Wednesday 11 February ~
International friendlies, especially those that rudely interrupt a fully-charged domestic season, are routinely trashed as a waste of time and effort, little more than a wasted journey to the far reaches of the globe for players who either risk needless injury or devalue the accumulation of caps with irrelevant 20-minute cameos. However, this particular midweek globetrotting session might reveal a thing or two about English football. Fabio Capello seeks clarification of the potential of his team against the European champions in Seville and Cesc Fabregas has claimed that under the Italian, England have become “world class”.
One would imagine that to represent your country makes you world class by definition, but it is a compliment nonetheless. The English game may also be affected by another match taking place across the Atlantic, where Mexico meet their Concacaf rivals USA in Ohio for a World Cup qualifier. Having seen his team drag themselves past Jamaica on goal difference to qualify behind Honduras for the final phase of an exhaustive format, Sven-Göran Eriksson is under pressure to produce the convincing results expected from the prominent side of the confederation. Such are the stakes that after eight months in charge, he could be out of work by the morning depending on the result.
Should this come to fruition, his next stop looks to be back to the UK, this time at Portsmouth, even if he currently denies it – rather in the manner of someone in the throes of a divorce denying any such major problem in front of friends until the separation becomes official. Eriksson derived great credit from his brief period at Eastlands in 2007-08, when he rose above the venom of the media, still smarting from the turbulence of his time as England manager, to put Manchester City in a far better position than they find themselves now, despite their new-found astronomic wealth.
Eriksson's awkward relations with the UK press can be partly put down to his quiet demeanor. Rarely offering himself up for interview outside of press conference, he is simply not “one of the lads” in contrast to a certain ex-Portsmouth boss, who the punters around Fratton Park can now only bring themselves refer to as “Jamie's dad”. However, Portsmouth would represent an entirely new sort of challenge to him. Far removed from the glory days of winning Italian Cups with Lazio and Portuguese Superligas with Benfica, he would find himself at a club with disillusioned players, abandoned by some high-profile team-mates, with the transfer window just closed and no scope for an immediate squad revamp. Eriksson would have to use all his mild-tempered intelligence to rally his players for a struggle which, even with their recent departures, they should be above. There is no guarantee of long-term employment, either, with owner Alexandre Gaydamak keeping the club in the shop window – not that Pompey is an attractive proposition at the moment given their league position and the club’s value shrinking by the week.
However, while Eriksson is not a wheeler-dealer in the Harry Redknapp mould and may not be a recognised miracle worker, Portsmouth don’t actually need miracles. They are a point above the water with a team stronger than four or five of their fellow relegation candidates. They have also have an experienced English contingent, several of whom have worked with Eriksson before. What they do need is steady organisation in spite of boardroom uncertainty, an experienced man who can start afresh. After winning trophies in seven of his nine separate club managerial spells, even his hardest critic must concede that Sven is, at the very least, capable of steadying the ship before it sinks. Chris Towers