Tradition has it that the Football Association is run by a bunch of buffoons. Not least on this issue when they have decided to announce their findings of their inquiry into the (gasp) Soho Square sex scandal on the day after we have gone to press.
Do people care? Each new revelation about his private life may make Sven look like a fumbling accounts manager from a 1970s sitcom, but there’s nothing remotely resembling a groundswell of popular opinion that he should go over this issue. Yes, he has his critics among disappointed fans, but the clamour for his departure comes, as always, from the press. Some are forever incapable of accepting a foreign manager in charge of England, others are convinced that quarter-final eliminations in major tournaments don’t justify such a massive salary. Clearly this view is shared with those within the FA who have sensed an opportunity to prise him out on another pretext and have been spinning away to journalists for the duration of the saga.
This in itself may give pause for thought to Sven’s potential successors – why work for an organisation whose officials are so prone to giving off-the-record briefings? As will, once again, the fact that Eriksson’s results are judged against some mythical standard of how well England should do, rather than how well they have actually done. Since Sir Alf Ramsey, only Terry Venables has had a better start to his England career, and Tel’s reign benefited from home advantage and was terminated by the man himself, who announced he would not take a new contract six months before Euro 96. But of course the tabloid discussion is of the kind that omits unhelpful facts.
On the face of it, it does seem unlikely – in spite of confident headlines in the Daily Mail – that Eriksson will be forced out unless the FA can claim that he breached his contract and can therefore be sacked without compensation. Should they go down that route, Eriksson would surely argue for constructive dismissal on the basis that his employers appeared to be conspiring to force him out of his job. Remember that Dennis Wise won his case on appeal against Leicester, after he was sacked for the little matter of breaking a team-mate’s cheekbone.
It’s highly unlikely that Sven will do what they want, which is to resign, as he would lose the £16 million value of his controversial new contract, even though he could walk into another job abroad. Plus, resigning would seem like an admission of guilt when he clearly believes he has done nothing wrong. Hence his claimed retort “This is nonsense!” when executive director David Davies asked about his affair with Faria Alam.
It is the supposed ambiguity of this comment that seems to have triggered off the whole crisis, Davies being apparently unable to decide whether Eriksson was denying the affair or simply refusing to discuss it. That a man hired by the FA on the basis of his background in journalism should be incapable of making adequate sense of one short sentence might seem to raise a raise question or two about Davies’s competence. However, given that Davies escaped any share of the blame for ghosting the controversial autobiography that rocked Glenn Hoddle’s popularity after the 1998 World Cup, then urging him to repair relations with the press through some cosy interviews, it’s unlikely that a secure niche in the heart of the English football establishment is going to be disturbed now.
The tawdry saga, funny and pathetic in equal measure, could have been avoided had the FA simply refused to comment on Eriksson’s private life. As long as they feel that have to respond to the prurient delvings of the tabloids they will always create problems for themselves. It’s not as thought they have no previous experience in this area. When the Ulrika Jonsson affair broke, the FA’s attitude was that this was a private matter that had no bearing on the job Eriksson was being paid to do. But from the outset this time, Mark Palios’s prior involvement with Faria Alam seems to have thrown them into a tizzy from which they were unable to recover. Palios’s replacement as chief executive will have several urgent tasks to perform, but the most vital of all will be to appoint someone to follow Sven around and slip things into his drinks to curb his... urges. He’ll thank them in the long run.
From WSC 211 September 2004. What was happening this month