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Football: GRIP GIVES MAC THE KNIFE; 'Steve has never played well for England and I don't see him getting into Sven's squad'.

Byline: Martin LIPTON Chief Football Writer

ENGLAND outcast Steve McManaman's hopes of earning an international recall received a shattering blow from Tord Grip last night.

In a savage assessment of the Real Madrid man, Sven Goran Eriksson's assistant revealed just how far out of the England frame McManaman has fallen.

Grip, pictured above, said: "As far as McManaman is concerned, he has never played a really good game for England.

"He is not being considered for selection at the moment, and with what is happening I don't see him being in any of the upcoming squads."

The former Liverpool man was named by Eriksson in the starting line-ups for his first two competitive games against Finland and Albania in March 2001.

But a pitiful display after coming off the bench against Albania at St James' Park in September last year put huge doubts in Eriksson's mind over his commitment to the England cause.

After making a late appearance in the final World Cup qualifier against Greece in October, McManaman was dropped for the next month's friendly with Sweden and has not been named in an England squad since.

His excellent impression after replacing Luis Figo in Real's Champions League Final victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park cut no ice with the Swede after he had been left out of the World Cup squad.

Despite McManaman seeming the most able candidate to fill the left-sided spot that has perplexed every England manager of the last decade, Grip suggested there is little to no chance of the 30-year-old adding to his 37 international caps.

He added: "We know that he is at Real, who are one of the biggest teams in the world. But he doesn't have a first-team jersey there, and he has to have that first before he can even be considered.

"We also don't see him very often, which makes it even harder for him."

McManaman, whose best England performances came under Terry Venables on the way to the semi-finals of Euro 96, has consistently maintained he has no gripe with Eriksson and that his desire to play for his country remained undiminished.

But the withering put-down of his entire international career may make the Liverpudlian wonder whether he should consider declaring himself unavailable for future selection.

While McManaman could not be further from a place in the England squad, Grip gave the broadest hint yet that veteran goalkeeper David Seaman will retain his place in the side for the Euro 2004 qualifiers with Liechtenstein and Turkey this spring.

Eriksson had suggested that he would make his selection based entirely on form following Seaman's nightmare blunder in the disappointing 2-2 draw against Macedonia at Southampton in October.

But while Grip is convinced there are two genuine contenders for the long-term keeper's berth in the shape of Leeds' Paul Robinson and Liverpool's Chris Kirkland, he signalled that Seaman's experience would be the decisive factor.

Grip, speaking on Swedish television, added: "I think Kirkland is probably the most talented goalkeeper in England, but of course he hasn't played much for Liverpool.

"Robinson is good but we don't think he has the experience yet. He needs more of it. He can't be England No.1 when he's just played so few games for Leeds."

CAPTION(S):

LOSING HIS GRIP: Any hopes Steve McManaman had of winning an England recall have faded
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Dec 3, 2002
Words:560
Previous Article:Football: Troussier approach rubbished.
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