Eriksson applauds Seaman's hunger

England coach sees bright future for team and advises 38-year-old keeper not to decide upon hasty retirement

Glenn Moore
Friday 21 June 2002 00:00
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It is hardly surprising David Seaman has looked at home in Japan, this is a country where age is venerated. At 38 Seaman is ancient for a footballer, even a goalkeeper, and there is speculation that he may retire from international football once England's World Cup campaign is over.

That could be as soon as today, depending on whether Seaman can deny a Brazilian attack led by Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Yesterday, however, as he prepared for the World Cup quarter-final, Sven Goran Eriksson told him not to make a hasty departure. If he still has the hunger, said Eriksson, he could still wear the No 1 shirt.

Seaman today wins his 73rd cap, bringing him level with Gordon Banks. Only Peter Shilton has guarded England's goal more often. In that time he has kept 39 clean sheets, including three in succession in this World Cup.

"The defence has played very well and part of that is down to the goalkeeper," Eriksson said yesterday. "He has done very well. Should he carry on? That is a decision for him and Arsène Wenger [Seaman's manager at Arsenal]. I have experienced many times players at that age who wake up one day and are not hungry anymore. They are not prepared anymore to live the life, to always have a diet, take care of their weight, go to training. But I can't see any signs of that with David. I think he still has the desire. He is very keen on working. He is very precise, careful with what he eats and how to live and so on. I don't think his agility is a problem. He is still very fit, very quick and he has experience to sell."

Compared to some, Seaman is a youngster. Shilton played for England until he was 40 and Dino Zoff lifted the World Cup in 1982 at 40. Pat Jennings was 41 when representing Northern Ireland in 1986, Scotland's Jim Leighton 39 in 1998 and Roger Milla, an outfield player, officially 42 – but possibly up to four years older – when playing for Cameroon in 1994.

Eriksson stressed Seaman would have to be playing regularly at club level to be retained. He is out of contract at Highbury and has been offered a one-year extension. Behind him, for club and country, is Richard Wright, one of a clutch of young keepers including another Arsenal player, Stuart Taylor. Liverpool's Chris Kirkland, and Paul Robinson, of Leeds, will hope to push for a place in the England team next season, but Eriksson is a believer in experienced goalkeepers. The reserves in this tournament, Nigel Martyn and David James, though younger than Seaman, are also over 30.

Seaman apart, the first-choice World Cup XI is a young one and Eriksson feels England's future is bright. "Ninety-five per cent of this team should be available in two, four, years," said Eriksson. "We have other players at home who can come in and Under-21 players who could be ready in two years, certainly in four. The future for English football is very good."

So, Eriksson hopes, is the present. "I'm very proud of what the team have done [since the Swede became coach]," he said. "They did a marvellous job in the qualification games and out here. You can't expect them to play excellent football in all games for 90 minutes but they have almost done so."

One cloud the Football Association hopes to disperse is the continuing threat of Fifa, football's world governing body, forcing the four home nations to amalgamate. There is some logic to this – all four countries are ostensibly ruled from Westminster – but the context is the politics of football. Some countries resent each home nation having a vote at Fifa and, in particular, their huge influence on the International Board, the game's law-making body. The threat has grown since the Football Association turned against Sepp Blatter at this year's election for Fifa president, but David Davies, the FA's executive director, said: "The idea of having one team from our isles in an era when Yugoslavia has been split into four different nations, and 15 countries have come from the Soviet Union, is untenable.

"It would be beyond belief at a time when there is a Scottish parliament, a Welsh assembly and self-government in Northern Ireland. The idea flies in the face of every political development of modern times."

In Fifa, though, reason comes second to realpolitik. Developments are unlikely in the short-term but the issue will not go away quietly.

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