FA shocked by Venables' call to scrap friendlies

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The Independent Football

Key figures at the Football Association have reacted with disbelief to Terry Venables' suggestion that England friendlies be scrapped, as the governing body prepares to open the £757m Wembley Stadium later this year with the national team crucial to its success.

Venables made the comments in his News of the World column under the headline "Forget Friendlies" as he assessed the state of the England team in the aftermath of their demoralising 1-0 defeat to Spain on Wednesday. Highlighting how injuries had "depleted" the England squad in the build-up to the friendly at Old Trafford, Venables suggested holding a four-day training camp for the players as an occasional replacement for the traditional friendly match.

He bemoaned the "heavy pressure" of working with a view to the Israel Euro 2008 qualifier on 24 March and then having to play a game without important players. "We could have three or four intense days to work with the squad on what we need to do for the next competitive game, rather than two sessions that invariably get side-tracked or diluted by the demands of a practice match," Venables wrote.

That suggestion has caused concern at the FA, which has around £580m invested in the Wembley project in equity and bank loans. The organisation has made great strides in selling around 90 per cent of the 17,000 Club Wembley corporate packages, which include tickets for England games and are crucial to the long-term financing of the stadium.

Venables' suggestion is at odds with the FA's policy of finding exciting, high- profile opposition for England to play in friendlies at Wembley over next few years. "The FA want matches because the revenue is important - and they want tough opposition, too, because that is what draws the crowds," Venables wrote. He is certainly right in that respect, although the lack of enthusiasm for friendlies from Steve McClaren's assistant will not make the FA's life any easier.

Nothing has yet been confirmed, but the FA hopes to secure either Argentina or Brazil for the first Wembley friendly with perhaps Germany or Italy to follow in the autumn.

The FA's challenge has been to keep the public interested in watching England friendlies despite the woeful performance of the team at the summer's World Cup finals.

While there is expected to be enormous interest in Wembley in the first year or so - with the FA Cup final on 19 May the first major game there - the level of investment from government, Sport England and the London Development Agency means that interest will have to be sustained.

There has not been a bigger project than Wembley in the FA's 142-year history and the future of the governing body is tied to the stadium's success. Five games are planned for the England team at Wembley over this year, and there are fears that countries like Russia may not attract big enough support to make sure that the stadium is at its 90,000 capacity.

As well as calling for a limitation on friendlies, Venables also said that McClaren did not have the same "easy ride" as Sven Goran Eriksson when it came to non-competitive matches. Venables claimed that towards the end of the Swede's reign, no one minded if he lost friendlies, although that was not the reaction after a 4-1 defeat for England against Denmark in August 2005.

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