Last month former England manager, Sven Goran-Eriksson, told the BBC of his “big, big mistake” following fresh reports that he was deceived by an elaborate fraud in to taking the managerial post at Notts County in 2009. The Serious Fraud Office is investigating allegations that Russell King orchestrated an intricate scam which targeted Eriksson, Sir John Walker and the North Korean Government, and the claims that the current Leicester City boss assumed control of over half of a London investment bank without paying for any shares.
King acquired 49% of First London PLC’s shares in 2008 by falsely claiming he was managing billions of pounds for the Bahraini royal family, according to the BBC investigation. The program focussed on the astonishing deal that saw the Swede become director of football at the League Two side following a takeover which promised substantial investment from the Middle East. Of course no such cash injection materialised and the club were left with debts of over £7million as a result.
Eriksson’s error was just the latest in a series of controversial incidents which have coloured the career of the former Lazio, Sampdoria and Benfica manager, including much publicised affairs with Ulrika Jonsson and Football Association assistant, Faria Alam, as well as continuous and evident connections to Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea side whilst still in the England manager’s post. Sven never completed a move to Chelsea – the west Londoners instead appointed Jose Mourinho, and the merits of this decision remain unquestioned – but it could be argued that his prolonged existence in the England set-up, having signed a contract extension soon after revelations linking him to Stamford Bridge, is to blame for the relentless disappointments of the ‘golden generation’ throughout the previous decade.
It’s not that Eriksson is a bad manager, evidenced by a trophy haul which includes League and domestic cup wins in three different countries in addition to UEFA Cup, Super Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup triumphs, but that he was the wrong option to take England forward at a time when the country’s most talented crop were beginning to harvest. I don’t tend to agree with the likes of Arsene Wenger, Steve McClaren and Harry Redknapp that English nationality is a prerequisite for the ‘toughest job in football,’ especially seeing as modern international competition has allowed Brazilian-born Alessandro Santos (aka Alex) to make over 80 appearances for Japan and seen Dutchman, Guus Hiddink, manage five different nations.
But the FA’s decision to appoint the Swede in 2001 was misguided on the basis that England required a coach willing to implement a philosophy, idea or identity to direct the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Ashley Cole towards glory. Eriksson maintains an interesting reputation as he is fondly remembered in his home country for winning the UEFA Cup with Gothenburg in 1982, but is considered the ‘perdente di successo,’ or ‘successful loser,’ in Italy following a 14 –year pursuit of Serie A success, eventually achieved in his final season in charge of Lazio in 2000. It is worth mentioning that Eriksson benefitted from President, Sergio Cragnotti’s, £300million investment over the four seasons he was manager at the Stadio Olimpico and has never expressed a distinctive style at any of the nine clubs and 3 countries he has coached.
His most significant characteristic has always been a close affinity to the large egos he has controlled, and was ruthless in omitting Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Lee Bowyer from international duties because he deemed them all unruly influences, but Eriksson’s attention to detail throughout his five years in charge was justifiably criticised for apparently rarely researching the opposition before games or becoming acquainted with upcoming match officials and was a largely marginal figure during training sessions. His reluctance to make sweeping changes was often criticised in the context of making his best players feel secure about their status, but this was only detrimental in terms of his inability to mould said players in to a team that were aware of their roles. He was entrusted with the job of forming the most effective system for English football’s greatest ever collection of players and never applied it, or even demonstrated that he was searching for it. There wasn’t a plethora of English managers available at the turn of the century to replace Kevin Keegan, but in hindsight it is obvious that Eriksson was far from the most suitable option.
Football teams are dynamic, particularly at international level, and they decline and are reconditioned on a basis that may seem brutal but is natural and necessary. Eriksson’s appointment interrupted that cycle of renewal, and his successors, Steve McClaren and then Fabio Capello, failed to cure the ‘golden generation’ of the apathy that had been instilled over the course of the last decade. McClaren’s appointment was questionable on the basis that he was the individual most closely associated with the Eriksson regime, so that by the time Capello took England to South Africa last summer, the Italian faced the impossible task of reversing years of dispiritedness in a squad that was reaching its natural twilight in terms of average age anyway. The England manager’s position should always be decided by taking ability in to account ahead of nationality, but a knowledge of English players and traditions is vital, facets ignored by Eriksson to England’s long-suffering fans’ detriment, having wasted a generation of English talent the likes of which we are unlikely to witness again for decades.
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