After the best part of a decade in the hard world of Italian football Sven Goran Eriksson knows better than most that football management is a results business. Artistic merit has its place in any entertainment industry but for Eriksson it is a bonus, not a priority.
Which is why, when he selects the England team to play in Macedonia next month, Nicky Butt and Emile Heskey are likely to be included and Joe Cole omitted.
For many observers, both at Portman Road and on television, Cole embellished the latter stages of Wednesday night's friendly over Croatia with a delightful display of attacking enterprise. For Eriksson his naïvety put England's victory at risk.
"I said when I first came here that Joe Cole is one of the greatest talents you can find," said Eriksson yesterday. "But he is a diamond you have to polish because tactically he is not the best.
"You could see that. At 2-0 and 3-1 he left his position and tried to take on people. That is attractive to watch but when there are five minutes to play the most important thing is not to give the opposition the opportunity to have a shot at goal. We were too optimistic, attacking too much. In a qualifying game, or a World Cup game, with five minutes to play we don't need to make it 4-1. Three-one is OK."
By way of comparison Butt, said Eriksson, "is very clever". He added: "He sits there and reads the game. He doesn't go forward and that makes him very important. It was after he was injured they came into the game."
Butt's 27th-minute exit was, felt Eriksson, pivotal to Croatia's subsequent dominance of the first half. Steven Gerrard replaced him as anchor and, as usual, attempted to hit too many early long balls, a failing which also applied to the captain, David Beckham. "For 20 to 25 minutes afterwards when we won the ball, instead of keeping it, we played long, long ball. We never came out as a team and the ball came back at once.
"That makes it difficult to defend because you don't have good positions because you haven't kept the ball. That was the problem."
Unlike Cole, Gerrard will keep his place because his industry, drive and shooting compensate for his over-ambitious passing, especially as the latter sometimes brings reward.
So, too, should Heskey. Wayne Rooney may have signalled his improving fitness with two goals for Everton reserves on Wednesday night but he is still very raw. In Skopje his explosiveness is likely to be a liability as well as an asset. Heskey will never reach the heights Rooney is destined to attain but, at present, he is more likely to hold both the ball and his temper.
Heskey can appear too emollient but, sadly, he should not lack for motivation in the Balkan republic. As the Welsh found in Belgrade on Wednesday, and Heskey did in Slovakia last year, it is a part of the world where black players are routinely abused.
Eriksson was less concerned by the continued signs of vulnerability in defence. England have conceded in their last four matches and, but for the agility of David James, Croatia would have scored more than once. Ashley Cole was again caught out of position, though this partly reflected a lack of cover in front of him, and the central defenders allowed too many free headers.
"I'm not worried about the defence," insisted Eriksson. "When it is a real game we nearly always defend very well. Remember the World Cup. We were one of the best teams defending."
However, since Japan Eriksson has only twice been able to field the partnership between Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell on which England's World Cup solidity was based. That was against Australia, when the pairing conceded two goals in 45 minutes, and Turkey, when they kept England's last clean sheet.
Both had injury worries last season and Ferdinand struggled for form. Campbell remains troubled, physically and mentally, but Ferdinand, said Eriksson, was back.
"I saw Rio in Cardiff and he was excellent. During the practices he did with us this week he was much, much better than last season. I am sure he will have a great season. I think he has no problems with injuries any more and I'm optimistic about him. He had an excellent game on Wednesday. I don't think he has to have Sol alongside him to be good."Reuse content