The post-Sven Goran Eriksson era begins at Old Trafford tomorrow night but on current ticket sales little more than half the seats will be full to usher in the Steve McClaren regime. The England manager appears to be paying the price for the team's lacklustre performance in Germany this summer.
For the Football Association, planning before June for demand for tickets for the first friendly match back against Greece was always likely to be tricky - and entirely dependent on how the team fared at the World Cup finals. Had they returned with the trophy, a match planned at a smaller ground than Old Trafford would have attracted criticism. As it was, the FA took the optimistic view.
Traditionally, August international friendlies have never attracted more than 45,000 supporters and England failed to sell out their penultimate match before Germany, against Hungary. But empty seats tomorrow will contribute to a general gloom around the team. The FA is hopeful that ticket sales will be boosted by fans buying them on the night.
McClaren took charge of his first training session as manager yesterday at Manchester United's Carrington headquarters, maintaining his hands-on involvement. Terry Venables, McClaren's new assistant also addressed the players. The new part-time assistant, Steve Round, the No 2 at Middlesbrough, also took the opportunity to acquaint himself with the team's biggest names.
Owen Hargreaves said later that the England players had discussed how they should now address McClaren with whom, under Eriksson, they had been on first-name terms. "We don't think we can call him Steve any more," he said. "Most of the lads were not sure what to say - so we didn't really refer to him by name."
As the team's coach pulled out, two young fans held up a flag with "We want Beckham back" scrawled across it and they were not the only ones finding the former captain's absence unusual. "It's strange that he is not around," Hargreaves said. "Ever since I have been involved with the England team in 2001 he [David Beckham] has been the focal point and the captain of the team. He has been a great captain and any time a player of that calibre is not involved it is something that everybody recognises. I was surprised when I heard about it but I am not the manager and I do not pick the team."
Hargreaves has found himself linked once again with a move to the Premiership although since his defining performance against Portugal, the quality of the clubs bidding for him has changed considerably. Manchester United are understood to have enquired about his availability and Hargreaves, 25, admitted that, despite a four-year contract at Bayern Munich, "anything is possible.
"I am sure the way the World Cup went for myself there is more interest from English clubs than there was before," he said. "When you are on the biggest stage with the best players more managers will look at you and pick out what they like."
The whole training session was thrown open to the media, a break from the normal routine, and featured Dean Ashton, the one newcomer to the squad. At 22, the West Ham striker, who was with Crewe 18 months ago, believed he could offer the side something "different. Hopefully, I will have the chance to show I am good enough to perform in this team."Reuse content