The Bühlerhöhe Schloss-hotel might appear to have everything the discerning traveller would require, but yesterday the German hotel which will host the England World Cup squad admitted that its preparations are not yet complete. Before 5 June, it expects to take delivery of a super-sized 6ft 7in-long bed that can only be intended for one of Sven Goran Eriksson's party.
Peter Crouch can take it as read that he will be in the 26-man squad that Eriksson plans to name on 8 May. The Liverpool striker's performances against Argentina and Uruguay, against whom he scored his first international goal on 1 March, have done enough to secure him a place among Eriksson's squad. It will be some reassurance for a player whose club form has not sparkled of late.
While the Football Association may have preferred to have kept secret Crouch's inclusion in the squad, not to mention his sleeping arrangements, there can be little doubt that the preparations for the World Cup finals have maximised the chances of success this summer. A 20-minute drive up into the snowy hills around the spa town of Baden-Baden, England's summer headquarters were carefully selected by the FA as the ideal place for Eriksson to plot his team's World Cup destiny. Relaxed, and mercifully free from the debate over his future, Eriksson discussed the minutiae of his preparations. Fifa will decide today whether countries will be able to delay naming their final squad until the end of May; the England coach believes the current deadline of 15 May is too early and he has the support of fellow international managers. Additional to his squad of 23, he will name three extra players as reserves who may be called on up until the squad has to be submitted to Fifa.
"It won't be a competition," Eriksson said. "Everyone will know who is in the 23 and who are the extras by 8 May." He will take the reserve players - "probably a defender, midfielder and striker" - to cover for those who have to prove their fitness. On Michael Owen and Ashley Cole he is confident that "with the physique they have they will be in good shape" while Sol Campbell is "different". "With the body he has it takes time," Eriksson said, "but I spoke to Sol and he wants to play in the World Cup." Up at the hotel, where the most expensive suite costs £1,530, he hopes to create an atmosphere of calm.
In the wilderness of the northern reaches of the Black Forest, near to the French border area where Arsène Wenger grew up, the hotel manager, Michael Kasper, has assigned an outhouse for the armed police guard that will protect the England team, and not just from curious locals. Eriksson said yesterday he did not want his players to have visits from agents. However, he said he could not ban them from discussing potential transfers by telephone - it was that activity which had such a profound effect on Steven Gerrard during Euro 2004.
"I will not put a rule on that because if a player is going to be transferred, that is his life," Eriksson said. "It would be good if everything could be done before but it will probably go on during the World Cup, but it is so important for the players. You can't say as an international manager 'You can't discuss that during the World Cup'. It's too important." It now seems that Eriksson will take five strikers. Darren Bent has probably done just enough to prove he could be the fifth, especially as Eriksson once again raised the concern that Jermain Defoe is spending too much time on the substitutes' bench.
For Eriksson, the fervour back in England that accompanies his last month in charge will be far removed from the quiet of the mountain retreat. The hotel was built in 1914 with the fortune of Hertha Isenbart, a Jewish heiress who left her husband to marry Wilhelm Isenbart, a colonel in the Imperial Prussian Army. The scandal, and his subsequent death, left her heartbroken. The colonel, whose ghost is said to walk the corridors, might have some sympathy for Eriksson and his personal calamities of the last five years.Reuse content