Eriksson says FA's search for coach will not hurt England

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The Independent Online

The England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, believes the timing of the appointment of his successor will have no impact on the side's World Cup chances. However, he would not be drawn on whether England should pick another foreign coach.

The Football Association had previously stated that the man to replace Eriksson would be named before this summer's tournament and even though the process is taking longer than the FA anticipated, the Swede is not concerned about any knock-on effect.

"It doesn't matter. I don't think so," Eriksson said. "Once the team comes together the focus will be on the squad, the friendlies we have and on the World Cup."

The Portugal coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has recently re-emerged as a strong rival to the candidature of the Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren, Martin O'Neill and Bolton's Sam Allardyce in recent weeks.

The Portuguese Football Federation are adamant that Scolari's position is not open to debate until after his contract expires on 21 July. The federation's spokesman, Felipe Felix, said: "The federation and Scolari are committed to not feeding this sort of speculation. We have decided to talk about this issue only after the World Cup. Both parties are in agreement about the contract issue. This issue [the England job] doesn't bother us because in the last 12 months or more Scolari has been linked to several clubs and national teams. The truth is that he is our national head coach."

Eriksson is distancing himself from the constant stories talking up the qualities of the various candidates, although he did admit that it was helping him.

"I am happy with the speculation. It leaves me in peace," he said. "I don't have any ideas or comments at all about that because it is not at my table and I'm very happy it is not at my table."

Eriksson added he felt the ongoing debate over the new manager would not affect McClaren, his long-time coaching assistant. "Steve McClaren is a professional manager and he will work together with me and be sure we have a very good World Cup whatever happens in the future."

The England coach admitted that injuries were his only concern as the countdown to the World Cup entered its last six weeks.

The Newcastle striker Michael Owen has yet to make an appearance, having broken his foot on New Year's Eve, while the Arsenal left-back Ashley Cole has also to prove his recovery from an ankle injury.

The Tottenham defender Ledley King is out for the rest of the domestic season with a broken foot while Sol Campbell has had a stop-start few months and is only just making his comeback after an operation on a broken nose.

"If all of them were fit 100 per cent then I should be almost sure of 21 or 22 but what I have to deal with now until 15 May when the final squad must be announced is the injury situation," Eriksson said. "Our doctor is travelling to different clubs to check different situations so we know when the league finishes exactly what we have to do.

"Ledley King will not play football again this season and you have to take a decision when he is going to be fit. I am happy Sol Campbell will play [for Arsenal against Villarreal in the Champions' League semi-final] and Michael Owen will hopefully sit on the bench and get a few minutes at the weekend. I really hope, fingers crossed, there will be no injuries because I always said England will have a great World Cup if all the players are fit."

Sam Allardyce said that he has yet to be discounted from the FA's shortlist for the England manager's job. The Bolton manager also feels that the credentials of Scolari stand up to close scrutiny, even if his heart tells him he would ideally prefer an Englishman to succeed Eriksson.

Scolari has quickly emerged as one of the leading candidates, even if he and his employers at the Portuguese Football Federation have attempted to distance themselves from the speculation.

It had been thought that the Brazilian and McClaren were involved in a two-horse affair, with Allardyce, the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, and O'Neill becoming also-rans.

However, Allardyce yesterday insisted: "I'm still in the frame because no decision has been made yet. I haven't heard anything otherwise.

"I've had my [interview] opportunity, and I hope that was good enough, but we will have to wait and see.

"I appreciate that for the FA this is the biggest decision they have had to make since appointing Sven.

"There's been a few changes in the structure at the FA since then, so those in position at the moment have a responsibility to take as long as they need to hopefully find the right man.

"At this moment I am just waiting to hear a decision has been made and what that decision is."

With Scolari seemingly firmly in the running, the debate in recent days has centred on the possibility of the FA appointing another overseas coach. Even the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, yesterday expressed his surprise that the FA are considering heading down such a route.

Allardyce added: "In being an Englishman I'm bound to be biased in saying that an Englishman would be the best man for the job."

However, Allardyce fully respects Scolari's CV as a former World Cup-winning coach with Brazil, and at present as Portugal manager, and that he could not be overlooked. "Not at all," Allardyce said. "Like everything else in this country, every job that becomes available is a worldwide attraction, not just confined to Europe or the British Isles."

Allardyce, speaking after the launch of two new League Managers' Association initiatives designed at keeping its members in work, was mindful of his words, bearing in mind he remains a candidate.

Blatter was less circumspect as he said: "I am surprised England is considering this [a foreign coach] again. It has never happened with Italy, Germany, Spain, Argentina or Brazil - never. My personal opinion - and I was once a coach - is that when you speak to your players, and in the national team they are all one nationality, you should speak in their language," he said.

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