Ulf Roosvald spent time with Tord Grip when England's assistant coach first came to London. Here he profiles the man who walks two steps behind Sven
It was the day of calm before the storm. Tord Grip prepared himself by renewing his wardrobe. He stepped inside a men’s outfitters in Soho and said a friendly good morning to the shopkeepers – in French to Karim from Algeria, in English to his colleague. Two months in London had been enough to become a regular. When he leaves he is carrying two bags with a new blazer, two pairs of trousers, three ties. “I’m not vain by any means, but I have to look good if I’m going to sit next to Svennis. He always wears tailored suits, you know.”
Tord Grip has know Sven-Göran Eriksson since they were both playing for Swedish second division side Degerfors in the late 1960s. He always calls him “Svennis”, his nickname, “except when there are English people around, then I just call him ‘Sven’.”
This was the day before Eriksson arrived in England, and Grip was slightly nervous. Partly because of the upcoming press conference but more because he was not really prepared to start working quite yet. “I was convinced Svennis would stay with Lazio for the rest of the season. I was looking forward to nice easy days in England, watching matches and getting to know the English players and their game. Peter Taylor was supposed to be responsible for the team.” Now everything had changed, following Eriksson’s early departure from Italy.
Tord Grip’s original plan was to stay with Eriksson at club level for another year, retire from football and move to London to watch as many musicals as he could. He had already achieved more than most people in football. Capped three times for Sweden, he had been assistant manager at two World Cups (1978 and 1994), worked overseas for several years and won the Italian title with Eriksson at Lazio. But when his friend was made England manager, Grip came too.
Eriksson fits the image of Adam Crozier’s new FA – elegant, with a gentleman’s manners and an impressive record at club level. It is harder to see Grip fitting in, a 63-year-old who says neither London or Rome can match the view from his house at Lake Mockeln in the forests of western Sweden, whose favourite artist is Elton John and who plays the accordion in a trio.
Is it possible to keep a low profile as the assistant manager of England? “I hope so. So far I have only done two interviews with English journalists. I’m not going to say anything about particular players anyway. When I was at Lazio I never once spoke to reporters.”
Tord Grip did not always expect to be an assistant. When Serie B club Campobasso called in 1986, Grip was managing director at Malmo, while Roy Hodgson guided the club to consecutive league titles. “I was hoping for one or two good seasons at Campobasso, and then I could get an offer from a bigger club,” he says. But it never happened. After six months Campobasso were bottom of the table and Grip was fired.
“In hindsight, it would have been better to go to a new club then, but then I received an offer from the Norwegian FA.” It wasn’t easy to turn down the chance to become a national team manager but the change was too big. Sometimes there were months between games and the results didn’t help. Grip was in charge for 11 games, five of which ended 0-0. He didn’t win a single match. After three straight goalless draws Grip quit before he was sacked. He was to get one more chance as a club manager, at Young Boys in Switzerland. He stayed for two years and won nothing.
Still, today he holds one of the most prestigious jobs in football.When he came to England, he stayed in a west London hotel. In the morning he would drink a cappuccino, take the tube to Piccadilly Circus, then walk to his office. “Soho Square is quite easy to find, don’t you think? Svennis and I always argue about who has the worse sense of direction. He claims he finds his way better than I do, but he doesn’t, actually. I thought I should impress him a little when he arrived.”
When Eriksson met British reporters for the first time, Grip walked, as usual, two steps behind his boss, who moved slowly with his back and head straight as if balancing something precious on his head. But when the reporters wanted to know who figured in the two Swedes’ plans, they had to turn to Grip. Speaking better English than Eriksson, he soon started to joke with the journalists. “Everything was so peaceful and quiet for me, and now Sven comes and destroys it,” he said.
You stole the show at the press conference, I said to him later. “Well, I’m not afraid to talk to people as long as I know the subject. I’m quite fond of having an audience. Maybe I was an entertainer in a previous life. Of course I would like to have the job that Svennis has. But he has had better results, and he is better than I am at dealing with famous footballers. I get incredibly angry when players act like divas and when they misbehave, but Svennis is much cooler. He never argues with them immediately, instead he has a night’s sleep and talks to them the day after. I could never do that.”
How long will he continue? “I don’t know. Svennis has a contract for five years but I will most certainly not stay that long.” Does he think he has a better job than Eriksson? “In a way it is better. I am involved on the highest possible level, but I don’t have any pressure. I have a chance to suggest ideas and help pick the players. That’s why Grip, apart from watching four games a week, has carefully studied England Under-21 teamsheets. “They have hardly lost a game for three seasons. That’s how you create a winning psyche. Hopefully we can find the backbone of a new England team there.”
Today, Tord Grip still believes he can keep a low profile. He says this even after the 5-1 win against Germany. He still leaves all the journalists, the meetings with ministers, coaches and club officials to Eriksson. The only notable changes are a personal press agent appointed by the FA and a mobile phone that is nowadays usually switched off. “Svennis is a little astonished at all the non-football duties. There is media all the time, and still the FA says no to most interviews.” Tord Grip concentrates on watching football.
From WSC 177 November 2001. What was happening this month