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A game of stick or twist for World Cup coaches

ReADY or not, here it comes.

Fernando Torres is somewhat surprisingly Brazil-bound Photograph: EPA
Fernando Torres is somewhat surprisingly Brazil-bound Photograph: EPA

The 20th Fifa World Cup will kick off in Sao Paulo a week on Thursday regardless of what Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke has called a "race against the clock" to complete the stadium there and those in Natal and Porto Alegre. Tomorrow marks another notch in the countdown, bringing the deadline for managers to cut their initial 30-man squads to 23.

Many have already made their choices. The most difficult, in many ways, belonged to Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. Staggering depths of talent meant gifted players staying home. Conventional wisdom suggested he would overhaul the side that won the European Championship two years ago, bringing in at least eight new faces.

Not so. Del Bosque stayed loyal, with 18 of the pool that triumphed in Poland and Ukraine making the final cut, and the number would be higher if Victor Valdes had not been injured and if David Villa hadn't missed out in 2012 with a broken leg.

Diego Costa makes it and will be given every opportunity to recover from a leg injury this time, possibly, without the horse placentas. So too does Fernando Torres, which is a bit of a head-scratcher given that his inclusion is at the expense of Fernando Llorente who would have given Spain a "big man" option should they need it.

All told, 16 of Spain's 23-man squad were in the team crowned world champions in South Africa in 2010. That's in striking contrast to England, where only six return out of Fabio Capello's bunch.

Roy Hodgson has pushed the notion of youth, freshness and rebuilding and it shows. Just four of the projected starting XI - Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney - have more than 25 caps.

From the manager's perspective, it makes sense and not just because he has an instant alibi should things not work out. It reflects the current English zeitgeist. Expectations are low, the youngsters might just surprise you, they aren't burdened with the psychological baggage of the Golden Generation and, besides, Greg Dyke is taking the longest of long view with all that claptrap about winning it by 2022.

If anything, based on what we saw at Wembley against Peru, you wonder if Hodgson might not be tempted to go even younger and do the unthinkable: drop Rooney.

Daniel Sturridge is on form right now, Rooney isn't. Plus, the Liverpool man is pacy and, while Hodgson doesn't like to advertise it, this will be a counter-attacking England side. Diverting Sturridge to the flank wouldn't make sense, not to mention the fact that it would annoy the Liverpool striker.

Rooney wide in a 4-3-3 would be more grounded in reality, but that ship has sailed: he got it in his head that he needs to be central so he can influence things - as if Cristiano Ronaldo is entirely uninfluential from his wide role.

Playing the pair together won't fly either because it limits the use of speedy wingers, something England have in abundance. So the one slot for Rooney is in the hole, in the 4-2-3-1 we saw Friday. Right now, though, with these players around him, he looks entirely ineffective there. A bit like when Manchester United decided to put him even deeper, in the middle of the park.

A few years ago, Hodgson might have bent over backwards to accommodate him. Not now. We'll know soon if the coach has the courage.

IT is probably symptomatic of some folks' delusions that the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino to replace Tim Sherwood as manager of Tottenham was seen as somewhat underwhelming. Why? Because he isn't Carlo Ancelotti or Louis Van Gaal? (As if the former really was going to leave Real Madrid or the latter choose White Hart Lane over Old Trafford).

With Pochettino it is a case of a club picking a manager based on how his teams play and not on what results they achieve or how they move in the transfer window. Southampton chose him shortly after he was sacked by Espanyol, with the Spanish club dead last in the table. And Tottenham opted for the Argentine not because of Southampton's eighth-place finish but because of the progress on the pitch over the previous 18 months.

Transfers had nothing to do with it because Pochettino wasn't in charge of them (and, in fact, at St Mary's the record wasn't stellar, with most of the cash going on Osvaldo and Victory Wanyama, neither of whom - for varying reasons - had a huge impact).

Pochettino makes sense given where Spurs are right now. They spent all the Gareth Bale money last year on a group of players who largely failed to show what they were made of. But, apart from Roberto Soldado, they're all young. Erik Lamela, Etienne Capoue and Vlad Chiriches were slowed substantially by injuries. Christian Eriksen lived up to the billing and so too, all told, did Paulinho and Nacer Chadli, given their respective fees.

While some of the more Neanderthal observers wrote them off as flops, the truth is there is a lot of talent there; the challenge is figuring out how to get them to contribute (and keeping them fit). That's the only way you can assess them fairly and it was critical that Spurs found a manager like Pochettino, who was willing to do that, rather than simply demanding a raft of newcomers.

RICKIE Lambert turns 33 in February and is a big, powerful target man. On the face of it, he's not a natural fit for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. But that conclusion is based on the assumption that Rodgers only wants to play one way (and that Lambert only suits hoof-merchants).

The fact is the Southampton striker gives Liverpool an alternative and an insurance policy should Luis Suarez leave (or get suspended again). A fee of £4 million isn't a bargain, but if you're looking at getting two solid years out of him, it's not absurd either. He's not blisteringly quick, but he showed under Pochettino that he can adapt to different systems and situations.

Throw in the fact that he seems genuinely excited at playing for his hometown club and this could be a really shrewd bit of business.

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