Ferguson's Brown plea to Eriksson

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Sir Alex Ferguson could be on a Euro 2004 collision course with Sven-Goran Eriksson after declaring that Wes Brown will need a rest this summer.

Sir Alex Ferguson could be on a Euro 2004 collision course with Sven-Goran Eriksson after declaring that Wes Brown will need a rest this summer.

Only three weeks ago, to Ferguson's annoyance, Brown was being blamed for Manchester United's demise in both the Premiership and Champions' League. Since then, outstanding performances against Arsenal, coupled with Gareth Southgate's knee ligament injury, have propelled Brown into the England frame, even though he has suffered a second ruptured cruciate ligament since he won the last of his seven caps, against Australia in February last year.

Eriksson is a known admirer of the 24-year-old Mancunion and took him to the World Cup two years ago despite a lack of England exposure. However, Ferguson, whose stormy relationship with Eriksson took another downturn last week after Nicky Butt and Phil Neville played almost all the friendly defeat against Sweden, wants Brown to enjoy a complete break rather than put more pressure on a body that has broken down with such regularity.

"After what Wes has been through I feel he is going to need a break this summer," said the United manager. "You forget he has had two cruciate operations and a broken ankle. To come through that has not been easy.

"It's nice that people are talking about him playing for England because it shows how far he's come on. I have always thought of him as the best natural defender in the country but after what he has been through, he needs a break."

Whether Brown or Eriksson are of the same opinion will not become evident until the England squad is named on 17 May. It would be a shame if Brown was to miss out, and if his recent performances are anything to go by, it would be a big loss to Eriksson as well.

Brown's team-mate and captain, Roy Keane, yesterday hoisted the white flag of Premiership surrender and admitted that Manchester United are now playing for second place.

The Irishman will lead his side into battle against Birmingham at St Andrews today knowing they are 15 points adrift of Arsenal, who ended a potentially disastrous week with a much-needed win over Liverpool at Highbury. With eight games of their own campaign remaining, United know even maximum points would not be enough should the Gunners secure another 10 points from their seven remaining fixtures.

And for Keane, the mathematics do not give too much reason for optimism. "The gap between ourselves and Arsenal is too great now - there are too many points to make up," he said. "The objective now is to claw points back on Chelsea to try and finish second and get the other automatic place in the Champions' League because we would prefer not to be coming back for pre-season having to pre-qualify. If it happens we will deal with it but it means there is still a lot for us to play for this season."

The former Republic of Ireland captain refused to offer any insight into the possibility of an international return, insisting that his focus was solely on today's encounter.

"I'm not the right person to talk to about that," he said. "In football, you have to move on."

Victory over Tottenham, a draw in the League at Arsenal and then the FA Cup win over the Gunners have raised confidence and expectation again although Keane is keeping his feet on the ground.

"There was a lot of euphoria around the place last weekend because of the FA Cup win but we have said enough about that now," he said. "The performances have been better but it has only been three games and one of those was a draw, so let's not get too carried away."