Eriksson's calls help shore up player loyalty

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson's next meeting with his England squad before their 1 March friendly against Uruguay promises to be an awkward affair at first but the Swede is understood to have shored up the support of his senior players after a round of delicate phone calls to David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney to apologise for his comments about them to an undercover tabloid newspaper reporter.

The England manager released an official statement on Sunday in which he said he was "confident" that no irreparable damage had been done to the relationships by his disclosures about the players to a News of the World reporter posing as a bogus Sheikh. Sources close to the senior players indicated yesterday that they had all accepted Eriksson's apologetic phone calls and had assured their manager that there were no hard feelings about his indiscreet comments.

By yesterday morning only Shaun Wright-Phillips had not spoken to Eriksson from those players he had discussed in a disastrous conversation that was splashed over seven pages of the Sunday tabloid - the Swede had said that the Chelsea winger had been overpriced in his £24m move from Manchester City in the summer. The others, with the possible exception of Ferdinand, can all be sure of their place in the starting line-up for the World Cup and it was the loyalty that Eriksson has shown them during his time in charge that the England manager was able to fall back on in this difficult times.

It is not uncommon for Eriksson to call his players between international weeks to discuss football and their performances and, as such, there was nothing unusual for players such as Beckham and Owen to receive a call from the England manager. Owen was the player with perhaps the most to be angry about - given that Eriksson had claimed he was unhappy with his move to Newcastle and had joined only because they had topped his Real Madrid salary - but the striker is understood to be philosophical about the actions of a manager who always picks him.

Eriksson's assistant, Tord Grip, told the BBC yesterday that his friend had been "a little bit shocked" by the sting. Grip was one of only two Football Association employees Eriksson said he would wish to take with him should the bogus Sheikh buy a Premiership club - Aston Villa were proposed - the other being the FA director of communications Adrian Bevington who has spent the past two days clearing up the chaos.

Grip said: "He [Eriksson] has been through a lot of things but this was something very special, because it was a real set-up. But I know that Sven is OK and he's fully committed to the job. It was a shock for him."

* Eriksson is coming under increasing pressure to confirm whether or not he intends to leave his England post immediately after the World Cup, according to reports last night.

The FA would like to resolve the situation before England leave for the finals.

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