Sven Goran Eriksson: An Era, Wasted
The king is dead. Long live the King! Sven Goran Eriksson's reign
as England manager has come to an end, Steve McClaren's is just
beginning. It was supposed to be a glorious era, to equal or surpass
that of the French at the end of the last century and beginning
of this. In the end it came to a close with yet another tame elimination
by Portugal in the quarter final of the World Cup.
In 2001 the appointment of Eriksson brought hopes of so much more:
success after years of failure. The Football Association had hired
an overseas coach for the first time in its 130-year history but
in was coming a man of world-wide repute who could take the England
team to a level it had not achieved in a third of a century. Yet
on Sven's departure the national mood is largely one of disappointment;
three quarter finals in tournament football were not the expected
The media reception for Sven was hostile from the start. Perhaps,
then, it is no surprise that is equally critical on his departure.
The heresy of appointing a 'foreign' manager had put the FA into
disrepute according to many media commentators. For some it was
a decision never forgiven.
The more enlightened welcomed the appointment of a tactically
astute coach at a time when the national team was at a low ebb.
Kevin Keegan had offered then Chief Executive Adam Crozier his resignation
in the Wembley toilets in the wake of the team's 1-0 defeat to Germany
in the old stadium's last game.
With it England's hopes of qualifying for the 2002 appeared to
be heading down the swanny alongside Keegan's reputation. The coach
had admitted that tactically speaking he was out of his depth. The
appointment of Sven was the antidote to Keegan's bumbling; the catalyst
for change and improvement. Continental nous replaced British fire
and brimstone. This was a step forward. Or so we thought.
In the intervening five and a half years Sven has shown little
to justify this reputation or the high hopes. Indeed those hoping
for a tactical genius; a strategist of the highest order were disappointed
to learn from early in his reign that the Swede rarely took training,
did not give teamtalks and had very little eye for detail. To Sven's
critics the £3m a year appointment was of a figurehead and little
Yet the 5-1 drubbing of the old enemy Germany in Munich, September
2001 bought Eriksson an extended honeymoon period. It was Michael
Owen's zenith and in retrospect, Sven's too. Qualification was achieved,
although only through the genius of Beckham's right boot in the
decisive match against Greece. The 2-2 draw at Old Trafford was
lucky - a trait that Eriksson has honed well over the years.
The 2002 tournament started brightly with England defeating Argentina
and Nigeria in the cup's group of death. Denmark was dispatched
in the round of 16 before one of Sven's defining moments - the defeat
to Brazil in sultry Shizuoka. Brazil was reduced to 10 men following
Ronaldinho's reckless challenge yet England was unable to take advantage,
going down without a fight. Sven took the blame - he sat meekly
on the bench seemingly resigned to his fate.
It was a strategic error by the Swede. Not that he had many options
to change the course of the game. No, he forgot the English mentality
- that touchline histrionics, and the 'bulldog spirit' are prized
above all else. Had we learnt nothing from the Keegan era? Apparently
not - Sven's fate was sealed in the publics' mind.
The intervening years have also seen one sexual scandal after
another make tabloid headlines. First the manager's fling with fellow
Swede, Ulrika Johnson a television presenter caused no little consternation
in the gossip columns.
Eriksson seemed genuinely taken aback by the reaction - he shouldn't
have been and he got off lightly. The bravado shown in bedding a
celebrity beauty actually bought him some kudos.
Worse was to come though. Eriksson's affair with FA secretary
Faria Allam nearly brought down the institution. The coach lied
about the affair but kept his job. The new Chief Executive Mark
Pallios, who had also bedded Allam, and the secretary herself were
removed from their positions.
Eriksson didn't confine himself to being unfaithful to his long
term girlfriend Nancy Dell'Olio however - he cheated on the nation
too. The flirtations with Manchester
United, where he agreed to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, and Chelsea
with whom he was caught meeting, fit a long term pattern. He had
previously agreed to take the Blackburn Rovers job only to about-face
at the eleventh hour and join Lazio instead.
Yet his indiscretions - personal and professional - appeared only
to convince the FA that he was the man for the job, awarding him
successive massive pay rises. Over the length of his term with England,
the coach is believed to have earned more than £24m - enough
to have paid for the shelved National Football Academy. Contrast
that with the estimated £100,000 per annum that Eriksson's
three-time nemesis Phil Scolari earns with Portugal.
The middle of those three losses to Big Phil came at Euro 2004, a tournament at which England were one of the
genuine favourites to win. This time however, the quarter final
loss on penalties came with a hard luck story - star striker Wayne
Rooney's injury robbed the team of a talisman during the match.
However, Eriksson's reputation as a conservative coach was reinforced
with the decision to remove two attacking players at 1-0 and try
and play out a narrow win. It was a move that neither worked nor
was appreciated by the viewing public.
Despite the tournament record, Sven's statistics show him to be
up there with the best. In competitive football England has only
lost three times under the coach and the points/games ratio places
him as the best manager the nation has ever had. Statistics do not
tell the whole story though and Erikson will be forgotten for the
very reason Ramsay is remembered: trophies.
Eriksson also appears to have left little legacy over his five
years. His team performed poorly at this year's tournament and with
the team and tactics in disarray McClaren
will have some work to do. Rooney aside, few young players have
been integrated into the group successfully. Lennon and Downing
got little time on the pitch in Germany, Walcott none at all.
There are very few players of note coming through either, with
the under-21 side failing to qualify for the last championships.
One thing that can be said in favour of past coaches - Venables
and Hoddle in particular - is that they paid attention to all levels
of the international game. Sven wasn't in the least bit interested.
The stain of Eriksson's successive failures must surely pass to
McClaren too. After all it was the former Middleborough manager
who has sat at the Swede's side through the last three tournaments.
It is McCLaren who took training, worked on set pieces and did the
majority of the tactical work too. If Eriksson is to be classed
as a disappointment then so too is McClaren, even before he has
begun the job in earnest.
That Eriksson failed with the richest pool of talent in a generation
is the perhaps the greatest frustration. Neville, Ferdinand, Terry,
Beckham, Cole, Cole, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Owen - it is a
group of players without compare in at least 40 years.
Surely a coach of Eriksson's standing should have molded a team
capable of challenging for the top honours? The fact is England
never looked close to it - and the only man to hold accountable
for that failure is Eriksson. The king is dead. Long live the King!