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Saturday, March 31, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

England now longing for the days of departed Eriksson


LONDON -- When Steve McClaren was named Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor as England head coach few outside of the Football Association -- and quite a few inside by all accounts -- believed the former Middlesbrough manager was any more than the Son of Sven . . . Sven Lite.

Christopher Davies

Less than a year into his reign McClaren is a dead manager walking. He was the wrong appointment at the time and looks an even worse choice 244 days later.

The media and England fans have not so much lost faith in McClaren because that pre-supposes they had faith initially . . . but the firing squad is in place even if it is only the F.A. which can pull the trigger.

Once the press and supporters turn on a player or manager, it is virtually impossible to win them back, and while some of the vitriol, inevitably, has been excessive, McClaren can hardly expect praise as England hovers on the brink of failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championship.

The goal-less and soul-less 0-0 draw in Israel last Saturday was followed by the inevitable victory away to Andorra, but the 3-0 win against the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers of the tiny province was unconvincing.

McClaren hardly helped his cause by walking out of a press conference after two minutes in the wake of the Andorra tie, effectively inviting the media to write what they like.

For a man who places so much emphasis on sports psychology and spin doctors this was a huge public relations own-goal.

There have been some unpopular England managers in the past, but McClaren has shot straight to the ignominious top of the flops position.

The £2.5 million compensation he would receive for the sack merely underlines that in football nothing succeeds like failure.

McClaren asks the fans to back England -- one headline, "McClaren appeals to England fans," was hardly accurate in every sense -- but they are fed up with paying good money to watch a bad team.

The anger in the traveling supporters' faces as they chanted "we want McClaren out" and "you're not fit to wear the shirt" at the team, which took 53 minutes to break the spirited resistance of Andorra, was unsurprising but worrying.

Passion can boil over into dangerous areas and one hopes no disgruntled supporters go one step beyond with their frustration.

They are being stoked up by the media with one tabloid calling McClaren "Steve McDonut." The man leading England is a figure of fun and it will get worse before it gets better.

Just about the only positive from the Andorra game was the two-goal display by Steven Gerrard.

Frank Lampard's wrist injury meant McClaren could do something he had not been brave enough to do previously, which is leave out the Chelsea player and move Gerrard to his best position in the center of midfield.

Gerrard was immense against the minnows and should continue in the role where he is most effective, even if it means no place for Lampard.

But these are bad times for England. Eriksson won few popularity polls, but under the Swede, England qualified for major finals with the minimum of fuss.

We look back on the Eriksson years as almost a golden era compared with McClaren's reign.

Representing your country should be the highlight for any player, but those who wear the England shirt these days must dread the abuse that comes with it.

This is unlikely to change while McClaren remains in charge. The nation has already decided.

WAYNE ROONEY has gone an incredible 31 competitive games for England and Manchester United in the Champions League without a goal -- a total of 2,643 minutes.

His failure to break his drought against Andorra meant that since Euro 2004 Rooney has played 15 competitive ties for England without scoring.

Rooney bagged a hat trick against Fenerbahce in his Champions League debut for Manchester United, in September 2004, but has failed to score in 16 subsequent ties.

He did score in a qualifier against Hungary's Debrecini but this does not count in UEFA's official records.

That is 31 games above domestic level in 2 1/2 years without a competitive goal -- just over 44 hours.

Rooney did not score during the entire 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, and with half of the Euro 2008 qualifiers gone the non-striking striker is still waiting for a goal.

Rooney's three goals for England since Euro 2004 have been in friendlies against Argentina, Denmark and Holland.

The former Everton striker has been a consistent marksman for United in the Premiership, F.A. Cup and League Cup with 47 goals in 113 appearances.

But at the level where strikers are judged -- the Champions League, World Cup and European Championship -- Rooney has struggled against better defending.

While he has made a number of assists and no one could doubt his commitment -- some might say over-commitment -- he has failed with his main job, which is to score goals on the bigger stages for club and country.

Rooney was wound up so much by an Andorra player named Oscar Sonejee that, having received the yellow card, which means he is suspended for the next tie in Estonia in June, the striker was substituted before he saw red.

The fire that burns within Rooney too often becomes a furnace when he plays for England.

He tends to control himself more for United, and the suspicion is that he is more wary of facing an angry Sir Alex Ferguson than the England manager.

Since Euro 2004, 11 different players have scored for England in competitive matches -- Gerrard (7), Lampard (5), Crouch (4), Defoe (3), J. Cole (3), Beckham (3), Owen (3), Nugent (1), plus three own-goals.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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