Running joke

Do English coaches deserve more credit? Not if Mathias Svensson is to be believed, as Marcus Christenson reports

Sven-Göran Eriksson has been in charge of England for four and a half years – and yet no consensus seems to have developed on whether the Football Association was right to appoint the Swede as its first foreign manager. So the debate rages on. This summer Bristol Rovers manager Ian Atkins, having just completed the FA’s UEFA Pro Licence course, claimed that English coaches and managers get “the best training in the world” and added: “I think people are over-critical of English coaches and that is wrong.”

Swedish forward Mathias Svensson offers a different view. After eight and a half years in England with five different clubs, the normally media-shy forward opened up to the newspaper  Aftonbladet after leaving Norwich for Swedish club Elfsborg last month and condemned most English managers he has worked under – apart from Terry Venables.

“He signed me for Portsmouth nine years ago and he really liked me. He appreciated my style of play and never betrayed me,” Svensson said of the former England manager. “Unfortunately there are other British managers who don’t know a shit about football and who do not want foreigners in their teams.”

Svensson made 199 appearances in English football although injuries meant that a large part of his time in England was spent on the bench or the treatment table. But he experienced enough to come to his conclusion that British managers are, to put it kindly, not the best in the world.

“Take someone like Alan Ball, who I had in Portsmouth. When he held his first talk we players were laughing so much we were screaming. The only thing he had done was to win the 1966 World Cup as a player. He was still living in that world. There was only going to be English players on the pitch. He was useless,” the 30-year-old Swede said.

Svensson also played under Alan Curbishley at Charlton but whereas some see Curbishley as a possible England manager, Svensson believes that he still has a lot to learn and is critical of Curbishley’s man-management style. He said he knew his Charlton career was over the day he asked not to be picked for a game against Birmingham because he was with his wife Linda for the birth of their daughter Holly. “I phoned and said that I was at the hospital and that I couldn’t play. And I could hear from the manager’s voice that I had played my last game for Charlton.”

Svensson says that his father wondered whether it was just sour grapes but when he came over to London and talked to two other Charlton players – Claus Jensen was one of them – he realised that Svensson had been right in his criticism. “I have nothing to lose anymore and I can say what it was like: that man [Curbishley] is a catastrophe,” Svensson added. “He doesn’t have a clue of how to behave towards the players. Curbishley just dropped players right, left and centre without saying why. As a player you want advice about what you can improve. But you never got that. No wonder that Svennis is so popular in his teams.” But after excerpts from the interview appeared in the English press, Svensson complained that some of  his comments about Curbishley in particular had been misrepresented: “As far as Alan goes I said he was a very good manager who just needs to learn a little bit more about how to treat his players.The Swedish journalist who wrote the original story rang me upand said he would put in a correction about that.”

Harry Redknapp is another manager with whom Svensson is unimpressed. “Look at someone like Harry Redknapp in Southampton, oh my god. It isn’t strange that the foreign managers are dominating the Premiership at the moment. And that trend will become even more obvious [in the future].” Anders Svensson, the midfielder who joined Elfsborg from Southampton this summer, has yet to speak about his time in England since moving back to Sweden but he once despaired at the working conditions under Gordon Strachan, calling one pre-season “the training camp from hell”. He added: “English people just seem to be able to switch off and run. It is no surprise that Paul Telfer is Gordon’s favourite player, he is the best one at running.”

It is still uncertain whether Eriksson will see out his contract and stay until after Euro 2008 but in the meantime it is up to managers such as Steve McClaren, Curbishley and Sam Allardyce to prove Mathias Svensson wrong.  His verdict on the players in the English Premiership was similarly scathing. “There are a lot of them walking around thinking they are someone important and don’t give a shit about other people who are having a difficult time,” Svensson said. “Most of them are real bastards and just think about themselves. All around us there are a lot of lives who are ruined by poverty and disasters while the footballers don’t realise how lucky they are.”

Svensson should perhaps have stayed in Sweden all along. In his first game for Elfsborg, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Kalmar FF. His manager Magnus Haglund, for one, seemed very pleased.

From WSC 223 September 2005. What was happening this month