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Marcotti's Musings
By ESPN Staff

FA agree to reduce England friendlies

The Football Association have confirmed England's commitment to friendly matches will be reduced from 20 to 18 over the course of the new four-year TV deal.

Friendly games are currently a hot topic for discussion after Steve McClaren's assistant Terry Venables suggested they should be scrapped in favour of more meaningful training camps in the wake of last week's home defeat to Spain.

Such a widespread move is an impossibility given tender documents have just been released for a new four-year TV deal that will take effect from 2008.

Even McClaren is happy to maintain the tradition of friendly matches, the next of which is expected to see either Argentina or Brazil invited to open the `new' Wembley at the end of the season.

However, the England coach does see some scope for `get-togethers' in the future and has already met with senior FA figures to work out how much flexibility there is within the international calendar.

And, while in reality there is scope for no more than one training camp per season, McClaren will benefit from the FA's decision to cut the number of friendlies in the new broadcast contract.

'We are all one organisation and priority has to be the success of the England team,' said FA director of communications Adrian Bevington.

'Executives, including (chief executive) Brian Barwick have already started discussing with Steve and his coaching staff the issues that have been raised.

'It is accurate that we just issued a tender document for our new TV contact but we are reducing the number of friendly games that will be available from 20 to 18.'

With the massive cost of rebuilding Wembley to be paid, there is huge pressure on the FA commercial staff to make the TV contract as attractive to potential broadcasters as possible in an effort to maximise income.

It is an inescapable fact that without friendlies, England would never meet high-profile opposition from South America, Africa and Asia.

And, judging by the near 60,000-crowd attracted to Old Trafford for the Spain encounter, and the eight million who watched on TV, the appetite for England games among the general public remains strong.

'While we are fully committed to trying to find a way of accommodating an occasional get-together every season, we all understand the importance of friendlies,' added Bevington

'Let's not forget, the only time we would ever be able to play South American opposition, apart from at World Cup finals, are in friendly matches, so there is real benefit there and, as Steve has said, as part of preparation for big games it has a real importance too.

'Recent years have shown that there is huge interest in England international friendly matches. Indeed, last week, there were just under 60,000 at Old Trafford and over eight million watched the match live on TV.'

The issue for McClaren will be to make all England friendlies as meaningful as possible.

February in particular seems to be a difficult time in terms of player availability as the Premiership's top clubs prepare to re-enter the Champions League fray.

It could be argued McClaren contributed to his own downfall against Spain given he reached an agreement with Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez for Steven Gerrard only to appear for 45 minutes.

In addition, McClaren discarded half a dozen players on fitness grounds, including Wayne Rooney, Wayne Bridge and Andrew Johnson, who went on to play for their clubs at the weekend.

However, McClaren is adamant he made the right decision and is positive he will gain the benefits next month when England visit Israel for a vital Euro 2008 qualifier next month, and then again in June when his side wrap up their season in Estonia.

'We have to look after the players,' he said. 'We know at this stage of the season players are carrying knocks and it was my decision whether to play them or not.

'It was a very frustrating five days from naming the squad to reaching the day of the game.

'But we had to look at the bigger picture and not risk anyone at this stage because we need them later on.

'Some of these lads will have played 60 games by the time we get to the end of the season. It is better to look after them now than it would be to suffer in the future.'