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Man City's parrot supporter

The Toe Poke 9 minutes ago
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Aug 15, 2003

There may be trouble ahead

England may be sitting pretty in their Euro 2004 qualification group but the resumption of the international season heralds yet another term of potential difficulties for England's unflappable Swedish manager Sven Goran Eriksson.

Last season the studious coach shrugged off the departure of FA Chief Executive Adam Crozier - his staunchest supporter - as he did that of his assistant Steve McClaren, whilst constantly denying that he was on the verge of quitting England for Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid.

The media frenzy surrounding his affair with compatriot Ulrika Jonsson, and her now infamous autobiography, coincided with a poor England draw against Macedonia in Euro 2004 qualifying and a series of club v country battles ensued during the remainder of the campaign.

This term threatens to eerily echo its predecessor with 55-year-old Eriksson needing to build relationships with new FA supremo Mark Palios and new assistant Brian Kidd, while still persistently denying rumours of a return to club management - particularly with Chelsea.

Following Roman Abramovich's takeover at Stamford Bridge in July 2003 Eriksson was photographed meeting the Russian billionaire, and Israeli agent Pini Zahavi, in London just days later. Eriksson claimed afterwards that he was not interested in coaching the West London club and current Blues boss Claudio Ranieri said that if indeed that was the case then the Swede's actions were 'naive'.

The England manager issued a public statement confirming that he had met Abramovich but refuted reports that he was interested in joining Chelsea. His denials did nothing to dampen the speculation and when the Blues snapped up England international Wayne Bridge, ousting Eriksson reject Graeme Le Saux, and then the Swede's former Sampdoria and Lazio protégé Juan Sebastian Veron joined from Manchester United it led to further insinuations that the Swede may have been advising Abramovich on potential targets.

It is now a widely held belief that Eriksson will join Chelsea sooner or later and that when exactly that is depends on how England perform during the remainder of their Euro 2004 qualifying.

If England fail to make it to Portugal 2004, then the Swede could be looking for a new employer as soon as October and if Chelsea are still in the Champions League the Swede could quickly resume his quest for his most elusive prize.

If the national team qualify for the European Championships then Eriksson is still expected to return to the club football he has admitted to missing after its completion.

In order to get to Portugal England, who are two points behind Group Seven leaders Turkey with a game in hand, must first overcome Macedonia, Liechtenstein and what is expected to be a particular fiery final match against the Turks.

If results go as expected for the two fierce rivals, England's match in Istanbul will be the decider in a showdown for the group winners' automatic qualification place and the runners-up play-off place.

The huge importance of qualifying for Euro 2004 adds further spice to a clash between two countries who have had an uneasy relationship for many years, particularly at club level, which horrifically culminated with the stabbing to death of two Leeds fans following a UEFA Cup semi-final against Galatasaray in 2000.

It was this history of friction that was used as a distorted excuse in the minds of some England 'fans' for the unacceptable acts of racism and hooliganism that marred the Three Lions' excellent 2-0 victory over Turkey at Sunderland's Stadium of Light in April 2003.

Sven Goran Eriksson
Sven Goran Eriksson

A combination of on-pitch celebrations and unsavoury chanting resulted in a record £70,000 fine for the FA and a stern warning of intolerance from UEFA that effectively put England on trial.

Such is the fear that a repeat performance would get the national team thrown out of the European Championships that the FA have refused their ticket allocation for the October 11th clash in Istanbul and Eriksson has issued repeated warnings to fans.

But it is not just the supporters who are responsible for the strained relationship. There were several mass confrontations on the pitch between opposing players during April's clash and angry scenes followed the final whistle as did reports of a bust up in the players' tunnel.

When Liverpool met Turkish side Galatasaray in a pre-season friendly tournament in Amsterdam tempers also flared, resulting in Reds duo Steven Gerrard and Neil Mellor both being sent off. Gerrard can expect a particularly hot reception when England travel to Fenerbahce's Sukru Saracoglu Stadium but the 23-year-old midfielder vowed not to lose his cool.

