Sutton blames 'snobbery' for Thompson omission

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The Independent Online

Chris Sutton has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. The former England manager Glenn Hoddle could not escape the striker's withering assessment six years ago, and now Sven Goran Eriksson has inherited the scorn heaped on his predecessor as well as the job.

Chris Sutton has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. The former England manager Glenn Hoddle could not escape the striker's withering assessment six years ago, and now Sven Goran Eriksson has inherited the scorn heaped on his predecessor as well as the job.

Not even the carrot of the 1998 World Cup finals could bring Sutton into line when the man who won the Premiership's Golden Boot as top scorer refused to audition for Hoddle in the England B team. It killed off Sutton's international career there and then, and if he has broad enough shoulders to ensure his own fate, he becomes somewhat more animated when it comes to his Celtic colleague Alan Thompson.

Sutton last week condemned Eriksson's treatment of Thompson, who was predictably omitted from the Euro 2004 squad for Portugal after featuring in the last friendly game, against Sweden in March, which only served to underline why Sutton had been right to stick to his own principles all those years ago.

Eriksson clearly had as much enthusiasm for the Celtic midfielder as Hoddle had for Sutton. A mere 60-minute audition in Gothenburg to solve England's problem position on the left was described as "a token gesture" by Sutton.

"It seems strange to me that Alan wasn't picked the game before the Sweden match if they were going to give him a run so he stood a chance of getting into squad," said Sutton, whose respect among his peers saw him voted Player of the Year by Scotland's players' union, the SPFA, last week. "He played an hour in Sweden. I watched the game and I didn't think he did anything wrong. It is obviously very difficult to judge on that game because international friendlies seem quite strange now with so many substitutes. If they had put him in a few games earlier, they could have had a serious look at him."

Sutton added: "It was a bit of a token gesture. I know how much Alan wanted to play for England and feel sorry for him because he wanted to go to the European Championship finals."

With Eriksson naming a posse of carbon-copy midfield players for Portugal, it seems remarkable that there was no space for a specialist. You cannot image a cricket team or baseball roster being chosen in a similarly blinkered way.

The Celtic player's left foot has been a rich source of goals for both Sutton and the Swedish international Henrik Larsson over the years. In the heat of Champions' League and Uefa Cup scrutiny Sutton has scored six times, most recently against Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

He has also received glowing endorsements from Martin O'Neill, and if the Celtic manager might be accused of a touch of bias, there is little doubt that if it came down to a choice between Thompson and Emile Heskey - the player he discovered at Leicester City and sold for £11m to Liverpool - O'Neill would go for the former every time, instead of the man who has secured a place in Eriksson's squad.

Sutton, the former Blackburn Rovers striker, believes that Thompson is the victim of football snobbery. "Everybody knows what Alan is capable of doing," he said. "If they had looked at videos or watched Alan in Europe for Celtic for the last 10 games, including last season's Uefa Cup final, they would realise he could do it at that level.

"It seems strange to me they are very critical of the Scottish Premier League, then they come and watch Alan in a game against Dundee United and don't pick him but don't take in our European games. England certainly miss a bit of balance on the left - that is for everyone to see - and Alan could play for England, no problem."

The same environment has not scared off another Swede. Lars Lagerback had no qualms about bringing Larsson back into the fold for Euro 2004 after two years of retirement from international football. Sutton will watch his strike partner at the finals with a wistful eye now that Larsson is leaving Celtic.

"We have had a good understanding for the last four years and I will miss him," said Sutton. "Henrik is so intelligent, he is simply wonderful to play alongside."

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