The Peter Corrigan Column: Sven and Fletcher: the great masterclass divide

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However, the signs are far more favourable for England's cricketers making the joyful journey than the head coach of the England football team being invited to take the shorter ride.

The contrasting fates of two sides was by no means the least fascinating aspect of another remarkable sporting week, and yet the juxtaposition was not entirely detrimental to the footballers.

Certainly, with the cricketers hovering around the top of their world while the footballers were squirming around the bottom of theirs, Eriksson and his men could have done without the embarrassing comparison. But the upside was that the country's preoccupation with the Ashes had a muting effect on the clamour for blood in Thursday's newspapers.

Fleet Street's finest assassins, including a few who had previously supported Eriksson, attempted to drive their daggers in after the Northern Ireland defeat, but the main space was eaten up by gasping previews of the final Test. Even the witty graphic of Eriksson's head in a noose had to be relegated to an inside page, which must have been a great disappointment to its originators.

This clash of sporting priorities also brought the oppor-tunity to compare Eriksson with his cricketing counterpart, Duncan Fletcher. Apart both being foreign and sharing an interest in the art of imperturbability, they do not appear to have much in common.

It has not been an easy road for Fletcher. He took over the team at a low ebb and suffered defeats in the previous two Ashes series, but his reign has been marked by steady improvement and the expert piecing together of a strong and closely bonded body of men. He has a clear edge over Eriksson in his painstaking preparations and his ability to get the utmost out of his players.

It is difficult to compare the games at this level because Fletcher doesn't have clubs to worry about and gets far more access to his players. But his hands-on approach is better than that of the Swede, and the one-and-one relationships with his players are noticeably superior. Most of the team have made impressive improvements under his guidance; Matthew Hoggard's batting being an excellent example.

I can't think of an England footballer whose capabilities have been enhanced by Eriksson's influence. Much is made of the number of matches Eriksson attends, but he always seems to leave 10 or 15 minutes before the end, his rapid departure for home taking priority over an encouraging chat with whichever England candidates had been playing.

Apart from the odd Charlton full-back, rarely do surprise selections find their way into Eriksson's side. It could be said that the England team picks itself these days, but there is little indication of a masterplan in construction.

Chances have been taken with the England cricket team. The choice of wicket-keeper Geraint Jones over Chris Read remains controversial despite the team's success, and there are many who still feel sad about the untidy end to Graham Thorpe's Test career while Ian Bell has been persevered with for no great reward. Had England made a mess of this Ashes series, the critics would have had enough ammunition to give Fletcher a going-over similar to that which Eriksson is receiving.

At least Fletcher had a firm idea of what he wanted, the resolution to put it into practice and the ability to motivate his men to see it through. Eriksson does not give the impression of a man who spends a long time at the drawing board, or in the pulpit. For these reasons, as well as the incoherent performances in the last three games, it is valid for his position to be closely examined. There are undoubtedly special problems associated with the job, but although his squad is weak in one or two places it is still the best equipped, on paper at least, that England have had for 30 years or more.

The Football Association don't have the courage to dispatch him to the gallows mainly because they would have to hand over such a massive payout, thanks to the gullibility of those who gave him a new £4 million-a-year contract when he should have been shown the door after his flirtations with Chelsea and other embarrassing excesses.

If Eriksson has his own exit strategy it probably involves staying strapped to the helm during the storm until a more fortuitous time arrives for him to jump ship. That is likely to be after next year's World Cup, for which England will find it difficult not to qualify even now. Between now and then he should be able to resolve enough of his tactical and motivational problems to take a half-decent side to Germany, where he could finish high enough to tempt a new employer.

If he left now it would be as an abject failure whose prospects of finding a new position commensurate with his lifestyle would be slim. So, no one can blame him for holding on defiantly. He has no alternative. Sadly, neither does the country, who have to join him in trusting that his luck holds out.

In need of a second glance

Apart from the starkly obvious reasons, spectators at the Ashes have been getting a far better deal than those attending England football internationals.

Cricket fans are given the opportunity to watch replays of all the vital incidents in the match on giant screens. Modern technology has thus made all the difference to those who do their watching from the stands. The replays don't always reflect well on the umpires or the players concerned, but consideration of their sensitivities is outweighed by need to ensure that the paying spectator gets the same privilege of a second sight as the viewer who hasn't left his armchair.

Football fans are denied this courtesy not because the replays aren't available but because officialdom decrees that they mustn't see them. Blanket censorship of any form is deplorable enough, but to deny those who have bothered to attend a match, often at great expense and inconvenience, of the chance to see replays of goals or other exciting goalmouth incidents amounts to cheating them of a service that would enhance their appreciation of the action.

Perhaps a blank screen is a blessing when Wayne Rooney goes off on one of his tantrums, and there are violent incidents that conceivably might inflame the odd wild passion. But where's the harm in replaying some of the best action?

Admittedly, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff last weekend there wasn't much of the action between Wales and England that was worth watching twice. There were some notable incidents, none more so than Paul Robinson's brilliant save from John Hartson's header. The large screens showed a still picture of the badges of the two teams instead of a replay of the save.

It was infuriating to think that, meanwhile, people at home were seeing exactly what happened from various angles and in slow motion.

This attitude betrays a contempt for the customer and invites the dangerous conclusion that watching the big games on television is a more informative and enlightening experience.

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