Eriksson shows who is boss by dropping 'untouchable' Ferdinand

In a move that caused shock and surprise among the England players, the 26-year-old Ferdinand was summoned by coach Steve McClaren at the end of training and told to speak to Eriksson away from the main group. It became clear immediately to those present that the conversation was not just a simple tactics talk. The two defenders who will play in the centre of Eriksson's defence tomorrow will be John Terry and the in-form Sol Campbell.

It is not clear what has forced Eriksson's change of mind and he is unlikely to even confirm the decision at today's press conference, but Ferdinand's form for United in recent weeks, as well as a below average set of performances in England training session, are understood to have made up Eriksson's mind.

Up until Wednesday, England were still training with Terry and Ferdinand as the two centre-backs, but Eriksson has spotted something in Ferdinand's performance this week to change his mind.

The effect on the England hierarchy will be profound. Eriksson has never before dropped such a well-established player of the younger generation on form alone and the decision to exclude Ferdinand will do nothing to remove the feelings of insecurity that Steven Gerrard described among the players following the defeat to Northern Ireland on 7 September.

Ferdinand has won 29 of his 41 caps under Eriksson and the England coach has never failed to pick the Manchester United player when he has been fit or available. He started for England in Eriksson's very first game in charge against Spain in February 2001 and has played in all but the first two of England's World Cup qualifiers since he came back from his nine-month suspension for missing a drugs test on 23 September 2003.

It was that missed drugs test, and the ban impose by the Football Association that seemed to define the relationship between Eriksson and Ferdinand with the England coach even offering tacit support to the player in spite of his employer's actions. When Ferdinand returned to football in September last year he was called straight into the England team to face Wales at Old Trafford on 9 October at the expense of Terry who had played in his absence throughout Euro 2004.

Eriksson's latest decision seems to be grounded in the belief that Ferdinand is not improving enough as a player - a theory that is shared by many who have watched his performances for United this season. He was among those culpable for both Fulham's goals in United's 3-2 victory at Craven Cottage on Saturday and, in the last two years, has simply not made the giant bounds forward that Terry has managed.

The Chelsea captain is now arguably the first choice among the four top centre-halves at Eriksson's disposal - including Jamie Carragher. The implications for England's team selection suggest that Eriksson, suddenly possessed by a new bullishness, may have one more trick in store before tomorrow afternoon but, excluding any further changes of heart, he will pick a defence with Luke Young at right-back, Carragher on the opposite side and Terry and Campbell in the centre.

With Eriksson's stock so low it is difficult to judge whether the exclusion of Ferdinand is an unprecedented reaction to calls for him to show his teeth in dealing with England's under-performing young stars, or simply a panicky act of tinkering too close to a crucial match. The third possibility is that Eriksson is at last making the decision to pick players on form, with Ferdinand having played himself out of contention.

It emerged also last night that Eriksson is grooming his England coaching assistants ­ Steve McClaren, Peter Taylor and Sammy Lee ­ with the view to one of them succeeding the Swede as manager.

"When I took the job four-and-a-half years ago I was asked by the FA to work with two or three English coaches who, in the future, could take over my job," Eriksson said. McClaren, Taylor and Lee were "definitely in the window", he added.

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