Eriksson gives Platt support for big picture

The England Under-21 coach has the right backing for tonight's Uefa Championship play-off.
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The memory of leaving Manchester United for the Fourth Division helped David Platt keep his feet on the ground during an illustrious playing career, but his emotions may go through the roof if his England Under-21 side take a first-leg lead over the Netherlands in tonight's Uefa Championship play-off in Utrecht.

A close confidant of Sven Goran Eriksson, in whose midfield he served at Sampdoria, the 35-year-old Platt envies the Swede's unflappable nature. The England manager's reaction to the late David Beckham goal which earned a place in the World Cup finals was, he suggests, as wild as it gets.

"When Sven ran down the steps at Old Trafford, fists clenched, that was him being extravagant," Platt says. "If that had been me, you'd have had to pick me off the rafters when Becks scored because I'm up and down like a toilet seat. I wish I was like that. It's a great way to be." In fact, Eriksson and Platt are alike in the most critical respect. An empathy which started in the rarefied atmosphere of Serie A has hardened into shared beliefs about how to harness the distinctive physical attributes of the British game to the burgeoning skills that contribute to the compelling spectacle that is the Premiership.

All England managers espouse tactical continuity between national teams of different age groups. With Eriksson and Platt -- sorcerer and apprentice, supremo and possible successor -- the sense of key figures singing from the same hymn sheet is stronger than ever.

This week, however, the "big" team have only a home friendly against Sweden whereas the Under-21s are striving to reach next May's finals. Priority has therefore been given to the junior partner's requirements for the Nieuw Galgenwaard stadium and the second leg at Derby next Tuesday.

Normally, Platt admits, he must wait to learn who Eriksson intends to pick and plan accordingly. "That hasn't been the case this time. It was: 'OK, who do you want?' I said I wouldn't mind Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves, even though Owen's now had to pull out. Sven went bang: 'You got 'em'.

"Everybody has to look at the wider picture. If some of them had been in the squad against Sweden, Sven may have started one and another might have come on. They'll be thinking: 'I could have been making my full England debut', but I think they're professional enough to realise this is the more important game at this time.

"Early next year I will, hopefully, be preparing for the Uefa Championships, but the World Cup preparations will then take precedence. So if a David Dunn, Darius Vassell, John Terry, Ledley King or a Wayne Bridge is going to get into one of England's friendlies, I could be selfish and say: 'Well, I'm preparing for a tournament'.

"You wouldn't do that but this is a strange one because we still have a qualifying hurdle to overcome and he [Eriksson] has a friendly. It's good that we've got a rapport because he could have said: 'I'm taking them'." The players name-checked by the former Nottingham Forest manager are those, along with the comparatively seasoned full international Gareth Barry, whom he regards as fringe candidates for England's party in Japan and South Korea. Eriksson and Platt have, as usual, reached an understanding which balances the desirability of player-development against the need to win a particular fixture.

They agreed that Dunn – "a real player," Platt enthuses of the versatile Blackburn midfielder who will be captain in Utrecht – and company would be better off in the Under-21s. "Fortunately we're in a position where development comes by going to a major tournament. There's always a few places up for grabs in a World Cup squad because people get injured or someone bursts through late. It's not just about ability, but about coping mentally," explains Platt, whose own breakthrough came when Bryan Robson was hurt six months before Italia 90.

"If we hadn't reached this stage we'd have had a friendly with Sweden. Then I'd have left out the players who will be too old next year, and who probably aren't ready to step up to Sven's squad, and dipped into the Under-19s to start getting them on to a higher stage," he adds, citing Forest's Jermaine Jenas, 18, as an example from the next generation.

Like his mentor, Platt, who succeeded Howard Wilkinson in August, remains unbeaten. Competitive wins over Germany, Albania and Greece (followed a 4-0 debut rout of the Dutch in a Reading friendly. "We played well, though not as well as the score suggests. Plus they'll have a couple of players who came on in the second half who I'm sure will start, the Ajax midfielder [Rafael] van der Vaart in particular.

"Don't get me wrong. I've been looking at that match on video, but we mustn't let it mislead us. I don't think they had their strongest XI on the pitch at any time." Nor will Platt tonight, Seth Johnson and Vassell having joined Hargreaves in withdrawing because of injury.

For all his talk of the broader picture, Platt's focus is on winning the tie. Success would bolster the buoyant mood surrounding "New" England, as well satisfying his competitive instincts. If picking him off the rafters sounds a tad undignified for the Eriksson era, raising the roof should be within the capabilities of an outstanding crop of young players.