The rift between the Football Association and the England team appeared as wide as ever last night as David Beckham, the team captain, pre-empted conciliatory talks with Mark Palios, the FA's chief executive, by criticising the FA's timing of their contract extension to Sven Goran Eriksson.
Beckham said the FA's attempt to pin Eriksson down to 2008 had "caused a lot of problems for the manager" because of the constant questioning it had prompted. He added: "It might have been better to leave it until after the [European] Championships."
Beckham did, however, stress how much the team wanted Eriksson to remain the England manager. "We'd all be devastated if he left and I think he knows how much the players want him to stay. He's got our respect. But for him to be asked about his future every day - he's getting fed up with it. He's now got to be allowed to get on with it.
"If you get a good manager you don't want to lose him," Beckham added. Which, Palios will have doubtless argued last night, is exactly what the FA were trying to ensure.
Though there was a suspicion that Palios was trying to force Eriksson to reveal his hand, it is hardly the FA's fault that until recently the Swede vacillated whenever his current contract was mentioned, never mind a possible future one.
The prime purpose of last night's meeting in St Albans' Sopwell Park Hotel was to thrash out selection guidelines to avoid the imbroglio which surrounded the last two internationals. In October, a petulant England team threatened to strike after Rio Ferdinand's exclusion from the squad to meet Turkey after his failure to take a drugs test. Ferdinand's later suspension underlined the correctness of the FA's case.
However, a month later, the FA vacated the moral high ground. Not only did they drop Alan Smith, pending a police investigation into a misdemeanour which was later dropped without charge, they replaced him with James Beattie, who was serving a drink-driving ban.
Trevor Brooking and Brendon Batson, two respected former professionals now working for the FA, have since drafted guidelines outlining the disciplinary criteria for England selection. These were under discussion last night.
"There have got to be guidelines," Beckham said. "Everyone realises that. But we have to come together to sort it. We can't have the mess which has gone on. I'll listen to what [Palios] has to say and if everything has been done that the players wanted, there will be no questions from my side.
"I would like to think we are on the way to putting this behind us. No one was happy with the last two episodes and we don't want to be going into a big competition with that hanging over us."
Joining Beckham in Faro will be Tottenham's Ledley King, who was called into the squad as a replacement for Sol Campbell. It is the 23-year-old's first appearance in an England squad for more than a year and comes, curiously, after his club have conceded nine goals in three matches with King playing as a defensive midfielder.
This, as much as anything, suggests the call-up signals the end, for the moment at least, of Matthew Upson's international career. The Birmingham centre-half had played in six of the last eight internationals. In addition, Zat Knight of Fulham and King's Spurs team-mate Anthony Gardner are going to have to wait for their debuts.
"He is strong and skilful and can play in several positions," Eriksson said of King. "I have seen him several times this season and he is another good young player."
King has made two substitute appearances for England. If he plays tomorrow, it is likely to be as a substitute for John Terry, and Gareth Southgate can expect to start. With Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate, both of whom are injured, also ahead of him, King is unlikely to make the Euro 2004 squad.
Campbell withdrew with an inflamed groin after playing for Arsenal against Chelsea on Sunday. Various injuries mean he has only played five internationals since the World Cup. Eriksson intends to partner him at Euro 2004 with Terry or Woodgate but has been unable to develop either partnership.
Campbell has only played twice with Terry and once with Woodgate, in the hapless home draw with Macedonia.Reuse content