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Football: THIS IS A REAL MISTAKE; Zidane says England are wrong to ignore McManaman.


THE world's best footballer is as shy and reticent off the pitch as he is expressive and articulate on it.

Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid's pounds 46million superstar, normally lets his dancing feet and razor sharp football mind do all the talking for him.

He looked awkward and self- conscious as he fronted the launch of the clever new adidas World Cup advertising campaign in Madrid.

But as Real close in on the European Cup Final and Zidane prepares to lead France's attempt to repeat their World Cup success, one subject stirs a rare passion in him.

After watching clips showing David Beckham playfully trying to snatch the World Cup trophy from Zidane, the Frenchman retreated to a small room to talk.

There he confessed astonishment that Sven Goran Eriksson was continuing to treat Steve McManaman as an England outcast.

Zidane and McManaman scored the two goals that gave Real an emotional 2-0 victory over deadly rivals Barcelona in the first leg of their European Cup semi-final at the Nou Camp on Tuesday.

Late sub McManaman drifted a delicate chip over the keeper in the dying seconds and all but assured Real of their place in the final at Hampden on May 15.

Even though he has established himself as a genuine world-class player in Spain, McManaman has been shunned by England boss Eriksson.

Amid all his many achievements, the Swede's inability to get the best out of Macca for England represents his greatest failure.

Eriksson is said to have been appalled by McManaman's casual approach to the World Cup qualifier against Albania at St James' Park last year and is thought to have vowed never to play him again.

But Zidane urged the Swede to reconsider and insisted McManaman should not just be in the squad but in the team that starts the first game against Sweden in Saitama on June 2.

The French superstar said: "I was surprised when McManaman was left out of the last England squad. I couldn't believe they would ignore a player of his quality.

"Now people are talking about the fact that maybe he will get his chance because David Beckham is injured.

"But McManaman is far better than just being a replacement for Beckham. McManaman should be in the starting line-up anyway.

"Picking him now would be a very smart move for Eriksson because McManaman is in the mood to start proving people wrong. If Eriksson gave him the chance he deserves, he could prove to all the people and to Eriksson he should have been there all along.

"I don't think he has really ever had a proper chance under Eriksson but he has proved over the years, for Liverpool, England and Real Madrid, that he is a leading player.

"If England do not pick him, it would be a terrible waste, both for the side and for McManaman. If they don't take him to the World Cup, they'll regret it."

The ad campaign, which hits British screens this weekend, centres on the idea that football nuts suffer from a wonderful disease called footballitis.

It also features Zidane's Real team-mate, Raul, German star Sebastian Deisler and wacky ref Pierluigi Collina.

One of the ads shows Beckham being studied by footballitis doctors as he waves his legs in the air.

Zidane, though, insisted that English club football was in a state of rude health and reserved particular admiration for Manchester United.

United may yet overcome Bayer Leverkusen in Germany next Tuesday to face Real at Hampden and Zidane admitted that would present his club with their toughest task of all.

He said: "Manchester United are an extraordinary side.

"If you want to know which of their players I admire, think of all of them.

"Beckham, Barthez, Blanc, Giggs, Scholes, Butt - the list goes on and on. They are a very dangerous team."

After the European Cup Final, Zidane will head straight to South Korea with his French team-mates to begin their defence of the World Cup.

The former Juventus star scored two rare headed goals in the 1998 final when France demolished Brazil 3-0.

But he says that even without Robert Pires this French side is even stronger than the team that lifted the cup in the Stade de France.

He said: "We are still as strong at the back with our captain Marcel Desailly, in the centre of defence.

"And now we also have a very clever attack with players like Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Christophe Dugarry and David Trezeguet, whereas in 1998 we were weaker offensively.

"We know we might have to play England in the second round but even though we are world champions that would not be an easy game for us.

"We know what good English players there are at Manchester United and Arsenal and I hope we don't meet them early. If we do, then of course I would expect us to win."

Then Zidane added one last mischievous observation. He said: "Of course, if McManaman was playing in that game England might get a little bit closer."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 26, 2002
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