Before then however, England must successfully negotiate an away tie with Macedonia, who grabbed a 2-2 away draw at the St Mary's Stadium, in Skopje on September 6. The nervous FA have also refused their ticket allocation for this game so Eriksson's side will be without away support for what could be a tricky tie.

If Macedonia get a result then Turkey would no longer need to win in Istanbul, leaving England unable to pick them off on the counter attack.

En-route to the show-down England also have to beat minnows Liechtenstein at Old Trafford on September 10th, and it would boost morale if they won a little more convincingly than the 2-0 scoreline in Vaduz.

To prepare for the double header England will face Croatia in a friendly at Portman Road on August 20th, which is sure to please those managers who lost on the opening weekend of the Premiership season and need to tinker with their teams - another headache for Sven.

England also have another Friendly scheduled in Portugal, February 18, 2004, and that gives England's crop of young hopefuls and established players five internationals and an entire Premiership season in which to impress the national manager and book their place on the plane to Portugal 2004.

If England qualify Eriksson has a host of talent to whittle down to a squad of just 23, meaning all England hopefuls have an intensely important season to make their bid for the European Championships.

Below, Soccernet takes a look at what problems the new season poses for the likely candidates for Sven's final squad.

Goalkeepers

  • David James - After finally breaking through to become England's number one towards the end of last season West Ham were relegated from the Premiership. Despite assurances from Eriksson that playing in Division One would not affect his England place it is hard to see the 33-year-old keeping the number one jersey.

  • Chris Kirkland - An excellent 22-year-old keeper who deposed Jerzy Dudek at Liverpool and looked set to win his first cap last term before a posterior cruciate ligament ended his season. Will bounce back and could become England's number one - if he can get past Dudek again.

    Defenders

  • Ashley Cole - Arsenal left-back who forced his way past Brazilian Silvinho at club level. Made his England debut against Albania in March 2001 and the 22-year-old played in all of England's World Cup games. Criticised for sometimes being rash in the tackle he must improve this season if he is to hold off the challenge for a starting place.

  • Wayne Bridge - England's back-up leftback during last term after making an impressive debut against Holland in 2002. Made a £7m, plus player, switch from Southampton to big spending Chelsea in the summer. Will be playing Champions League football and pushing Cole all the way this season.

  • Rio Ferdinand - £30 million defender who secured his place in the England squad with a great performance at the World Cup. Admitted he wasn't at his best for United last term but has vowed to be more consistent this campaign. He will probably have to have a shocking season to get dropped and that's unlikely in his second year at United.

  • Sol Campbell - Physical and pacey Arsenal defender who has formed an excellent partnership with Ferdinand at the heart of the England defence. He is the rock of the Gunners defence and is England's top defender - it would take a lot for him to lose his England place this term but he needs to cut out the red cards.

  • Jonathan Woodgate - Highly-rated defender who swapped Leeds for Newcastle in a £9m move last term but off-pitch troubles have hampered his international progress. The 23-year-old returned to the England fold in September 2002 but has only won a total of four caps. An undoubted talent who must prove his worth this season if he wants to go to Euro 2004.

  • John Terry - Had outside chance of making the 2002 World Cup squad but his international chances were damaged by off pitch antics. The former Under-21 skipper made his senior debut against Serbia and Montenegro in June. This is a big season for the 22-year-old who needs become a first choice centre-back at talent packed Chelsea.

  • Gary Neville - Experienced right-back who missed out on the World Cup through injury but returned to the England team as soon as he was fit. At 28-years-old, he has over 50 caps for England and is a relative veteran in Eriksson's squad. Another dependable season will see him on the plane to Portugal.

  • Glen Johnson - This England Under-21 was a virtual unknown before being called on by West Ham to help them battle against relegation in 2003/03, when he won plaudits from all around. After only 15 appearances for the Hammers Chelsea bought the 18-year-old right-back for £6m in the summer. Yet to win a senior England cap but could well burst onto the scene if he can gets past Mario Melchiot at Stamford Bridge.

