Football: `Honest' Sutton strikes back at snipers

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The Independent Online
CHRIS SUTTON said yesterday that he still wants to play for his country. The Blackburn Rovers striker spoke out after a week of criticism of his decision not to play for the England B team.

"At no time have I said I don't want to play for England," Sutton said. "I would love to play for my country and still want to. All I tried to say was that I don't believe that playing against Chile's B team would further my chances of going to the World Cup.

"Glenn Hoddle [the England coach] does not appear to rate me, or he would have been giving me a game on Wednesday at Wembley instead."

Sutton feels that people see his decision as mere petulance. "This is nothing to do with suggestions made in some quarters that I think I am too good for the B squad," he said.

"I was not being arrogant. I am not trying to pick the team. I have no regrets about what I did. At least I was being honest about it. I could have pretended I had an injury and just ducked out. Others have done that in the past, but it was not right for me."

One of the players Sutton considers that he should have been facing, Marcelo Salas, has signed for Lazio for pounds 13m. The deal ties Salas, who scored both goals in Chile's defeat of England, to Lazio until 2006. The 23-year-old River Plate striker, South America's Footballer of the Year, was previously a target for Manchester United.

Middlesbrough face a struggle to obtain a work permit for the Colombian striker Hamilton Ricard. The Department of Employment stipulates that a player from a non-European Union country must have played in 75 per cent of competitive internationals in the past two seasons to qualify for clearance. Ricard has played in only 10 of Colombia's 20 competitive games, including six World Cup qualifiers, over a two-year period.

Liverpool are open to offers for the 29-year-old defender Neil Ruddock. The club's manager, Roy Evans, denied that West Ham had made an offer for the former England international, but said that he would consider selling him.

Lee Dixon, the 33-year-old, former England full-back, has accepted an offer to stay at Arsenal for a further season. His contract was due to end in June.

The Football Association is to take no action against Portsmouth following the pitch attack on the linesman Edward Martin by a Sheffield United supporter two weeks ago.

There were criticisms after the game about the level of stewarding and the small police presence at Fratton Park. However, after carrying out an investigation into the attack, which left Martin unconscious, the FA is not be taking the matter any further.

"We have made inquiries into the events and are satisfied not only that all reasonable precautions were taken on the day, but also with the general safety policy at the ground," Steve Double, the FA spokesman, said.

Football League clubs will decide in April on radical restructuring plans that could include reducing the First Division to a "super league" of 12 sides and changing the number of teams relegated and promoted from each section.

Club representatives met yesterday in London to discuss the proposals, which were first put forward at a meeting in December. No final decisions were made, but also under consideration is increased promotion from the Vauxhall Conference.