Pele heralds 'brilliant' Rooney and England

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The Independent Online

They may have been seeded one place below Brazil, but Pele said yesterday that England still had a chance of winning the World Cup next summer if Wayne Rooney lives up to his status as "the most brilliant young player in Europe". Speaking in Leipzig in the build-up to tomorrow's World Cup finals draw, the three-times Brazilian World Cup-winner, 65, said that he believed his own nation were the clear favourites to win the tournament but picked out Rooney, 20, and England as a serious threat.

Pele said: "Everyone says Brazil are the favourites, but I don't feel comfortable with that because the favourites do not always win World Cups - injuries can make a team weak and over seven months a lot can happen.

"If a team's best player is not in good shape that can cause many problems. I believe at the moment Brazil are the best team in the world, but England have Rooney, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Owen - five good attacking players - and if they are in good shape for the World Cup then they will be a strong team.

"I think Rooney is the most brilliant young player in Europe, I like him very much indeed. France also have good attacking players, such as Zidane and Thierry Henry while Italy have probably the best defence in the world."

The England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, who is contracted to the national team until after the European Championship in 2008, has said that he would not be interested in the vacant manager's role at Real Madrid before the World Cup finals next summer. He was sounded out for the role before the appointment of Carlos Queiroz in the summer of 2003 and since then there have been two further managers.

Eriksson said: "Nobody has asked me about anything, I have not had any contact from Real Madrid regarding that. I still have two and a half years left [with the Football Association], that's plenty of time and we'll see what happens." There has been a suggestion that Eriksson would take on both jobs, but he told the Swedish newspaper Nya Wermlands-Tidningen: "This is not the kind of job you go looking for, but one that you are offered. And that offer depends on if it fits in with the job I've got at the moment or not."

Fifa leaders will today attend talks in Leipzig set up by the Sports Minister Richard Caborn to discuss the growth of players' salaries, the role of player agents and grassroots investment in the game, after ironing out a disagreement over the presence of the Premier League chairman, Dave Richards, in his role as chairman of the Association of European Leagues.

Caborn had set up the meeting with the European Commission, but Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, and his Uefa counterpart, Lennart Johansson, pulled out yesterday in objection to the presence of Richards. Uefa refuses to talk to league authorities, preferring to deal with national associations, but the talks were reinstated after Caborn intervened with Blatter.

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