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Sven Goran Eriksson

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 13 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
 

Manager : 2001-2006

In October 2000 England were beaten 0-1 by a Dietmar Hamaan goal to lose the last ever match at the old Wembley Stadium to Germany. This blow prompted Kevin Keegan always a reluctant England manager, to resign on the spot. After a lengthy search, in January 2001 the FA appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Swede who had managed Lazio in the Italian League and taken them to a Cup and League double in the previous season.

Opinion was divided about the appointment of a non-English coach, many saw it as a brave move, and realised that there weren’t many obvious English candidates at the time. Others saw it as traitorous, and a condemnation of the foreign invasion of UK football that had started around the time that the Premiership emerged.

On the Pitch

Sven’s footballing start was promising: the first five matches were won, and a young team qualified, against expectations, for the 2002 World Cup. That qualification included revenge for the Wembley defeat as a young team demolished Germany 1-5 in their heartland. At the World Cup they beat Argentina and then, despite taking the lead initially, went out against the eventual winners, Brazil, in the quarter-finals.

As the team was recognised as skilful but largely inexperienced, that result, though disappointing, was seen as laying the foundation for successful Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 campaigns, by which time the ‘Golden Generation’, some of whom first showed in the 1998 World Cup, with core players such as David Beckham, Michael Owen, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, would be more likely to deliver.

The team seemed to warm to Eriksson, he was calm, placid and more of a man manager and positive motivator, giving the team the confidence and authority to play to their best abilities on the pitch. This was a change from the more usual fire and brimstone approach common in English management. He had also raised eyebrows with one of his first moves, appointing David Beckham as captain, at a time when he was still remembered for his petulant kick at Argentina’s Simeone, which had got him sent off in England’s last match of the 1998 World Cup in France.

Euro 2004

And so to Euro 2004 in Portugal, for which qualification had been the usual mixed bag, with England top of their group without losing a match, but there were some unconvincing performances. In the tournament group stage England lost to France after leading for most of the game, then began to gel, with Rooney more prominent, and won their remaining two matches in a confident manner to set up a quarter-final with the hosts.

Despite the good build-up, and going ahead in the third minute from a well-taken Owen goal from James’ long kick, traditional England frailties showed and the next eighty minutes had England under the cosh as they gave away possession and allowed Portugal to come at them, with the inevitable equaliser. In extra time both teams scored, so it was down to penalties, which Portugal duly won, Beckham blazing over the bar after appearing to slip, and Vassel’s shot well saved, to send England on the way home again.

By now the initial good feeling had dissipated somewhat and questions were being raised about Sven’s tactical knowledge and lack of overt passion. To add to this, although he steadfastly refused to comment on his public life, and appeared amazed at the antics of the British tabloid press, his affairs caused problems, particularly one with a secretary at the FA which caused the resignation of the FA’s Chief Executive.

World Cup 2006

Even before the 2006 tournament, Eriksson’s reign was effectively over. After a couple of ill-advised meetings with potential future employers early in his England career Eriksson had negotiated an extended contract to ensure his commitment to the cause, and then negotiated a (reportedly even more handsome) release from that contract and announced that he would leave the job after the World Cup tournament in Germany.

On the pitch, the team had qualified top of their group to get to Germany, despite a few wobbles such as losing to Northern Ireland, although that was apparently only Sven’s third defeat in a competitive match (the suspicion about that statistic, from the FA, is that it treats defeats on penalties as draws, which is frankly ludicrous). Then in the tournament itself they topped Group B to set up a second round match with Ecuador, which they won 1-0 in a less than convincing game. In Portugal they had lost Rooney to a bad injury in their last match and here, Owen collapsed in the group match against Sweden and took no further part in the tournament, and Rooney himself was still coming back from a broken metatarsal. The final match was another draw against Portugal, this time 0-0, and the apparently inevitable exit on penalties.

Off the Pitch

Eriksson unfortunately became the target of the ‘manager-as-target’ mentality of the tabloid press which had set in with a vengeance with Graham Taylor and reached a head when Glenn Hoddle was hounded out of office for non-footballing reasons. And this was to be Eriksson’s downfall, as his dalliances with various members of the opposite sex and meetings with potential future employers enraged the dogs of Fleet Street. As he said after his tenure came to an end, "In Italy they kill you if you lose two games, but don't kill you about your private life," said the 58-year-old. "They kill you two times in England and you have to learn to live with that if you want to work here."

No End to the Gravy Train?

In the end, Eriksson’s results were not bad enough for him to be condemned or good enough to inspire hero worship. By the time he left the post, the overwhelming feeling in the country seemed to be apathy, on paper the results place him close to the top of the list of England managers but the results in the latter of the two tournaments under his aegis fell far short of expectations. As of January 2007 he is reported to still be on the FA’s payroll as a result of the lucrative contract extension and his lasting legacy must surely be to have raised the bar for managers' pay and compensation deals so that no one who follows will ever be paid less.

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