Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NOW SVEN MUST PUT ENGLAND FIRST; Manager Has Been Fair but We Need a Win Soon

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NOW SVEN MUST PUT ENGLAND FIRST; Manager Has Been Fair but We Need a Win Soon

Article excerpt


England 1 Italy 2

JUST as we're all about to slip into World Cup overdrive, along come Italy in their new blue shirts to remind Sven-Goran Eriksson of the true size of the task facing him.

With the opening World Cup tie against Sweden on 2 June just nine weeks away, Eriksson knows he has precious little time to refine his team and their pattern of play.

There was little about last night's 2-1 defeat by Italy at Elland Road to suggest that England will travel to Japan with any realistic hope of challenging the might of nations such as France, Argentina and, of course, the Italians.

Quite what Eriksson learned from this defeat is hard to imagine. He used a total of 22 players and at no time did any of them look as comfortable on the ball, or use it with as much purpose, as Italy. Years ago international caps were hard to come by but it seems to me that Eriksson is throwing them around, and therefore diminishing their value, in order to appease the big Premiership clubs.

He's a charming diplomat and there is sense in retaining a good relationship with managers like Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

But he's under no obligation to them. While they have club commitments to consider he has to consider England's reputation on the global stage.

The Swedish coach has been very fair to the big clubs in restricting the workload placed on their players, but at some point he has to put England first. This is no time for doubts but four matches without a win is the kind of statistic that could take root and spread.

Eriksson needs to rediscover a winning formula against Paraguay at Anfield on 17 April if England are to present a confident front when they arrive in Japan. "It disturbs me that we lost last night, but I'm not worried," insisted the England coach. "The spirit is good and our football was as good as Italy's."

He must have been watching a different match to me because I thought Italy were superior in practically every department of the game. Most importantly, they passed the ball better than England.

They were able to keep possession at key moments in the game.

I cannot think that any element of England's World Cup preparation benefited significantly from last night's match. No more than four of Eriksson's probable starting lineup against Sweden played and one of those, Michael Owen, was a shadow of his normal self.

The introduction of nine new faces at half time, followed by Teddy Sheringham and Gary Neville, did nothing to improve team play and by the end of a confusing 90 minutes the fans had every right to wonder what was going on.

At least the players returned to their clubs with energy to spare, most of them having played no more than half a game. Eriksson is so concerned about their physical health that he is preparing individual rest and training programmes for each player to utilise between the end of the season and the start of the World Cup. …

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