Sven gives new man a national team health warning

Memo to Brian Barwick - Too much football is not helping the clubs or country
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Memo From: Head Coach. To: Brian Barwick, chief executive, Football Association. Re: Key to success of English national team and clubs. Dear Brian, Fresher players, fewer friendlies please. Yours until 2008 (possibly), Sven.

Memo From: Head Coach. To: Brian Barwick, chief executive, Football Association. Re: Key to success of English national team and clubs. Dear Brian, Fresher players, fewer friendlies please. Yours until 2008 (possibly), Sven.

Nothing Sven Goran Eriksson has seen in five months since the usual quarter-final departure from a major tournament last June - not even "the worst game since I came to England" against Spain two weeks ago - has changed his belief that the country possesses a talented enough blend of young and experienced footballers to make an impact at the next World Cup. What he will repeatedly emphasise, as they complete what should now be the formality of qualifying next year, is the desirability of arriving fit, relaxed and confident.

Similarly, he feels that "English clubs pay the same price as the national team at the end of the season. If you want to win the Champions' League, you have to be in very good form in March, April and May. English clubs have no winter break and are playing more football than any other country". Eriksson has already conceded reluctant defeat in his appeal for a winter break this season and next, but is encouraged by the agreement of Fifa's president Sepp Blatter that there must be a longer gap than usual between the end of the European club season and the start of the World Cup in Munich on 9 June 2006.

Critics of "meaningless friendlies" may be surprised to learn that he regards those played at certain times of year - like November - as counter-productive, and would happily have sent out a reserve team against Spain in Madrid were it not for the anticipated barrage of criticism. Nor does he appear particularly thrilled by the idea of leading an expedition to the United States at the end of this season, before the top clubs set off on their own lucrative summer tours.

Speaking at the headquarters of one of England's main sponsors, Nationwide, at the same time as Brian Barwick and the railwayman-with-the-rucksack were being interviewed in Soho Square, he said: "Friendlies in August and in February are very important because they are before qualifying games. It's more difficult to see the importance of a November game. Why didn't I experiment? [against Spain]. How honest should I be here? I would be extremely happy to play a young team in November, taking no players playing in Champions' League or Uefa Cup but England is a huge football country and if I did that I would be extremely criticised from inside and outside. I would like to have experimented, yes."

The last time something similar happened was exactly four years ago, in the last match before Eriksson officially took over. Peter Taylor selected what was virtually an Under-25 team, which did creditably well in a 1-0 defeat away to Italy, with David Beckham captain for the first time. Further back in time the occasion might have been used for a B international, but England have not now played one of those since April 1998 - partly because they are less lucrative. When Eriksson was asked some months ago by Sportsweek why the Spain match was being played at all, he replied in an unguarded moment: "We need the money!"

So there is food for thought for Barwick, who will not be short of it on eventually joining the FA, who by then will have been without a chief executive for almost six months. He knows from his travels with England as a television executive how important the success of the national side is to the health of the country's football; but also needs to acknowledge that the tip of the pyramid on which the three lions balance is no more than that - a small point at the top of a vast mass with challenges at every level.

Frustratingly for the new incumbent, how the FA organise themselves, let alone 2.25million players and 42,000 clubs, is to be the subject of an independent review. Several influential members of the executive board from the professional side of the game felt a chief executive should not have been appointed until that review was concluded and there are already concerns about a division between the professionals and the amateurs.

Graham Kelly, the last chief exec but two or three, said last night: "How Brian Barwick works to heal these divisions within the FA, heaven only knows. He needs help at the top and when you know that there are ambitious people around you, seeking to further their own position, that's one of the major worries. This restructuring seems to me to be an excuse for some of the members of the Professional Game Board to carve the FA up into bite-sized chunks - divide and rule. They should be saying that the game in England is one whole and shouldn't be split up like that. And the executive board need to be much more representative of the modern game, including players, managers, referees and supporters."

The Professional Footballers' Association, not even represented on an FA Council of 92 members (though the Royal Navy is), have welcomed Barwick's appointment, their chief executive Gordon Taylor saying: "It's about the ability to handle a team of people with different interests and from that point of view Brian has good experience of man-management and that will stand him in good stead."

Considerably more critical is Julian Wild of the Independent Football Commission, a lawyer and Hull City follower, who said: "Football continues to be an unseemly power struggle with all these big egos slugging it out. The FA don't really understand what their role as a governing body truly is. What football needs is some leadership for the whole football family. It's ceded so much power to the Premier League, it's hard to see how it wrests that back. You just cry out for someone at the FA to take the lead on important issues - as recently as Madrid last week, it was crying out for a senior voice, whether the chairman or whoever, and none was heard."

Barwick will not need to listen very hard to hear the dissonant voices from now on.