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Feb 7, 2007

McClaren under friendly fire

England manager Steve McClaren will rightly receive a hostile press in the wake of another limp performance. A run of four games without a win does little to breed confidence; particularly with a crucial European Championship qualifier away to Israel right around the corner.

Normally, I would hesitate before levelling criticism against a manager for his selection policy in a friendly. However, it was very hard before, and it's equally perplexing now, to work out what on earth the manager was thinking.

Once it was clear that a raft of regulars were going to be missing against Spain, McClaren was always going to have to patch things up in several positions. Why then, did he not take the opportunity to allow Micah Richards to build on his useful international debut in Amsterdam by starting at Old Trafford?

Similarly, as many of us said before the game, the naturally left-footed Gareth Barry ought to have been given the chance from the beginning at left-back. Granted, a back four of Richards, Ferdinand, Woodgate and Barry might have looked a somewhat risky bet. But what on earth was to be gained or learned by fielding the Neville brothers in the full-back positions?

Similarly in midfield, much would have been gleaned had McClaren had looked at Joey Barton's strengths and weaknesses at this level, for more than a few minutes.

Even if England had lost to Spain with a more experimental side than we saw in the event, at least the blame could have been pinned on that.

As it is, McClaren has very few excuses to fall back on. The pressure is mounting as the Israel date nears.


Though Manchester has emerged as England's favourite home venue in recent seasons, London is proving to be an increasingly powerful magnet when it comes to enticing non-European nations.

Tuesday night saw Brazil lose 2-0 to Portugal at the Emirates Stadium. Meanwhile in the western part of the capital, you were genuinely spoilt for choice, between Ghana's thumping 4-1 victory against Nigeria at Brentford's Griffin Park, Australia's 3-1 defeat by Denmark at Loftus Road, and Korea Republic's 1-0 triumph against Greece at Craven Cottage.

This love affair with London is not hard to understand. The capital, a true world city these days, really is the perfect venue for February friendlies. For one thing, you can count on the ex-pats to come out and support their countries.

More importantly though, the national managers have the chance of getting to know their players a bit better, most of whom are European based anyway. File this under 'football thinking outside the box.'


Two stinking rich Americans, with little knowledge of football, walking through the Shankly Gates at Anfield as owners of Liverpool? What would the late, great Shanks have made of it all?

In defence of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, they have clearly absorbed the mistakes of the Glazer family during their clumsily handled takeover of Manchester United in 2005. Whereas the Glazers opted for stony silence, leaving United supporters to fear the worst as to what their true motives were, Gillett and Hicks said most of the right things at Tuesday's news conference.

It should also be pointed out that, unlike the Glazers, their deal does not saddle Liverpool with debt, incurred by their own borrowing. Indeed they've wiped out the pre-existing £45m debt.

The two American tycoons had the grace to admit that they're not exactly steeped in the history of English football in general, or Liverpool Football Club in particular. We can therefore forgive them for not yet enjoying a fluent grasp of football vocabulary. However, a note to the advisors of any other budding American investors in English football.

A football club like Liverpool is not, and never will be a 'franchise!'


Little do Melbourne Victory supporters know how truly lucky they are, until now.

Not only will the Victory play host to this year's Hyundai A-League Grand Final against Adelaide United or Newcastle Jets, the city will also welcome (I think that's the right word!) a certain Tommy Smyth. Yes, my ESPN co-commentator is making the long, arduous journey to Telstra Dome for the big event a week on Sunday.

Tommy will be live on-air from Australia with me and the ESPNSoccernet Press Pass team in our studio, before and after the title decider.

For anyone in Melbourne reading this, don't be too hard on the 'wee man.' His bark is far worse than his bite!


Any thoughts? Then you can email the newsdesk.