Barwick refuses to admit Eriksson era was a failure

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The Independent Football

The England squad that gathers today in readiness for the European Championship qualifiers against Andorra and Macedonia may contain more evidence of Steve McClaren's reservations about Sven Goran Eriksson but official criticism of his predecessor remains unspoken, as Brian Barwick demonstrated by rejecting claims the £5m-a-year Swede represented an expensive failure.

With the McClaren era opening in refreshing style after the despondency of the World Cup, and England facing the minnows of Andorra on Saturday, it is understandable the Football Association should prefer to focus on existing momentum rather than past mistakes.

Their appointment as England manager has established his authority by ending David Beckham's international career, recalling several strikers ignored by Eriksson and breaking the Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard midfield axis - and all for a smaller salary than the previous incumbent.

McClaren reinforced the sense of a break with the previous regime last night when he admitted that Theo Walcott, the Arsenal teenager at the centre of one of Eriksson's most controversial decisions at the World Cup, was unprepared for international football. Despite the absence of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Dean Ashton, plus his first impressive cameo performances for Arsenal this season, the 17-year-old will only be involved with the Under-21s for now.

"He was and is somebody that I'll be looking at very, very closely but I just felt he needs a few more games before we consider him," said McClaren. "Theo has got great potential, that's the key word, potential. He has to become a regular at Arsenal and break through and consistently perform at that level. He's at a big club, he's surrounded by big players and that's when you grow not just physically, technically, tactically, but also mentally. That's something he has to develop. He has to mature, and he's at the right place to do that."

FA chief executive Barwick, however, has denied that three quarter-final defeats in three international tournaments was a poor return for a gross outlay of about £25m on Eriksson, although he did hint at a shared sense of under-achievement.

"An expensive mistake? I would not accept that," said Barwick. "But we were all disappointed, him included. In qualification terms he was 100 per cent in major tournaments but he himself would say three quarter-finals would not be considered the success he would have looked for. He thought this time there would be every chance of success but it did not happen."

Barwick also heralded McClaren's appointment of Terry Venables as assistant manager, 10 years after he left the England job, and insisted the coach did not undermine the new man's authority. "He is no threat to Steve as the boss - that will be a mischief rumour, not reality," added Barwick. "He has great experience, he will get on the field. He is a tracksuit coach, as Steve is a tracksuit coach. It is two brains."

The two brains could be without one influential defender at Old Trafford this weekend if Rio Ferdinand fails to recover from the toe injury he sustained in Manchester United's win at Watford. Scans revealed "no conclusive evidence of a fracture," said a United spokesman, but although he has been allowed to join up with England, his participation against Andorra is doubtful.

McClaren's second international squad contains three strikers overlooked by Eriksson at the World Cup, Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent and Andy Johnson, who are likely to be competing for a place alongside Peter Crouch. Though Crouch is favourite for a starting role, he is aware that he still has to prove himself to the England manager. "It was great to become more established in the England set-up but now I have to push on," Crouch admitted last night.