Welsh fear backlash as indignant Eriksson insists he picks the team

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The Independent Football

It has been the week when the Swede has roared - in defence of his private life on Sunday and in defence of his professional principles yesterday. And on the eve of today's World Cup qualifier at the Millennium Stadium support came from his most reliable supporter. David Beckham announced that even he, the captain already anointed for the World Cup next summer, was not assured of his place in England's first XI.

After the birth of a new 4-5-1 system, private meetings between Eriksson and his most trusted midfield lieutenants, and David James and Glen Johnson ruthlessly dropped, the Wales team would be entitled to be flattered by the scope of the build-up if they were not so concerned by the consequences. The challenge of a weakened Welsh side that awaits England in Cardiff today has, this week, often seemed far less daunting than the politics and intrigue that surrounds Eriksson and the selection of his team.

So rarely has Eriksson embarked on the warpath to defend his own position during his four years and eight months in charge that twice in one week qualifies as a record. He dismissed as "absolute rubbish" the suggestion that it was he who was talked into a new 4-5-1 formation - a system he refused to confirm that England would be playing - during his Tuesday night meeting with Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. That level of condemnation from Eriksson represents a new vocabulary of indignation from the Swede and his denial took in his entire approach to coaching which, he pointed out, dated back "to 1976".

He said: "I'm here to take decisions, I always take decisions and if you are in charge of a football team you have to tell the players how you want them to play. You have to be sure the players understand it and you have to be sure they accept it and that they think that it is the right thing to do. If you don't have these three elements then you will never have a good result."

They are the basic principles of his philosophy of consensus management and while they may not be every manager's modus operandi, Beckham said that they were not entirely dissimilar from the approach of his former mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson. Although the England captain declined to name an occasion on which the Manchester United manager had ushered him into a meeting on tactics after dinner, Beckham went to great lengths, once again, to reject any suggestion that his influence extended to team selection.

"He [Eriksson] said that [Beckham would be captain for the next World Cup] but things can change," he said. "It doesn't matter whether the manager said that. If I am not playing well the manager is strong enough, without a doubt, to say, 'You are not playing well, you are not in the team'. I definitely think he would definitely do that. There might be doubts in other people's minds, but he would. He is a great manager, one of the most respected managers in football. If I am playing well, I would expect to be in the team. If I am not, I would expect to be on the bench. People have to realise he has got that ruthless streak... He decides the team."

Beckham said that he had "never, never" attempted to influence the selection of his manager and, as if by way of proof, his answers hinted strongly that he had been asked to play in the role of holding midfielder today behind Gerrard and Lampard. It said much about how, and in what position, the final years of Beckham's career might unfold but it is also instructive that the England captain does not feel that he, in his own words, is "the most defensive player around".

Unfortunately, in the Tuesday night brainstorm with Eriksson, the conclusion was that Beckham was the most defensive player around that particular hotel table and against Wales there is a low-risk strategy in allowing him to try the role. Not many national team managers would risk converting a player recognised as a winger for his entire career into a defensive midfielder 10 months before a World Cup finals, but then if Eriksson wants to encourage his image as a radical free-thinker then this might be his platform.

As a World Cup qualifier against a home nation who have conceded their chance of reaching Germany next summer, the match has been billed as a chance for Welsh pride to have its day. There seems just as much scope for disaster among a Wales team who will have, at most, five survivors from the team beaten at Old Trafford in October and will field a goalkeeper, in Danny Coyne, who has struggled to make Burnley's side.

Perhaps the opposite of Eriksson's style of gentle compromise is John Toshack, who has established his own authority with such vigour he has precipitated the international retirements of Andy Melville, Mark Pembridge, Gary Speed, Andy Johnson and Robbie Savage. The Wales manager, and striker John Hartson, have spoken about the unfortunate timing of England's 4-1 defeat to Denmark and the repercussions that may have for them .

Even if Eriksson's 4-5-1 system proves successful today, it will most likely be junked when Michael Owen returns against Northern Ireland next week. It would complete another strange England fortnight to watch Eriksson defend the abandonment of a winning formation he has spent so much time arguing was all his own idea.

* Ashley Cole's solicitor confirmed yesterday that he will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the Premier League punishment for his part in the Chelsea "tapping-up" scandal of last season.

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