Paul Robinson was given a dramatically early vote of confidence by Steve McClaren yesterday when he announced that the embattled Tottenham goalkeeper will be in the England side to face Estonia in the Euro 2008 qualifier on Saturday.
The decision by the England manager was told to the press even before he informed the player himself. McClaren was in equally expansive mood when it came to the striker Michael Owen, whom he also backed to play on Saturday. Given the doubts raised by Owen's club manager, Sam Allardyce, over his player's fitness to play in both the Estonia game and the Russia tie four days later, it would appear that the England manager was keen to put down an early marker.
But it was the issue of Robinson that was the most striking in a candid discussion by McClaren of his team's preparations yesterday just an hour after their first training session of the week. It also appears that Bill Beswick, the team psychologist, would play a role in Robinson's preparation this week – as he often does with individual players.
Having confirmed that Robinson would start on Saturday, McClaren justified his decision by saying: "Sometimes players have bad games or bad spells. You have to have belief, faith and trust in your players and with this squad the history of them says they perform well and that is taken into consideration. That's every player, not just Paul Robinson. I try to treat the players how I would like to be treated and that's the standard."
McClaren admitted he had not yet told Robinson that he was to play against Estonia, although the player would have been given a strong hint when he lined up in what looked very much like the first XI in training earlier in the day. Having struggled in recent games against Aston Villa and Liverpool – where he was arguably culpable for five goals over both matches – McClaren is showing remarkable faith in the player.
Asked later whether he could really trust England's qualification for Euro 2008 – and ultimately his job – to Robinson, McClaren said he trusted him. "Everybody has got frailties and everybody makes mistakes so you have to take that into account," he said. "But ultimately it is my decision. We take into account the performance and the form and we do that with everybody. When we look at other players maybe they are in a similar situation. Yeah, I trust him, I wouldn't play him otherwise."
As far as help for Robinson went, McClaren said that his staff, which includes Beswick and assistant Terry Venables, would work with individual players. "We have said this is the way we are going to approach it and this is the way we are going to win," he said. "We talk to individual players. Ultimately 90-95 per cent of the work they do is at the club. We have to make sure that they are just right for England. We only have them for a few days and we try to affect them in that period."
McClaren also indicated that Owen would be a certainty to play both games. The Newcastle striker started in attack with Wayne Rooney in the "A team " in training and although the sides were later changed it seems McClaren is pinning his faith on his main goalscorer. Owen scored for Newcastle at the weekend, eight days after surgery on his groin and abductor muscle.
"We will assess him in training but ultimately he is a very, very important player for us and a fit Michael Owen will play," McClaren said. "He is very confident in his own mind about his fitness."
However, it did not sound by any means certain that John Terry would feature against Estonia – McClaren admitting that he had "issues" in defence. His captain is one of five players – the others are Joe Cole, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown – on a yellow card which means Terry risks being suspended for the Russia game in Moscow if he picks up a booking against Estonia.
However, the latest spate of injuries could affect McClaren's thinking; Brown has been sent back to Manchester United with a knee injury and Sol Campbell also missed training but did work in the gym. If McClaren wants to leave out Terry for Estonia then Campbell, who has an Achilles problem, would be the logical replacement. The question of whether Frank Lampard returns also looms for McClaren and there is a doubt over Shaun Wright-Phillips' fitness, although he did train.
However, for all his talk of "issues" in the team, McClaren said that he had already "made up his mind" who would play. Given that Lampard was not originally in the A team in training, it seems that the manager is leaning towards picking Gareth Barry in partnership with Steven Gerrard.
"This is the position we want to be in, we are in a far better position than we were before the last two games," McClaren said. " This is what we are working towards, to be in contention. Now we are more than in contention, we are in pole position.
"This is when it goes down to the wire. The anticipation is there for everybody, you saw that in the two performances before. That's what I want to see again, an English style of play and high tempo, front foot mentality. That gets the crowd behind us and enables us to play."