Eriksson attempts to end speculation with Portugal pledge

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The Independent Football

The words did not come easily but they came eventually. Having been literally backed into a corner, the press penning him into a nook of the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Sven Goran Eriksson finally ended weeks of speculation about his position by stating he would remain England manager for the European Championship finals in Portugal next summer. Though dredged out of Eriksson, it was the most definitive affirmative he has uttered since being photographed furtively dropping in for tea with Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's owner.

"As the situation is today, yes, absolutely," he initially replied. When pressed, he added: "Don't you understand me? Is it my bad English?" Pushed again, he finally said: "Yes, I will be manager at the European Championships."

"With England?" asked a careful reporter. "Yes." Should we be concerned by his hesitancy? "You should never be concerned in life, never, ever."

That's final then. Probably. Steven Gerrard certainly hopes it is. The Liverpool midfielder said Eriksson had told the team he would be there to lead them at the finals. Gerrard added: "It's very important that he takes us into the tournament. His record in important matches speaks for itself and I don't think there is anybody better. He's doing a great job and the criticism he gets is uncalled for.

"He protected us this week and stuck with us. That's what a manager is supposed to do. He was in a very awkward situation and I thought he handled it very well."

David James, the goalkeeper, added: "Sven is the man who has got us here. His record is fantastic. He knows what he's doing. He's in control. He's one of the team."

Though players and coach each have their critics, it is clear they believe in one another. Eriksson's response to the rebellion may have lacked the iron hand of Clive Woodward, the England rugby union coach, but he is dealing with millionaire egotists. The banishment of Gareth Southgate shows he will brook no personal dissent. The Swede is a pragmatist and his refusal to criticise the players brought the result he required. Since qualification is worth around £100m to the English game, the FA will swallow any reservations about his fence-sitting.

In the absence of the rumoured post-match call from the players for Mark Palios, the chief executive, to resign, the FA regards its dispute with the players to be over. Now, apparently, Palios has only to settle grudges with Manchester United, his Professional Footballers' Association counterpart, Gordon Taylor, and Pini Zahavi, the agent connected to Rio Ferdinand, Sir Alex Ferguson and, inconveniently, Eriksson.

FA officials made it clear in Turkey that Palios was furious at what he perceived to be United's collusion with Taylor in stiffening the players' resistance; at their threats to sue the FA and withdraw players, both since denied; and at their accusation that the FA leaked Ferdinand's name.

Palios is understood to have widespread support within Soho Square for standing up to United. As one official said: "If we had given in on Rio we may as well have put the keys to the front door in an envelope and posted them to Old Trafford."

Palios will be seeking the retraction of some United comments, but he may have to wait. United have determined the affair is best settled in private, not public. They thus had no comment yesterday when Paul Barber, the FA's marketing and communications director, announced the FA would be embarking on a full review of last week's events and "would expect any unsubstantiated or inaccurate statements made about its handling of a very difficult issue to be corrected by those concerned at the earliest possible opportunity".

Taylor was less reticent. He responded: "I'm perfectly happy to stand by my comments. If we need to go to court to seek out the truth that's fine by me."

Rio Ferdinand, whose failure to take a drug test prompted the row, will be interviewed today by Steve Barrow, the head of the FA's compliance division. Charges are expected to follow.

The dispute has jeopardised plans for England to play at Old Trafford next month. United's home is favoured because, as the biggest ground in England, it realises the highest-grossing gate. However, the new City of Manchester Stadium represents a tempting new alternative.

The former Commonwealth Games venue is likely to host one of the five friendlies Eriksson has in which to hone his team. Trips to Portugal in February and Sweden in March are confirmed. A European opponent, probably the Czech Republic or France, is being lined up for next month with a mini-tournament proposed for the end of the season. England will then hold a training camp, possibly at La Manga in Spain, followed by a brief break at home before heading for Lisbon.