaking this was not Ehiogu's debut, but he'd not even come under consideration since the Venables era, and given his only appearance had been as a sub away in China, it certainly must have felt like one. He marked it in style too, a thundering header putting England 3-0 up. Alas, there were to be no long international careers for these four. Between them they ended up with ten caps, and Chris Powell got half of those. After his impressive debut, Powell had a disappointing match against Finland, and Ashley Cole replaced him for the Albania game. He was retained in the squad for a while, making a further three appearances, the last in Holland in 2002, but was never really in contention for a place in Japan. Despite his goal, Ehiogu made just one more appearance, while the second half against Spain was Ball and McCann's international careers in their entirety, and Ball wouldn't even have got that had Powell not been injured.

2006, Steve McClaren; Chris Kirkland

Well what else would you expect from the dullest, and most uninspiring appointment of all time? In fairness, McClaren's appointment was based around the watchword ‘continuity', and he certainly stuck to it, handing out only one debut; to injury-addicted goalkeeper Chris Kirkland. England were comfortable winners, and Kirkland had little to do. Shortly afterwards he was injured and has not represented England again, though he was included in Capello's first squad. 

The biggest talking point about McClaren's first squad was the absence of David Beckham.  The early signs of life without golden balls were good, with comfortable wins at home to Greece and Andorra, and a decent victory in Macedonia.  Then came the return, and a stuttering 0-0 draw, followed by a 2-0 defeat in Croatia.  McClaren's reign was encapsulated in the moment that Paul Robinson took an air shot at the ball as it lazily bobbled past him.  Before long, Beckham was back, having a stormer in Estonia and very nearly salvaging the game against Croatia at Wembley, demonstrating that McClaren's one positive move in naming his first squad, had been a mistake.

2008, Fabio Capello; Gabriel Agbonlahor, Curtis Davies, Matthew Upson

Upson was the surprising choice to replace John Terry for this game, selected ahead of Micah Richards, Jon Woodgate and Joleon Lescott.  Is it a sign of things to come, or is Upson just keeping the seat warm for McClaren's skipper, JT?  Agbonlahor will surely have a long term future in the squad, as should Ashley Young and David Bentley if they can stay injury free. 

However, for the most part, Capello has retained the same old players, and when injury struck the forwards this time, it was the familiar sight of Jermaine Defoe called up as cover.   Were Wes Brown and Micah Richards out, who would bet against Phil Neville again featuring?   Capello's initial squad, and indeed the performance, was not exactly breathtaking, however it was an acknowledgement that McClaren's squad did contain the best players, and that he is not going to pick new players for the sake of it.  Lets hope Capello can do better things with them than McClaren.