The last time Sven Goran Eriksson spent the afternoon speaking to his players, it was the most awkward round of phone calls of his professional career, by yesterday the time for apologies had passed. The embattled Swedish coach may have lost the support of many in the Football Association but England's goalkeeper Paul Robinson said that he believed Eriksson should not be leaving after the World Cup finals and that he still had the trust of the players.
Eriksson addressed his squad in person yesterday in Liverpool for the first time since the chaos of the "fake sheikh" scandal and the subsequent announcement that he would be stepping down after the World Cup finals. Although Eriksson is just the latest in a tradition of England managers who know their fate before the start of a major tournament, the Swede appears to retain an extraordinary level of support among his players.
As the FA officially began its search for a new manager yesterday and launched the new Umbro red away shirt, there was much to remind England's players that the future will not involve Eriksson. But as the squad prepared for tomorrow's friendly against Uruguay at Anfield, the last game before the squad is announced on 15 May, Robinson said England's players intended to send Eriksson "out on a high".
The FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, yesterday presented a paper to the board which included a procedure for appointing the manager, and exactly what his brief would be. The FA, which approved of Barwick's paper, now considers itself in a position to begin talking to potential successors to Eriksson after tomorrow's game.
Eriksson's indiscretions to a News of the World undercover reporter have not cost him the respect of his players, Robinson said, rather he felt the manager was harshly treated. "I think we would all like the manager to stay, he's done very well, and we want to do well for him in this tournament," Robinson said, adding that he still trusted Eriksson to keep conversations private.
"I think all the players have a good relationship with him because he gave me my chance at this level and he stayed with me a long time," Robinson said. "He is just genuinely a nice man and a likeable person. The general public may have a perception of him. That is the worst thing about being a footballer, people judge you as a person without knowing you. To actually know the manager he is a genuinely nice man.
"It's difficult, to go to that extent to stitch someone up [the fake sheikh sting] in the year we should all be behind the team. You should be wanting the team to do well and maybe not going to that extent to cause disruption.
"It brings us stronger together, definitely. Maybe not because of that incident but because there is a team spirit and bad news does generally tend to bring you closer. This is the first time we have been together as a squad since it happened so the manager will probably sit down and tell us his thoughts. He has a very calm persona, he's very good in the dressing-room but he is not a shouter or a ranter and a raver - he is more of a motivator in a quiet way."
While it is understood that most senior players believe that after five and a half years in the job it is right that Eriksson goes after the World Cup finals, Robinson's view would appears indicative of the support the Swede maintains among those whose international careers he helped launch. Frank Lampard, who had one cap before pre-Eriksson and now has 38, said he was "thankful" for the confidence his manager had showed in him.
With Rafael Benitez having expressed a wish that Steven Gerrard be rested for the match tomorrow, his midfield partner Lampard made no such requirement. David Beckham will be fit despite his substitution after the hour during Real Madrid's defeat by Real Mallorca on Sunday which means Eriksson should have his first-choice side available tomorrow, apart from Ashley Cole and Michael Owen, who are set to be replaced by Wayne Bridge and Peter Crouch,
"I had a quiet month in January playing three games - the least I can remember in a competitive month and I didn't enjoy it," Lampard said. "I want to be playing regularly because that keeps me on top. I don't have any worries about playing and playing and playing with the World Cup coming up at the end of the season - the more games I play the better my form."
The Chelsea midfielder said that on the issue of a foreign manager he had, "never held a view that solely an Englishman should be the English manager". "The way football is going it would be one-dimensional to think that way," Lampard added. "The best man who gets results is the man for the job."
That man - and the first choice to succeed Eriksson remains Martin O'Neill - is likely to be watching in the stands when England face Paraguay in Frankfurt on 10 June. "I'm sure if we do well at the World Cup it will be a very easy job for whoever comes in," Robinson said. Tomorrow night, however, will tell Eriksson just how much his new status has the power to affect the way he does his job.
l The Internazionale forward Alvaro Recoba and Cagliari defender Diego Lopez have withdrawn injured from Uruguay's squad to face England.Reuse content