Diamonds may be among the hardest substances known to man but the footballing variety is a more fragile entity. Yesterday Sven Goran Eriksson's version, only recently reconstructed, was shattered anew.
Nicky Butt, who was to anchor Eriksson's midfield in the World Cup qualifying double-header against Austria, in Vienna on Saturday, and Poland, in Chorzow a week today, reported lame with a hamstring injury.
"He is almost certainly out for Saturday and is doubtful for Wednesday," said the England manager last night. Butt has returned to Newcastle for treatment and though Eriksson hoped he might be able to rejoin the squad in Poland that seems unlikely.
Butt's absence means Eriksson will revive the flat four which had mixed results in Portugal during the summer. "I will probably move Steven Gerrard back to central midfield," said Eriksson. "On the left I could play Joe Cole, Kieron Dyer or Wayne Bridge."
Given that they are away fixtures the latter is the most likely option even if Bridge is more accustomed to playing at left-back. The only other time Eriksson paired him with Ashley Cole on the left flank, in October 2002, England were held 2-2 by Macedonia, one of the worst results of his reign.
"Bridge played well but the result was not good," said Eriksson. An alternative is to move Beckham into the centre and play Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. However, the training time for such an option is limited by an ankle injury to Wright-Phillips and Beckham having to play in a friendly for Real Madrid last night.
Beckham and Michael Owen were due to arrive by private plane in the early hours of this morning, but will not be able to take a full part in today's training. Much of tomorrow will be taken up travelling to Vienna and Friday's session will have to be a light one as it is the day before the match. Real's match will also hamper Eriksson's need to hone Owen's partnership with Alan Smith who is expected to understudy Wayne Rooney in the qualifiers. It is a role Smith may have to get used to for club as well as country.
Eriksson said he believes Smith has channelled his aggression in the right way. "It's his nature to be aggressive in football and that is good if you don't do it too much," he said. "He has been playing very well this season for us and Manchester United, so I'm not worried that he is too aggressive. Experience is something you must earn - he is a young player and maybe he did some stupid things in the past. But now he's older, he's playing for Manchester United and playing for England."
As he was speaking, before Rooney's transfer to Old Trafford was confirmed, the wily Eriksson refused to be drawn into commenting on the subject but he was prepared to discuss the teenager's future in more general terms.
"He is already world-class but I would expect him to get better as he is only 18," Eriksson said. "Any club manager offered the chance to sign Wayne Rooney would not say 'no'. I think he will always be a guy who keeps his feet on the ground. He is never nervous or worried about anything."
England are expected to secure maximum points from these matches against moderate opposition. Eriksson said that was unreasonable, that no qualifying matches are easy, but he expects to be criticised if they fail. Professing himself surprised that two Premiership managers have already been sacked this season he said: "It is getting like Italy, in England you are normally more patient. But if you do not get results you are under pressure. It is the same for any manager."
One man Eriksson does not expect to replace him is Sir Clive Woodward. It was claimed yesterday, somewhat improbably, that England's World Cup-winning rugby coach is quitting the oval code in attempt to repeat his success in football.
"Everything is possible but if he is one more who wants my job I won't losing any sleep over it," Eriksson said.Reuse content