    Midfielders

  • Trevor Sinclair - He famously returned to the UK from Asia, surplus to England's World Cup requirements, only to be told when he got off the plane that he would have to return because of an injury hit the midfield. He came on for Owen Hargreaves against Argentina and kept his place for the rest of the tournament. Has never really made England's left his own, but unlike David James he left relegated West Ham for Man City and has another chance to shine in the Premiership this term.

  • Kieran Dyer - Pacey midfielder who is an undoubted talent and has started to overcome the injuries that seemed to occur whenever England came calling. He is outstanding through the middle for Newcastle but generally gets stuck on England's problem left-wing when he is available. Another good season will see the 24-year-old at Euro 2004 - if only for pace alone.

  • Owen Hargreaves - One of Sven's favourites who is used mainly as a midfield utility man with England, but has also played at right-back. The 22-year-old is developing well at Bayern Munich, increasing his match tally season by season, and another season in the Champions League this year will do no harm to his England career.

  • Steven Gerrard - Another of Sven's regulars when fit. He would have to have an absolutely horrific season to miss the plane.

  • Nicky Butt - Was an absolute revelation at the World Cup and returned home as one of England's best players, despite this he usually plays back-up to Gerrard as a ball winning midfielder. Three new arrivals at Manchester United could see Butt also battling for a place at Old Trafford and that could affect his international career this term.

  • Paul Scholes - Last term was his most prolific with Manchester United but he has failed to get on the score sheet with England since June 2001. Was accused of lacking interest on the international stage last season and will have to do better as an attacking midfielder in England shirt if he wants to hold off a deluge of young midfield talent.

  • Frank Lampard - Narrowly missed out on the 2002 World Cup finals but reclaimed a place in the England team to play in the last four internationals of the season. He has a big year at Chelsea ahead of him and the competition for places at Stamford Bridge should prompt a further improvement in his overall game - still behind Scholes however.

  • David Beckham - It maybe a very over used word in football but the England skipper has a 'massive' season ahead of him with Real Madrid. Despite that he would have to have both legs amputated for Eriksson to ever consider leaving him out of any competitive game, let alone the European Championships.

  • Lee Bowyer - Joined Newcastle in the summer and must rebuild his career this season. The 26-year-old is another player whose off pitch antics have affected his England chances. At the height of his form he was banned from international duty and missed out on the 2002 World Cup. When the ban was lifted he made his international debut against Portugal, lost his form, Leeds sold him to West Ham and the Hammers were relegated. If Magpies boss, and former England manager, Bobby Robson can get the best out of the right-sided midfielder he could well return to the England set up.

    Strikers

  • Michael Owen - Ended the season as the Premiership's fifth best goal scorer despite Liverpool's apparent efforts to minimise his supply line. At international level he has saved England's blushes time after time, including in both Euro 2004 qualifiers against Slovakia, and Eriksson would not dream of omitting his number one striker.

  • Wayne Rooney - Became the youngest player to represent England, against Australia in February 2003, when had just turned 17 and made a great impact in England's 2-0 win over Turkey. If he can continue his rapid progress through the notoriously difficult second season in the Premiership he has a long England career ahead of him and could go to his first major tournament at the tender age of 18.

  • James Beattie - Finally found the consistency that had evaded him for so long and ended last season as the top English goalscorer in the Premiership. Despite that accolade he only managed two England caps last term, both in friendlies, and is still very much on the periphery of the squad. However, a repeat of last season's achievements by the Shearer-alike 25-year-old would demand a regular England place.

  • Darius Vassell - This Villa striker marked his international debut against Holland with an overhead equaliser, booked his place at the 2002 World Cup finals and has been a virtual ever-present in the England squad without being first choice. Generally plays better for the national team than for his disillusioned club but with a new manager at Villa he could really blossom this term.