Beckham's Real role irks Eriksson

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson is more likely to take a vow of celibacy than criticise another manager, but England's head coach made it clear yesterday that he believes Real Madrid are not getting the best out of David Beckham.

Despite the promising start to his Spanish adventure last year, Beckham has yet to enthral the Bernabeu in the manner of his fellow galacticos, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo. While the England captain has enjoyed the chance to play in a more central role in the Real midfield, questions remain over his ability to shape a game from that position. Eriksson still prefers to play Beckham wide on the right.

While stressing that he had no intention of criticising Real or the way they used Beckham, Eriksson said: "For me he can do better playing on the right, whether you play three in midfield, four in midfield or with a diamond." He added: "Playing for Real Madrid today, when they're struggling a little bit, is difficult. The expectation of Real Madrid is that they should win every game 5-0. They're not doing that at the moment."

Eriksson said that the whole Real team had played badly in the weekend defeat by Barcelona, but he said he had been encouraged by Beckham's performance at home to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions' League this week. Beckham was substituted after suffering a head injury early in the second half. "He played well in the first half," Eriksson said. "My scout told me he did very well."

England's head coach clearly retains belief in his captain and said he would go to see him before the next international, a friendly against the Netherlands in February. When it was suggested that Beckham had not played well for England for some 18 months, Eriksson insisted: "It will happen." He added: "I can't believe that he's finished as a footballer. He's not. I'm quite sure about that."

If Eriksson has doubts about Beckham's progress in Spain, he appears to have none about Wayne Rooney's career at Manchester United. Eriksson revealed that he had spoken to Sir Alex Ferguson, United's manager, following Rooney's undisciplined performance in last week's friendly against Spain, when he substituted the striker before half-time to prevent him being sent off. While stressing that he believed David Moyes had also handled Rooney well at Everton, Eriksson said he was pleased that Rooney was working under such an experienced club manager.

Eriksson said there would be chances for other players to break into his squad. He mentioned Chelsea's Glen Johnson and Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing and made particular reference to Scott Parker, having seen the midfielder play for Chelsea against Paris St-Germain in the Champions' League on Wednesday. "He's improving a lot," Eriksson said. "He had a very good game yesterday. He's better technically. His first touch is better. He's worked very hard. He has a strong character."

Eriksson, speaking during a visit to the Swindon headquarters of Nationwide, one of the Football Association's sponsors, condemned the racist abuse of England's black players in Madrid last week, but said that good could come of it as Fifa and Uefa, the game's world and European governing bodies, had a "golden opportunity" to tackle the issue.

While welcoming the comment by Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, that he would have supported players walking off the field in such circumstances, Eriksson said it was important that the game had a framework for dealing with such a situation. "Let's say you're leading 1-0 in a World Cup qualifying game away but decide to go off the pitch," he said. "What happens then? It's important for Uefa and Fifa to make strong rules."