| Eriksson hopes he won’t lose Rio for Euro 2004
Sven-Goran Eriksson on Monday began familiarising himself with England’s Euro 2004 base here, praying it will be full of familiar faces next summer. Painfully aware that Rio Ferdinand may be suspended and that injury forever stalks his players, Eriksson announced a squad for Sunday’s Old Trafford friendly with Denmark spiced with understudies.
Eriksson knows the side he wants to start next June: David James; Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole; David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard; Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. “It would be fantastic if there were no injuries,” said Eriksson. It would be more than fantastic, it would be a miracle given the assault course that is English football. As if to underline his point, Eriksson was later informed that Rooney is suffering from flu and is considered doubtful for Sunday.
The Ferdinand situation, meanwhile, is clearly vexing Eriksson, who has given an unexpected, if welcome recall to Gareth Southgate as cover for the Football Association-stipulated exile of the Manchester United defender coupled with injuries to Sol Campbell (ankle) and Jonathan Woodgate (groin). Eriksson even insisted he would give evidence on Ferdinand’s behalf when the centre-half appears before the FA beaks to explain why he missed a routine drugs test.
“If I am called as a character witness, I will do it,” said the England head coach, so keen to stand up for Ferdinand that he is prepared to go against employers who pay him £3 million a year. The reason is simple. Although Matthew Upson and particularly John Terry possess the potential class to partner Campbell, Eriksson needs Ferdinand. “In the World Cup, Rio and Sol were the best central defensive pairing. I really hope I won’t lose Ferdinand for Euro 2004 but that decision will be made over my head.”
A door closed, however temporarily, on Ferdinand, means another has reopened for a “very, very good player” in Southgate. Eriksson added that he was untroubled by the Middlesbrough man’s recent criticism of the Swede’s leadership skills. “We live in a democratic country and I am happy to accept people’s opinions,” shrugged Eriksson. If Southgate is the surprise inclusion, James Beattie is the shock omission. “The message I would send to Beattie is to go on working hard and go on scoring.”
A lack of real pace appears Beattie’s downfall. It was pointed out to Eriksson that the Southampton centre-forward’s tally of eight goals this term was more than the combined total of Rooney, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell, Eriksson’s chosen ones this week. “You might be right,” countered Eriksson, “but I should be very glad if you could help me find strikers scoring goals in international football.” Alan Smith' “I said international football.” Smith has scored once in two international starts.
“I am sure Joe Cole can play as a second striker. We talked about Smith, Beattie, Shola Ameobi, Jermain Defoe and Franny Jeffers and they may be for the future. Rooney will be very important for us in Portugal.” If anything happens to Owen, Eriksson’s usual sangfroid will be replaced with real horror. England's head coach said he would only take four strikers to Portugal and, injuries permitting, they should be Owen, Rooney, Heskey and Vassell. As expected, Scott Parker, Charlton Athletic’s neat midfielder, and Chelsea’s enterprising full-back, Glen Johnson, were included in Eriksson’s squad on Monday.
“Parker and Johnson are playing better and better. Parker deserves to be in for me to see if he could be ready for Euro 2004.” Johnson — “a big talent” — is one of five Chelsea players called up. After all the talk of Eriksson picking the Chelsea team, it now appears that Claudio Ranieri shapes the England set-up. Frank Lampard should start against Denmark.
“He deserves to,” said Eriksson. Based at the exquisite Lowry Hotel in Manchester this week, England will be housed in the unspectacular Solplay Hotel next summer and train at the nearby National Stadium where the ’67 Lisbon Lions lifted the European Cup. The Solplay is a four-star establishment perched on a hill surrounded by tower blocks with one stunning vista over the Atlantic and others over a cement factory and scrubland. Nearby flats represent perfect vantage points for paparazzi.