Sven pulls rank on Rooney

England coach digs in heels over wonder boy, then advises United against selling Beckham
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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson maintained last night that the Everton wunderkind Wayne Rooney would travel with England for the friendly in South Africa, despite the protestations of his club manager, David Moyes, that his teenage prodigy needs rest after today's final Premiership game against Manchester United. The England coach and the Goodison manager have twice discussed the issue, without agreement, and there will be a final attempt to resolve the matter tomorrow morning. But ultimately the Swede will pull rank whatever the Scot's wishes.

Sven Goran Eriksson maintained last night that the Everton wunderkind Wayne Rooney would travel with England for the friendly in South Africa, despite the protestations of his club manager, David Moyes, that his teenage prodigy needs rest after today's final Premiership game against Manchester United. The England coach and the Goodison manager have twice discussed the issue, without agreement, and there will be a final attempt to resolve the matter tomorrow morning. But ultimately the Swede will pull rank whatever the Scot's wishes.

Eriksson was asked whether, if fit, Rooney would go? "Probably yes," the coach replied. "To pick him for South Africa or not, at the end it must be my decision."

A reduced England squad fly to Durban in the week after the FA Cup final for a friendly on Thursday 22 May, a match arranged at the request of Nelson Mandela. David Beckham – who Eriksson said he would not sell at any price if he were Manchester United manager – is definitely included in the 23-man squad which will be announced tomorrow. But England players participating in the Cup final will not be; however, the absentees will join their team-mates when they move on directly for six days at La Manga.

Players' families have been invited, too, for what will be a period of R & R, with light training before the squad return to England on the 29th. They then play Serbia and Montenegro in a friendly at Leicester on Tuesday 3 June, as preparation for the European Championship qualifier against Slovakia at Middlesbrough eight days' later.

That game takes place a month after the conclusion of the Premiership and Eriksson is furious that England have to wait that long. "It's very good to have that time together, but in another way it's crazy that you have a qualification game exactly one month after the League has finished," he said. "There have been a lot of complaints from other countries as well, like Italy. It's not easy to keep the players happy and fit while everyone else is on holiday. That's one of the reasons I want them to come with families to La Manga."

Eriksson would be persuaded to change his plans regarding Rooney only if the striker suffers an injury or appears unduly fatigued today. "If he doesn't go, it would mean he had a week and a half off and that would be too much to ensure that he is fit for the games against Serbia and Slovakia," he explained. "I spoke to his manager last week and this and we don't have exactly the same opinion, but we will talk on Monday again. I wouldn't say it was a disagreement, it's just that David Moyes thinks he might need more rest. He might be right, I don't know. But we'll look at that again after Everton's last game. The important person here is not David Moyes or Sven Goran Eriksson; the important person is Wayne Rooney."

The Swede is convinced that Rooney can play an integral part in the remainder of England's qualification campaign. "I liked what I saw [against Turkey]," he enthused. "I think he's ready to play, to sit on the bench, whatever. He's ready for the big job. He showed that against Turkey, no doubt. Football fans and friends I have in Sweden, Italy, Portugal, they liked him very much. The sensation is his age and his maturity on the pitch.

"The way he played didn't surprise me, but his attitude to the game did. He wasn't nervous, just very confident. That's not normal for a 17-year-old boy, absolutely not."

Moyes's point, which will be re-emphasised tomorrow, is: "I want to protect him from overuse. His body is still growing." Sir Alex Ferguson, for one, has praised Moyes' handling of Rooney, saying: "I can't think of anyone better to look after that boy. And he's a young lad, who'll need to be looked after."

Ferguson has again dampened transfer speculation over Beckham, for whom Milan or Internazionale may be preparing a bid. "In all my time at Manchester United, I've never had a player ask to leave," he said. "Any player that's left here has been our decision."

Beckham, insisted Eriksson, was "very keen" to go to South Africa, although a proposed meeting with Mandela has not yet been confirmed. Eriksson declared that if his captain did move to Real Madrid (or anywhere else) it would not affect his international future. "I shouldn't give Alex advice, but I should keep Beckham, but whether he plays for United, or Real Madrid, or Milan or Inter, it doesn't matter. It's not a problem for England. Beckham could play anywhere; so could most of those playing for England. The speculation doesn't surprise me. He is a huge name all over the world. David has shown more than once that he can handle that."

Eriksson does not intend that there will be any "big surprises" in his squad, although he is already resigned to being without Gary Neville, Sol Campbell and Nicky Butt, all injured. The absence of Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge at left-back for the South Africa game – both are on FA Cup duty – is likely to be solved by the deployment of Danny Mills in that position.

The England coach has backed the FA's decision not to take up their allocation of tickets for the Turkey game on 11 October. "It's sad, but if it's for a security reason I can understand that," he said. "Football is important, but injuries and death are much more important. It's always nice to have fans wherever you go to help the team. It's the right decision, unfortunately."

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