James Lawton: Eriksson reasserts a nation's need to lionise Rooney

If the England coach is abandoning his policy of having players perform cameos, the teenager's absence would have been a disgrace
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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson brought some welcome rationality back to the affairs of English football yesterday when he demanded the services of Everton's Wayne Rooney. He became strong at what had become so palpably his broken place.

Sven Goran Eriksson brought some welcome rationality back to the affairs of English football yesterday when he demanded the services of Everton's Wayne Rooney. He became strong at what had become so palpably his broken place.

He said that the kid belonged to him and the nation quite as much as the club which happened to have inherited his blood and his talent. He went beyond the old club and country debate. Rooney lifted English football hugely on an otherwise scabrous night in Sunderland when he made his full debut last month, and Eriksson said this was a light which was not going to be locked away by the killing force of self-interest.

By insisting on his rights as England team coach, by saying that Rooney's fitness to travel to South Africa for a friendly game later this month will be decided not by the Everton manager, David Moyes, but by England's medical staff, he was re-arranging a value system which recently had become inseparable from the yelpings of some back-street bazaar.

Moyes is a brilliant young manager who has done a superb job at Goodison Park this season, but maybe he was suffering from delusions of grandeur when he curtly informed Eriksson that Rooney, despite playing for a full 90 minutes against Manchester United on Sunday, and joining in a lap of honour at the end, was not fit enough to join England. Perhaps Moyes thought he was Sir Alex Ferguson. Whatever the reason for his obduracy, Moyes was put in his place yesterday, and if he feels aggrieved it can only be because he has seen his Premiership peers getting away with so much for so long. His protection of Rooney through his first full season with Everton's first-team squad has been widely, and rightly, commended, but there is a time when you have to let go.

Rooney announced that the time had been reached in Sunderland when his astonishing physical and mental maturity overshadowed everything else in England's vital European Championship qualifying victory over the World Cup semi-finalists, Turkey.

Rooney was England that night and if it is really true that Eriksson is abandoning the absurd, compromise policy of having his players perform cameos of 45 minutes, or less, when they are supposed to be seriously auditioning for the team, the teenager's absence from proper preparation for further qualifying games, without irrefutable evidence of significant injury, would have been a disgrace.

Earlier this year some critics, initially enthusiastic about Eriksson's appointment, found themselves reaching for the hand bowls and the towels after a night of humiliation at Upton Park, when Australia added a football victory to their other routine conquests over English manhood. That abandonment of Eriksson was not performed lightly. A man of intelligence and great achievement in club football, he had promised an era of common sense at the helm of the national team. But after the disappointment of England's dismal exit from the World Cup, and mounting evidence in the European Championship games against Slovakia and Macedonia that the team was in a downward spiral, the West Ham farce was just too much.

But the Turkish match was different. Eriksson, surprisingly, went boldly for Rooney and his reward was to see the team reanimated before his eyes. Rooney changed the course of the game, and the mood of his team, with the sheer range of his talent and his confidence, and there is no doubt of the effect, particularly, on Eriksson. The toughness of his stance in the recent meetings with Premiership managers, including Moyes, no doubt had much to do with his conviction that the development of Rooney was now utterly central to his own prospects.

We can now only hope that the emergence of Rooney in the England team will redefine the club and country battle. At various stages of this old war the point has been made that success for England inevitably had a knock-on benefit for club football, and this was proved most dramatically in the wake of England's 1966 World Cup success. Now the money men of the Premiership might care to revisit their basic arguing point that they pay the wages of such as Rooney and that if the Football Association, already embattled financially, does not step forward with some of the costs, its rights will ultimately have to be reviewed.

If that narrow vision remains in force, it is possible to envisage both the terminal decline of international football and, eventually, the game itself.

The formula, though subject to much abuse over the years, is, after all, quite clear cut. The FA draws much of its income from international football, and, in theory at least, a good percentage of that revenue goes back to feeding the roots of the game. The grubby alternative is an ever-increasing gap between a few Premiership clubs and the impoverished rest.

The reality of that has surely never been more starkly underlined than by the emphasis placed on the importance of just two of the games on the Premiership's last day, when Liverpool and Chelsea disputed the right to earn an extra £15m or so in the Champions' League and Bolton and West Ham fought to avoid the financial catastrophe of relegation.

Here is the statistic that tells you all about the genesis of the 11-year-old Premiership: Manchester United earned a total of £52m from European and domestic television. The total television earnings of 72 Football League clubs during that time: £26m, or half United's income.

What does that say about the capacity of West Ham to maintain their classic values of developing players, or the fate of Bolton and their shining stadium if they, rather than West Ham, had lurched over the edge last Sunday?

The greed of the Premiership is a fact of football life, and it is expressed in every aspect of the game. That Moyes should so stridently attempt to keep Rooney for Everton, under the guise of the boy's own best interests, represented still another stride in that Doomsday direction.

Thankfully, Eriksson stood in his way. The England coach has taken a wearisome time to realise that the Premiership knows only how to take, but it seems that finally he has grasped the point. That it took the talent of Wayne Rooney to trigger his resolve makes another point. It is that we should forget who pays the kid's wages. He is a national resource.

Spurs' cup exits hit fans in more ways than one

Truly these are days to chill the hearts of all those Tottenham fans who thought that Nirvana had arrived along with Glenn Hoddle.

On top of miserably vertiginous performance on the field, the supporters have the additionally depressing sense that the ruling investment company of chairman Daniel Levy is no less conscious of bottom-line profit margins than its predecessor, the company run by Sir Alan Sugar, who sold out at huge profit after once advocating Wimbledon as the model for the club's best efforts.

Recently the club refused to be interrogated by Radio Five Live when one of their reporters, Kevin Mousley, disclosed a groundswell of resentment, and the intervention of the local Trading Standards officer, over Spurs' decision to revoke the old refund clause for season-ticket holders who could not benefit from the standard offer of two free Cup tickets, one for the FA Cup and one for the Worthington Cup.

Tottenham's exit from both competitions on away grounds in the past would have led to a reduction by approximately £80 in the cost of the following season's ticket. Not under ENIC. While raising the price of a middle-range season ticket by nearly £200, Spurs inserted the small-print statement that refunds would no longer be granted.

The club maintain that the change in policy was properly brought to supporters' attention. As Spurs shared the revenue from their away FA Cup tie at Southampton with their hosts, Spurs saved £880,000 by denying their 22,000 season-ticket holders the refund.

The reason for all of this is rising costs. Meanwhile, Spurs fans contemplate the rate of their sinking hopes.

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