World Soccer views and news
Can McClaren afford to gamble on ‘innocence of youth’?
I was standing at the side of the pitch as England’s goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence was working with keepers Paul Robinson, Scott Carson and David James at Arsenal’s London Colney training complex on Tuesday morning.
They were preparing for Wednesday night’s vital Euro 2008 qualifier by doing their usual drills, diving low to the right, then to the left, saving shots from in front of them, then from behind them as Clemence varied the routines.
The thing that struck our little posse of reporters was just how relaxed the trio was and what great camaraderie there exists between them. They are a strange, tall breed of men are goalies.
I remarked to a colleague just how relaxed Paul Robinson looked. “That’s because the pressure’s off!” he shot back. “He knows he’s been dropped!”
We won’t know for certain whether Steve McClaren has or hasn’t left him out of the starting line-up until just before this crucial game.
He has played in every minute of all 11 qualifiers so far and actually kept clean sheets in nine of those games. The four goals he has conceded came in the 2-0 defeat at Croatia in October 2006 and in the 2-1 loss to Russia in Moscow last month.
Despite the impressive stats, Robinson’s confidence has never been the same since that game against Croatia in Zagreb 13 months ago when a harmless-looking backpass from Gary Neville hit a divot and went bouncing under Robinson’s boot and into his own net as he went to clear it.
Mistakes this season against Germany and Russia haven’t helped his cause, and his club form for Spurs has also been patchy. But he has played for England 41 times since making his debut nearly five years ago and is still the No.1 choice.
Scott Carson, on the other hand, is 22 and has played once for England, in last week’s friendly against Austria. England won 1-0 and he hardly had a shot to save. David James, 37 years old and 35 caps in his cupboard, is unlikely to start — but if Carson edges out Robinson then surely James should be on the bench. If McClaren believes Robinson is out of form, why have him as his nominated substitute?
And who else will be on the bench? David Beckham or Shaun Wright-Phillips? Beckham has played 98 times for England, but just twice in England’s six internationals this season. Wright-Phillips has played five times for England this season and scored twice in the last three games at Wembley.
Will McClaren opt for experience, or go for, as he called it on Tuesday, “the innocence of youth”? He’ll be damned for whatever decision he makes — unless England win.
Even if Carson and Wright-Phillips get the nod, which is very possible, I don’t think Robinson and Beckham will be out of the frame for long. Beckham will eventually get his 100 caps. Robinson deserves to fight another day.
Reuters Soccer Correspondent Mike Collett will be at Wembley on Wednesday
PHOTO: Ray Clemence watches goalkeepers (L-R) Scott Carson, Paul Robinson and David James during a training session in London Colney, November 20, 2007. REUTERS/ Eddie Keogh