By Wayne Veysey at Wembley Stadium
For regular chroniclers of the England team there was relief that caretaker manager Stuart Pearce spoke the Queen’s English and nothing was lost in translation.
There was no mangling of the national tongue, no one-word answers and no outright refusal to serve the needs of the media. In short, Pearce was not Fabio Capello.
The only slight awkwardness came when the interim boss was asked why he had recalled Micah Richards, the defender who was handed his Manchester City debut back in the pre-Abu Dhabi days when Pearce was the manager and has been outstanding for the Premier League leaders this season while remaining ostracised in the international wilderness. “Yeah, he makes me laugh,” stonewalled Pearce, with no follow-up explanation to reveal whether or not it was a joke. We presume it was, despite going down like a lead balloon with his audience.
|ODDS TO START AGAINST FRANCE IN EURO 2012 OPENER
|4/11 Yes, 2/1 No
|4/7 Yes, 5/4 No
|5/6 Yes, 5/6 No
|11/10 Yes, 4/6 No
|11/10 Yes, 4/6 No||RIO FERDINAND
|6/4 Yes, 1/2 No
|7/4 Yes, 2/5 No
|7/4 Yes, 2/5 No
|2/1 Yes, 4/11 No||LEIGHTON BAINES
|2/1 Yes, 4/11 No||STEWART DOWNING
|11/4 Yes, 1/4 No||ADAM JOHNSON
|7/2 Yes, 1/6 No||TOM CLEVERLEY
|4/1 Yes, 1/7 No||DANNY WELBECK|
|4/1 Yes, 1/7 No||KYLE WALKER|
|6/1 Yes, 1/12 No||FRAIZER CAMPBELL|
|7/1 Yes, 1/16 No||ROBERT GREEN|
|10/1 Yes, 1/33 No||SCOTT CARSON|
But English football is not looking for a stand-up comedian to steer the national team through the relatively calm waters of Wednesday’s friendly against the Netherlands. Perfectly timed one-liners can come if/when Harry Redknapp is appointed for Euro 2012.
Pearce delivered a polished enough display in the press conference after unveiling a 25-man squad that partly met the national mood for a new broom to sweep away the disappointment of the Capello era.
He did not hide his desire to be the Redknapp fall-back option this summer, stressing his experience of tournaments, both as a player and as manager in charge of the Under-21s.
"I'm available and I have tournament experience, if they need me to step into the breach in the summer," Pearce said. "That is obviously a decision for the employers here.
"They know exactly where I am, I've not fluffed around it, I've not turned round and said, 'I'm not sure what I want to do'. They know exactly what I want to do.If they need me to take the squad in the summer, I'll do that with pleasure."
As for his selections, they are interesting, certainly. Especially with the shock call-up for fit-again Fraizer Campbell after just two goals in five matches upon his return to the Sunderland team, and the freezing out of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joleon Lescott and Michael Carrick. But daring? Adventurous? Experimental? Hardly.
As Pearce himself admitted, he had selected a squad that would help the full-time manager in his preparations for Euro 2012.
Pearce explained the Ferdinand, Lampard and Lescott exclusions by saying “I don’t think I’d learn anything from watching them play”, although this did tie in with the selection of Gareth Barry, perhaps the greatest known quantity since Ray Wilkins sent sideways passes ambling left and right throughout the 1980s.
Interestingly, Pearce bracketed the injured John Terry with Lampard, Ferdinand and Lescott and heavily suggested the recently deposed England skipper would not have been selected even if he had not undergone a minor knee operation on Wednesday.
Of the other relics of disastrous summer tournaments, Pearce said Steven Gerrard had been included because injury had kept him out of the England team since 2010, while he had picked Wayne Rooney because the forward was not involved in the November double over Spain and Sweden and the interim coach did not want too big a gap before his next appearance given his importance to the national team."I think it's important that he's back on an international pitch and playing games," said Pearce of England's talisman."That's why he's ain the squad, even with his experience."
These decision all made eminent sense, bar the umbilical cord that seems to tie Barry to the England midfield. But Pearce could have been even more gung-ho with his selection and failed to take the opportunity.
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There was general puzzlement over his selection of Stewart Downing ahead of a younger and more in-form wide player. Aaron Lennon, Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer have good reason to be miffed. The prodigious Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, less so. He will stay with the England Under-21 squad and his time with the senior squad will come.
Richards deserves his recall and Cleverley, who at 22 is not as inexperienced as many make out, his first call-up. Campbell is Pearce’s one true punt. It could be an inspired one but few, examining his record since an impressive loan spell with Hull City in 2007-08, will hold their breath.
But do England really need three right-backs in Richards, Kyle Walker and Glen Johnson and two centre-backs in Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who line up as often on the right flank as they do in the heart of the defence? Liverpool’s hugely promising defender Martin Kelly, who is learning his trade at right-back but is expected to eventually mature into a centre-half, could have been worth a senior call-up.
Pearce was not convinced of the requirement for wholesale change. "I think it would be too easy, and too foolish maybe, to put a totally inexperienced side out on that pitch for a game of this magnitude," he explained. "So there have to be one or two old heads maybe that guide one or two of the youngsters. That's how the game works."
Nevertheless, there is the sense of passing time. Evolution not revolution. An interim manager picking an interim squad. Should this season’s weekend fixtures be followed by the usual stampede of pre-friendly withdrawals, it could be decimated in any case.
Pearce has laid down his cards and we have seen some new faces, most of the old ones and the odd joker.
But his greatest hand is that he represents a breath of fresh air. An English-speaking one.