FA divisions pose threat to Eriksson's plans

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Sven Goran Eriksson's plans for a four-week break for his England squad ahead of next year's World Cup finals have been thrown into chaos by a bizarre internal row within the Football Association that highlights the fundamental problems with the governing body's structure.

The FA's board has proposed cutting replays in fifth- and sixth-round matches that involved teams in Europe in order to finish the season in time to allow Eriksson four weeks of preparation with the England squad. However, the FA's Challenge Cup committee has thrown out the idea, despite having several members who also serve on the FA board.

The saga is the first time that the new chief executive, Brian Barwick, has been undermined by the archaic committee structure that still holds power at Soho Square. Of the 92 elected members on the FA Council many of them serve on the body's various committees. Premier League chairman, Dave Richards, Southampton's Rupert Lowe and Bolton's Phil Gartside serve on both the FA board and the FA Challenge Cup committee.

Effectively, those three helped propose the reforms and were also part of the Challenge Cup committee, which includes Manchester United's David Gill and Blackburn's Robert Coar, that rejected them. The plan to drop replays is understood to have been opposed by Challenge Cup committee members at the top of the professional game as well as those in the amateur game.

Eventually the decision to scrap certain replays could be made by the FA board over the heads of the Challenge Cup committee at a meeting on Thursday and the board may also call on the entire 92-man council to give it support. In the meantime it is a blow to Eriksson who was counting on the support of the FA to give him the time with his squad that is recommended in Fifa directives.

The Premier League is unable to start next season early, as has been suggested in some quarters, because it cannot interfere with the FA Community Shield game or pre-season tours to which clubs are committed. Privately, the Premier League is astonished at the FA's inability to solve its scheduling problem and feels that it has helped as much as it can to create a four-week break.

The dispute is the kind of issue that Lord Burns's independent review of the FA has been established to look at. The basic conflict, once again, centres upon the clubs, the needs of the England national team and the determination of certain FA councillors to protect the integrity of the FA Cup competition.

* The League Managers Association and the Premier League have agreed a clampdown on what they perceive as unfair criticism of match referees - Jose Mourinho's "cheat" jibe at the referee Neale Barry after Chelsea's Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester United being one example. The chief executive of the LMA, John Barnwell, and his counterpart at the Premier League Richard Scudamore met yesterday to discuss the issue and have pledged to take action to stamp out the problem.