easy with England
Qualifying unbeaten for EURO 2004 ahead of World Cup
semi-finalists Turkey should have ensured a period of calm and
consolidation for England's national team.
Thursday, 22 January 2004
nothing is ever simple where England are concerned, and since
the 0-0 draw in Istanbul that clinched their place in
Portugal, a high-profile suspension, injuries and continued
speculation over the future of coach Sven-Göran Eriksson have
provided plenty of negative headlines.
While Rio Ferdinand was arguably among the best defenders in
Korea/Japan, his chances of going to this summer's finals are
slim. On 23 September Ferdinand missed a routine UK Sport drug
test. Although he passed a later test, the Football
Association opted to drop him for the match in Turkey,
prompting a threat from the squad to boycott the game.
On 19 December, the FA announced an eight-month ban ruling
Ferdinand out of EURO 2004. He continued to play for
Manchester United until this week but on Tuesday agreed to
start the suspension while appealing the verdict and sentence.
In his absence, Chelsea's John Terry could face a battle with
Newcastle United's Jonathan Woodgate for the spare place
alongside Sol Campbell in England's central defence.
If 'Riogate' has dominated the back pages in recent weeks,
speculation surrounding Eriksson has barely stopped since the
summer. The Swede, contracted until 2006, has long admitted
that he misses club management, but it was when he was
photographed visiting Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's house
days after the Russian's high-profile takeover that Eriksson
was firmly linked with a move.
Eriksson told students at Cambridge University last week:
"If anyone made me a job offer I would have to consider
it." The one offer he definitely has, however, is that of
a new four-year deal from the FA, and talks on the matter are
scheduled for next month.
Rumour aside, Eriksson has also made plain his frustration
over a number of matters. When, on FA orders, he had to drop
Alan Smith from the 3-2 friendly defeat by Denmark in
November, due to the Leeds United striker's arrest in a
bottle-throwing incident, Eriksson said: "I don't
understand why a footballer cannot play when he has not been
charged with anything."
He also showed sympathy with the players over their anger at
Ferdinand's exclusion and believes the tough English season
needs reform. Ultimately, he is nothing if not pragmatic,
though, and Eriksson's chief concern will be that his best
players stay fit. The pivotal Liverpool duo of Michael Owen
and Steven Gerrard have struggled with injuries this season
and he will monitor their fitness closely. At least captain
David Beckham's form has not dropped since joining Real
Whatever follows in the coming months, England's Group B
opponents France, Croatia and Switzerland should not take
heart from any bad publicity surrounding their rivals. Prior
to the 1990 World Cup and EURO '96, England suffered heavy
press criticism, yet they reached the semi-finals each time.
England will hope that any further adversity will be the spur
to triumph. - By Paul Saffer