Football: Barwick calls for unity in season structure debate

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The Independent Online
BRIAN BARWICK, the new chief executive of the Football Association, called for unity yesterday as he promised to ensure that Sven Goran Eriksson has the "best chance of success" at the 2006 World Cup finals.

However, while the FA is looking to provide Eriksson with the four-week break he requires before the tournament, Barwick also stressed his support for the FA Cup. The FA is currently working on a handful of proposals to shape next season's fixture schedule so Eriksson can have time to work with his players ahead of the tournament if England qualify.

One proposal under discussion is ending FA Cup quarter-final replays, which would alienate several traditionalists, especially on the FA's own Challenge Cup committee.

But while the Premier League is reluctant to change the start or finish dates to its season and the Football League is unwilling to scrap the two-legged Carling Cup semi-finals, the FA is still hoping to find a compromise to satisfy all sides.

It has not yet revealed details of the proposals under discussion, although Barwick is determined to do all he can to help Eriksson at the same time as protecting the FA Cup.

After taking up his new post on Monday, he said: "The interest in England is simply phenomenal. Four out of the top five TV audiences of 2004 were [for] England matches.

"Qualification for the 2006 World Cup is on course and I believe we have a great deal to look forward to with this group of players. I also believe we should give them the best chance of success in Germany. This involves everybody in football getting behind the national team. A successful England team leads to a successful game."

Eriksson had welcomed Barwick's appointment last November, when the former ITV head of sport was chosen as Mark Palios's successor as the chief executive of the FA.

"I have met Brian many times over the past few years and am looking forward to developing a close working relationship with him," Eriksson said. "It is very important that there is a good relationship between the leaders of the FA, myself and the players. After all, we are all committed to the same thing - a successful England team."

Ensuring that Eriksson can have his four-week preparation period would certainly cement their relationship, although Barwick must be conscious of not antagonising other interest groups within the FA's offices at Soho Square and without.

He stressed: "The FA Cup is another jewel in English football's crown. This season has shown the competition is in great nick, with attendances at a 25-year high.

"After the magic of the third round and Wayne Rooney's spellbinding double on Saturday night, we can now look forward to some exciting ties, such as Newcastle United v Chelsea, Everton v Manchester United and Burnley v Blackburn Rovers."

Barwick concluded: "There are issues to be addressed in the game - and we shouldn't duck them. It seems, from the many conversations I have had with football people since my appointment, that what is needed is sensible, mature dialogue."

On the international front, Eriksson's Sweden counterpart Lars Lagerback yesterday announced a 21-man squad for his side's friendly international against France in Paris on 9 February.

Malmo's 22 year-old Markus Rosenberg will take the place of the injured Barcelona, and formerly Celtic, striker Henrik Larsson

Rosenberg takes his place alongside leading players such as Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, of Juventus, who have been recalled after Lagerback had fielded primarily home-based players in friendlies against Mexico and South Korea last month.