Eriksson frustration adds to rift

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson has told the Football Association he disapproves of its haphazard disciplinary procedures, which he says could damage England's chances at Euro 2004. The England coach made his position clear on Saturday by supporting a stinging statement by his players' aimed at the FA but stopped short of saying he would resign over the recent selection fiascos.

The England coach has been left frustr`ated and confused by the FA's decision to exclude Alan Smith from the squad for yesterday's match with Denmark. The Leeds striker was sent home three hours after being called up last week when the FA realised he had been arrested - although not charged - over a bottle-throwing incident. The Smith incident comes just weeks after Eriksson was told he could not select Rio Ferdinand for England's final Euro 2004 qualifier with Turkey because of the Manchester United defender's missed drugs test.

"Rio has already been banned for one month from international football and I can't understand it," Eriksson said. "If he forgot a test or whatever, I have no idea but the day afterwards, it should be dealt with and then it's over."

Eriksson called on the FA to formulate a clear, fair policy on selection criteria. "My opinion is that a footballer should be able to play football until he's charged. That is what happens in other countries," he said.

"I have difficulty in understanding why people dealing with football should be the judge. Other people should take care of that. I believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. I always thought that, when living in democratic countries, it should be like that."

Asked if the players' rift with the FA could damage England's chances next summer, he said: "Maybe, yes." He added, however: "This will not affect my future... I like the players we have very much, as individuals, as footballers, and I honestly think that if we have most of them next summer, we have a good chance of doing a very good tournament."

The players' statement, which had Eriksson's backing, said: "We fully appreciate the need to set the right image for the game but we are extremely disappointed at the treatment of Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith, which has undermined the position of the manager and could have seriously effected the morale and team spirit of the players.

"We feel this has left us with no option but to ask that, from this day forward, the FA make clear the selection criteria for the England team so there is no room for ambiguity and misunderstanding.

"We have a concern that the FA are reacting to outside pressures which impacts unfairly on the manager and the players. By the FA's actions in withdrawing Rio and Alan from the squad, the players have been assumed guilty before the due process has been completed - a right which should be afforded to every individual in not only football but in society as a whole."