Beardsley rejects charges of England rifts

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The Independent Online

Adam Crozier, the Football Association's chief executive, may think that there are rifts between players in the England camp, but Peter Beardsley maintained yesterday that when Sven Goran Eriksson takes over as national coach there is nothing he will be able to do to improve the already healthy national team spirit

Adam Crozier, the Football Association's chief executive, may think that there are rifts between players in the England camp, but Peter Beardsley maintained yesterday that when Sven Goran Eriksson takes over as national coach there is nothing he will be able to do to improve the already healthy national team spirit

Beardsley, the former England assistant coach under Kevin Keegan, was responding to Crozier's allegations of "divisions" within the camp amid claims of high-stakes gambling.

"A lot of people say that Sven Goran Eriksson, who, please God ,will end up being a fantastic England coach, will improve a lot of things," Beardsley said. "But one thing that he will not improve is the spirit in the camp. I don't care what anybody says. You ask all the players involved."

Fostering team spirit was supposed to have been one of Keegan's main assets, with players having regularly spoken of the improvement in squad morale since the departure of his predecessor Glenn Hoddle. Keegan was credited with adopting a laid-back approach by allowing them out of the team hotel, organising race evenings and bonding with them as "one of the lads".

Beardsley was adamant that the players had never turned against Keegan as far as squad morale went.

"The players responded very well to Kevin. If you asked all the players individually what they thought, I'd be very surprised if anybody had a bad thing to say about him," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

The England defender Phil Neville also spoke out to ridicule the idea that there is a rift between Manchester United and Liverpool players.

"It's unbelievable. I read one story this morning saying that the Liverpool lads don't talk to the United lads," he said. "But that's the biggest load of rubbish I've ever heard. The relationship between the supporters probably isn't the best, but in terms of the players there's no problem."

Eriksson will be keen to ensure that players do not gamble for thousands of pounds at a time, as has been claimed, with the cards coming out even on the short journey from Bisham Abbey to Burnham Beeches.

He will be used to such tensions within squads from his time at Lazio and, although Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole do not speak to each other off the pitch at Old Trafford, they are still able to perform together superbly on it.

Beardsley discounted the idea that the sight of distinct groups on the England team coach was indicative of a huge problem.

"That's the way it is at every club, everybody has got their own seat. There will always be the same four players sitting there playing cards," he said. "Everyone sits next to who they want to sit next to. There are 25 players in the squad and not everybody gets on with everybody. Look at an office, not everybody gets on. The difference is that everyone respects each other and that, in football, is the most important thing."

As to the seriousness of the gambling, which normally takes place in a six-strong card school, Beardsley admitted that he did not know exactly what the stakes were, but added that he was "not sure it was that severe.

"We knew the players played cards, but it happens at every club. We hadn't got a problem with that. If you tried to stop them playing cards or said it was wrong, they'd just go underground. When you get players for three and four days as an England manager does, you can't change a lot in the way they are."

The footballer-turned-racehorse-trainer Mick Quinn was derisive about Crozier's comments. "There were card schools at every club I was involved with," he admitted. "You have to find a way of relieving the boredom of a four-hour coach journey. Some guys get their music systems out and others play cards and I have never known it to have a detrimental effect on team spirit.

"I guess if you were losing vast sums, that might be a bit divisive, but I've never seen anyone lose more than £700."

It emerged yesterday that Eriksson owes something to one of his predecessors, Bobby Robson. Almost 30 years ago, the then Ipswich Town manager agreed to allow the ambitious young Swede watch him at work. Eriksson made at least two trips to Suffolk in the early 1970s to see one of the country's emerging managers making his way in the game.

"I remember him very well," Robson said. "He just seemed to be a very nice young chap."

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