McClaren accuses media of trying to split England

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The Independent Online

The pressure on Steve McClaren since England's defeat by Croatia has mounted for the past five weeks and last night he showed just how much. The new England manager engaged in his first serious dispute with the media when he described his treatment as "ridiculous" and accused individuals of trying to divide him and his players.

McClaren, who will give 18-year-old Micah Richards his England debut tonight against the Netherlands, snapped back at criticism over Stewart Downing and the dispute over the reasons for the winger being dropped for the Croatia game.

The saga over Downing's exclusion after the 0-0 draw with Macedonia on 7 October began when Terry Venables wrote in his News of the World column that the Middlesbrough man's confidence had been destroyed after the game at Old Trafford. The implication was that Downing was not in any state to face Croatia.

Downing then hit back with an interview in which he said that McClaren had told him that he had been dropped merely for tactical reasons. Saying that he had been made a scapegoat for the result against Macedonia, Downing's account contradicted that of Venables.

McClaren responded angrily to suggestions that he was at odds with his assistant, Venables, and added: "I'm not answering any more questions on Stewart Downing. Why are you trying to separate players and myself and even the staff?"

Nevertheless, McClaren gave an impassioned defence of the players who had received the harshest criticism. Having announced that he will give Andrew Johnson his first England start in attack he hit back at Paul Robinson's critics.

"He's 90 minutes from equalling Gordon Banks' record [of seven consecutive clean sheets] and then he got personal criticism that I thought was totally out of order," McClaren said.

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