THE last time England faced Italy on home soil, Nigel Martyn started the night in goal.
Sven Goran Eriksson’s side lost 2-1 at Elland Road, but the Leeds United goalkeeper did, at least, have the satisfaction of keeping a clean sheet in his allotted 45 minutes before being one of nine planned changes made by the Swede during the half-time interval.
He also took away a notable souvenir, the shirt worn by Gianluigi Buffon, whose longevity is such that the 40-year-old is part of the Italian squad at Wembley tonight.
Where the Italian captain’s opposite number in March 2002 was Martyn, Jack Butland will get the nod in what is the final outing for the Three Lions before manager Gareth Southgate has to submit his provisional World Cup squad to FIFA on May 14.
It is a big night for the Stoke City goalkeeper, who watched from the bench as Jordan Pickford, his main rival to start in Russia this summer, performed admirably in last Friday’s 1-0 victory over Holland.
Joe Hart and Nick Pope, the one-time York City loanee, are also vying for a place in Southgate’s final 23-man squad.
Whoever is going to be Gareth’s goalkeeper in Russia, he should be told after the Italy game.Former England goalkeeper Nigel Martyn.
Choosing his first-choice goalkeeper is clearly vexing Southgate, but Martyn, a one-time international team-mate of the Three Lions’ chief, believes a decision must be made after tonight’s Wembley friendly.
“Gareth has a lot of decisions to make before the World Cup and this match will be a big help,” said the 51-year-old when speaking to The Yorkshire Post.
“His squad still needs sorting out. When I went to the World Cups in 1998 and 2002 I would say 18 of the 23 places were known months beforehand. There were 10 players then scrambling for the final five slots.
“Now, though, I get the impression there are a lot of places still up for grabs. That isn’t ideal so close to a big tournament like this.
“Goalkeeper is obviously a big decision. He selected four in this squad, but it doesn’t seem yet that he has a No 1.
“None of them are in a truly great place, if I am honest. But whoever is going to be Gareth’s goalkeeper in Russia he should be told after the Italy game. He can be told to keep it to himself, but whoever gets selected needs to know so he can prepare.”
Martyn, unfortunate to play during an era when David Seaman was considered England’s No 1, made 23 international appearances. One stands out for all the wrong reasons, the night when Kevin Keegan’s side were knocked out of Euro 2000 by Romania.
The Leeds goalkeeper was culpable for the second goal in that 3-2 defeat, his weak punch falling straight to Dorinel Munteanu, who drilled the ball into the England net.
“As a goalkeeper you need to be able to prepare in the right way,” recalls Martyn. “It is no coincidence that the one game I am remembered for in the wrong way came when I only found out in the warm-up I was playing.
“Dave had injured his calf in the warm-up, but I knew nothing about it until (goalkeeping coach) Ray Clemence ran out in a panic, as I was finishing my own warm-up.
“I had to sprint in and everything was a real rush. I had been in my training kit and I usually then lazily got changed if I was on the bench.
“But this time I was rushing. I was still putting my boots on when the buzzer went to say we had to get out on the pitch.
“As we stood for the national anthem before kick-off I was sweating buckets. It was a nightmare and no coincidence that the game went badly for me.
“The flipside is the Greece game when we qualified for the (2002) World Cup. I found out the previous day that Dave was out with his shoulder so had time to prepare.
“I felt to have a decent game that day and I put it down to being able to prepare in my normal way. It does make a difference. That is why whoever is going to be first-choice this summer needs to be told as early as possible, so he can be mentally ready.”
Martyn is far from the only England goalkeeper to have been caught out after being thrown in at the last minute on the big stage. Peter Bonetti, a late stand-in for the ill Gordon Banks at the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals, is one, Rob Green another after his costly blunder against the United States in the 2010 finals opener.
As for who should start against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18, Martyn said: “Only one (Hart) has experience of a big tournament, but he has made mistakes.
“Nick Pope is probably in the best mental state because Burnley are having a decent season. He has been keeping clean sheets regularly and that is a big plus.
“The flipside, though, is his lack of experience in truly big games. Butland and Pickford have both had their ups and downs. Pickford has all the attributes, but I think there is more to come from him. In two or three years’ time I think he will be ready.
“It is why I would go with Butland. He has more experience and, for me, should be England’s goalkeeper this summer.”
As for England’s last meeting with Italy on home soil, Martyn added: “I was having a rummage around at home last year and found Buffon’s shirt from that night.
“Fair play to David James, he finished the game and swapped shirts, but then handed it over to me. He said, ‘You started the game so you deserve it’. It was a great gesture.
“I am not really one for having shirts or other things from my career up on the wall at home, but it is nice for my kids.
“All these years later Buffon is still at the top of the game. It just shows what a special talent he has been and continues to be.”