Eriksson legal case threatens to disrupt World Cup plans

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Sven Goran Eriksson's preparations for the World Cup could be disrupted by legal commitments after the England coach yesterday began proceedings against the News of the World for breach of confidence.

Eriksson was responding to Sunday's "sting" operation in which he was duped into telling Mazher Mahmood, the "fake sheikh", a series of interesting but hardly revelatory tales from the England dressing-room.

Eriksson was also quoted suggesting the "sheikh" might want to buy Aston Villa, and install the Swede as the manager in place of David O'Leary following the World Cup.

Charles Russell, the legal firm acting for Eriksson, his agent Athole Still, and lawyer Richard Des Voeux, described the sting as "a highly sophisticated deception". Their statement added: "The resulting articles were a gross invasion of privacy ­ and the discussions, which our clients were expressly asked to keep confidential, were reported out of context in a distorted and sensationalised manner so as to provide a spurious pretext for the headlines which appeared.

"Although we have asked the publishers for copies of the surreptitiously recorded tapes, they have refused to provide them.

"Our clients' position is that stories of this sort, and the distortion of what was said during confidential discussions in order to create the bogus appearance of some legitimate public interest, must be remedied."

More "revelations" are expected in tomorrow's newspaper. This was confirmed in a statement from the News of the World, which added: "We stand by the publication of our story 100 per cent. Our investigation uncovered facts about Sven Goran Eriksson which we believe fans and players had a right to know."

Should the case reach the High Court, which is improbable, it will not be for up to a year but Eriksson would have to be involved in preparing the case and the issue could become an unwelcome distraction during the World Cup.

Talking about the sting shortly before beginning proceedings, Eriksson said: "It was a kick under the belt. I was disappointed it was not reported that I said Rio Ferdinand was the best defender in the world and that Wayne Rooney was the best footballer in the world."

Eriksson received support last night from Ferdinand, who insisted there were no problems between him and the England coach. Eriksson had told the fake sheikh that the defender could be "lazy sometimes".

Eriksson telephoned Ferdinand last Sunday when the story came out to make peace, and the Manchester United centre-half said last night: "I certainly don't bear any grudges. I spoke to Sven and I respect him for calling me, but knowing him as I do I would have expected him to do that. There's no problem between us. He supported me during my ban for missing a drug test and has always played fair with me in the past.

"I can't speak for the other players but it hasn't undermined my relationship with him."