The Football Association last night promised there will be no repeat of the chaotic build-up to this afternoon's England international against Denmark, in which the Leeds United striker Alan Smith was sent home a few hours after being called up and his replacement, James Beattie, almost followed. After England's head coach Sven Goran Eriksson and his staff had joined the players in putting out a strongly-worded statement condemning the expulsion of Smith, and the omission of Rio Ferdinand from last month's critical Euro 2004 qualifying game in Turkey, FA officials admitted there had been a breakdown in communication and pledged that in future they would make any decision about banning a player for disciplinary reasons before a squad is named.
That still left plenty to be discussed at the forthcoming meetings demanded by England's players and staff, who are insisting that nobody should be denied selection until they have been found guilty of an offence. Smith was arrested after allegedly throwing a plastic bottle back into the crowd at Elland Road during his team's Carling Cup defeat by Manchester United, but has not been charged. Ferdinand has been charged with misconduct by the FA for failing to take a drugs test on 23 September, but there is still no date for his hearing.
Eriksson said he was bewildered as to why the case was taking so long, denying him his centre-half for a second successive match. "I can't understand the system," he complained. "It happened eight weeks ago and he's already been banned for a month from international football. It should be dealt with the day after and then it's over."
The FA's new chief executive Mark Palios, much criticised for his handling of the Smith and Beattie cases, has already instigated a full review of disciplinary procedures and is known to want to speed up all such investigations.
Eriksson was careful to avoid criticising any personalities, and also claimed that the current dispute has not affected his commitment to staying as head coach in any way. He did, however, admit that the events of the past few days were "not the ideal preparation" for today's game, and that the reputation of English football was taking a battering. That was confirmed in a telephone call to his father in Sweden, who joked: "Are they all criminals over there?"
England's captain David Beckham said that Eriksson was "frustrated" at not being allowed to select the players he wanted. "We want consistency and if we have to stand up for ourselves again then we will. The players have come together and stood together. This time we are talking to the FA about it and have told them in future we want things changed."
Beckham had been involved with the Professional Footballers' Association's chief executive Gordon Taylor in drafting a formal statement that said: "The treatment of team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith... has undermined the position of the manager and could have seriously affected the morale and team spirit of the players. We feel this has left us with no option but to ask of the FA that from this day forward, they make clear their criteria of selection for the England team so that there is no room for ambiguity and misunderstanding. In both cases the players have been assumed guilty before the due process has been completed - a right which should be afforded to every individual in society."
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