Sven Goran Eriksson's choice of Footballer of the Year is the first player he might drop from the England team at this summer's World Cup finals. Speaking at the almost absurdly luxurious castle-hotel where the squad will be based in June, the head coach revealed that Chelsea's mercurial midfielder Joe Cole would receive his blessing ahead of Thierry Henry were he to be granted a vote.
But having named his preferred starting XI as long ago as last November, with Cole on the left of midfield, Eriksson has also admitted that against strong opponents employing a man just behind two strikers, he would dispense with an attacking midfielder and bring in a proper holding player. Nobody imagines that either David Beckham, Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard would be that man.
"I always believed in him, because his talent is incredible, even when he did too many tricks and lost the ball sometimes where he shouldn't lose it," Eriksson said of Cole, whom he first picked against Mexico in May 2001. "[Jose] Mourinho has done a great job with him, absolutely fantastic. I put him on the bench many times. But today is different. He is a complete football player and he knows when to do tricks and when not to. But you should never take that away from him, that is one of his strengths."
It should please Eriksson that so many of Cole's rivals to be named the outstanding player of the season - including Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, John Terry, Lampard and Wayne Rooney - are due to be in Germany with him this summer. Rooney, he believes, can eventually become as effective as the world's leading player, Ronaldinho, because "he has everything". "He's not similar to Ronaldinho, but he can dribble and [protect] the ball, he can defend as a defender, score goals with both feet. He's not tall but he's a very good header, he has pace and brain."
Eriksson was also relieved to hear on Wednesday night that Peter Crouch - his very own Special One - had located the net for Liverpool in their 5-1 romp against Fulham. "I think he will always do maybe more assists than goals," Eriksson said. "I'm very happy with him, every time he's come with us he's been very good. I've always said he's special, he's different. Maybe he won't score a lot but I have a lot of other players who score goals. If you look at Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney they both score goals, if you look at our four midfielders, all four of them are goalscorers. That's fantastic."
Eriksson implied that he would take a risk by naming any of those six players if they had niggling injuries before the announcement on 8 May. Sol Campbell, who has not played since walking out of Arsenal's game against West Ham at half-time, will not be encouraged to learn that the same may not apply to him: "You look at what alternative you have. If we have a centre-half who might not be ready, you can take in another one. But Rooney, can you take in another Rooney? I think you have to take it case by case and not make a rule." Reserve players and anyone needing to regain match fitness will be given a game in the confirmed B international on 25 May, for which Belarus are the projected opposition.
Meanwhile the Football Association are hoping that ongoing interviews with candidates to replace Eriksson will be subject to less exposure than the chat with Charlton's Alan Curbishley that was splashed all over the front page of one national newspaper, as if his coronation was imminent. If nothing else, it was a useful reminder to the nine or 10 potential successors - "a taster" as Curbishley put it - of the media attention that the job will continue to attract.Reuse content