Offside, 27 January
Forget Faria and Ulrika. We were all seduced by Sven.
When Sven Göran-Eriksson’s face flashed up on the big screen at Selhurst Park last Friday there was a half-hearted chorus of boos. And that really sums up Sven’s standing amongst England fans right now. Some want him out while the rest of us – well we’re not really that bothered.
Either way it’s a long time since Sven was acclaimed as the saviour of English football. This week, after the News of the World‘s ‘fake sheikh’ sting operation, the Football Association (FA) finally decided that Eriksson’s tenure would end after the World Cup. It’s not clear whether Sven was given the boot, effectively for gossiping with a sheikh lookalike, or whether he and the FA had agreed an amicable divorce. Sven himself insists that he wasn’t sacked but that he had already decided to go because of persistent media intrusion. ‘Since some time ago I felt there was too much circus around my private life’, said Eriksson. ‘Maybe this was one too many’.
A media circus there may have been, but no circus is complete without a clown and it was Eriksson’s propensity for gaffs and indiscretions that ultimately reduced him to a figure of fun. It wasn’t particularly his philandering that damaged his reputation – if anything the ability of a balding, middle-aged bloke in stack-heeled shoes to bed a string of glamorous women positively enhanced his reputation amongst men.
More damaging, however, were the recurrent allegations that Eriksson was easily seduced not just by foxy Faria but also by filthy lucre. First it was reported that Sven had been lined up to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and then in 2003 he was photographed visiting Roman Abramovich’s flat, prompting speculation that he was being courted by Chelsea. The fake sheikh sting merely confirmed what many already suspected – that, in addition to the fact that he ‘can’t resist a bird’, to quote his agent Athole Still, he can’t resist the lure of money either.
But, so what if Sven is motivated by money? Did anyone seriously imagine that he was managing England for love rather than money? Even his ill-advised comments to the sham sheikh about certain England players did not add up to a sackable offence in my book (though his suggestion that Aston Villa was a good investment opportunity does rather call into question his footballing judgement). If he had criticised his players in public it would have seriously undermined his authority but, in this instance, Eriksson was entitled to believe that he was having a private conversation. As it is there is no evidence that Sven has ‘lost’ the dressing room – if he had the FA would have handed him his P45 straightaway.
Ultimately, even his questionable loyalty to the England cause would be forgivable if he delivered results on the pitch. His record in competitive fixtures is solid but unspectacular: not poor enough for the turnip treatment but not exactly glorious either. Consequently, although Sven has steered England to the finals of three major football tournaments, doubts about his coaching ability have persistently surfaced.
It wasn’t always thus. Although Daily Mail’s resident cartoon patriot Jeff Powell protested that the FA had ‘sold our birthright down the river to a nation of seven million skiers and hammer throwers’, most people welcomed Eriksson’s appointment. Never mind Ulrika or Faria, the entire nation was initially seduced by the bespectacled, multi-lingual charmer whose ice-cool, unflustered demeanour we took to signify a master tactician at work. Over time, however, the scales have fallen from our eyes. There is now a prima facie case against Eriksson which can be summarised as follows:
- England’s clueless second-half performance against Brazil in 2002;
- His failure to leap around like a madman on the touchline;
- His teams can only perform well for 45 minutes yet FIFA unfairly insist on 90-minute matches;
- The farcical policy of multiple substitutions during friendlies;
- His apparent inability to change tactics mid-game;
- Er, hang on a minute, are there any tactics at all, apart from nick-an-early-goal-then-retreat-to-the-18-yard-line-and-pray;
- Persisting with David Beckham as captain;
- Persisting with David Beckham;
- Trying to accommodate all his favourite players in midfield;
- Playing without a recognised holding midfielder;
- Peter Crouch.
Despite the compelling weight of evidence that the Swedish coach is not the tactical genius we first mistook him for, FA chief executive Brian Barwick still insists that ‘Sven is definitely the man to lead us in Germany’. We can interpret Barwick’s statement in two ways: either the FA are completely deluded about Sven’s managerial capabilities or else they know we’ll win bugger all while he’s in charge but there’s no-one else available and, in any case, they can’t afford to pay him off.
What a right royal mess! The departure of yet another England manager for ostensibly non-football reasons makes you wonder whether any top coach would be foolhardy enough to risk his reputation by attempting to fill Sven’s stack-heeled shoes.
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