Dyer feels fans? anger as domestic dispute spills over into England arena

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The Independent Online

When Kieron Dyer came to Newcastle, it was said he would be a young Prince Hal, whose wild living could be tempered into the leadership qualities of a Henry V. The Shakespearean king he most resembled last night was Richard III, a pantomime villain whose every touch was howled down.

When Kieron Dyer came to Newcastle, it was said he would be a young Prince Hal, whose wild living could be tempered into the leadership qualities of a Henry V. The Shakespearean king he most resembled last night was Richard III, a pantomime villain whose every touch was howled down.

It is hard to think of any England player who has been so rejected by his own crowd. Even when Alan Shearer led his country out at Sunderland's Stadium of Light in October 1999, he was, to everybody's relief, cheered. He even scored.

Dyer was allowed no such forgiveness. Shearer may have been disliked on Wearside but it was for his goals rather than for a "bling" lifestyle of jewellery, jeeps and wild ostentation that culminated in his refusal to play for Newcastle in the North-east derby with Middlesbrough.

The last time an England player was howled down at St James', it was Martin Smith, who played for the Under-21 side against Ireland, and Smith's "crime" was rather less than Dyer's: he had played for Sunderland.

Had football been part of the Ancient Olympics, then the spectators would have watched the lightning flashing around the uppermost tiers of the Milburn Stand and which struck the St James' metro station and seen it as divine judgement of a player who seems today almost a caricature of a modern footballer. That he is an intelligent, articulate and deeply talented footballer, desperate to make his mark on the game, has been pushed aside.

Dyer's argument with Sir Bobby Robson was that he no longer wished to be played out of position on the right flank. Last night, he was played out of position on the left by Sven Goran Eriksson.

If Dyer plays anywhere for England, it should be in the centre of the pitch or as a support striker, in which role he destroyed Southampton in an FA Cup tie in January.

The hounding of a man who on his day is filled with as much talent as any midfielder in the country was the chief reason a comfortable victory over a Ukraine side that had not won outside Kiev in two years will be remembered. The 17,000 empty seats are the other.

If, as Nasser Hussain once suggested, India represents the soul of cricket, then the North-east could fairly claim to be the soul of English football. And yet both are selective about their fanaticism. When Hussain returned as captain of England to the country of his birth, it was thought at the time that it was not worth staging Test matches in the great stadiums of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta; the Indian public's appetite was now confined to the limited-overs game.

Save perhaps for a League Cup game against minor opposition, seldom has St James' Park, the cathedral of Geordie football, boasted quite so many empty seats. The moralists of the Daily Mail might have been tempted to paint this as a sign of public distaste for the sewer politics practised at Soho Square. However, as a stroll through the Bigg Market on a Saturday night would prove, Newcastle has few hang-ups about sex, moral or otherwise.

They do, however, have a problem with paying £40 a ticket to watch a glorified training session, which is what Eriksson has made England friendlies into. They did not sell out the City of Manchester Stadium to play Japan in May and they never remotely threatened to do so on Tyneside.

And yet this match was more vital than perhaps any friendly Eriksson has played since his first. Every result now matters, both to the Swede and those who seek to remove him.

That Michael Owen, when finally given some service, showed the delicate touch that marked his goal against Portugal, the flood of confidence rushing back to David Beckham's boots and the fabulous finishing of Shaun Wright-Phillips would have heartened him. The sloppy passing and vulnerability to the counter-attack, the trademark of Euro 2004, would not.

Ukraine's counter-punching was fortunate not to have wounded England in the first half and you imagined that this would be how Wales would like England to play at Old Trafford in October, to lead them on and then allow them to punch back with the pace of Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy.

The events of the last six months have eaten away the last scrap of veneer that once surrounded Eriksson. When he arrived, he was a man who had won the Scudetto at Lazio, whose veins ran with ice and who liked to relax by reading Tibetan poetry. Now, he appears a deeply cautious tactician, who failed against Big Phil Scolari when it mattered in both World Cup and European Championship and we know he likes to relax by filling the dishwasher before having sex. There is no mystery any more, only results.

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