Reckless Eriksson

While the tabloids are busy 'celebrating' the England manager's 'infidelity' when it came to speaking to other clubs, perhaps we should stop and realise that the fact that Sven-Göran Eriksson is in demand can only be a good thing for the national team

Sweden 1 Wapping 0. The tabloids had been so certain of victory in this grudge match that they began celebrating a bit too early. Sneaky Sven was the Sun front-page headline on a Saturday morning as it revealed that he had had a secret meeting with Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon two nights before. Stupid said the same day’s Mirror, equally confident that he was about to leave England in the lurch.

The papers affect to be puzzled and outraged by Eriksson’s interest in other managerial jobs – he seems to have seriously flirted with Manchester United two years ago and was evidently tempted by the Chelsea offer – yet they constantly provide perfectly acceptable reasons why he might not want to stay in charge of England. After he signed a new contract that will take him beyond the 2006 World Cup, some newspapers declared that it was fear of them that propelled “Svenny” (a new derogatory nickname invented by the biggest Little Englander of them all, Jeff Powell) into agreeing to stay on.

Using their awesome powers for the greater good, the Sun magnanimously decided to call off the mob – “England’s fans must try to forget Sven’s double-dealing and put their trust in his talents” – though this did not prevent their expert columnist Chris Waddle from issuing a gleeful warning in the same edition: “If we flop in Portugal the fans will hound him out of his job anyway.”

Through all the jingoistic taunts and insults – he’s now Slippery Sven to the Express, Erik the Eel in the Sun – what sticks in the tabloid columnists’ collective craw is that Eriksson clearly doesn’t offer them the respect they feel they deserve. He doesn’t want to get to know them, offer occasional exclusives over the phone or in the corner of a hotel bar at an away game, all the stuff that makes their job a lot easier. In fact that Eriksson should want to stay in his current post in view of what has gone on so far is remarkable, as is the fact that the tabloids should try to present themselves as guardians of the sanctity of the England manager’s job.

The newspapers who now bang on about the machinations of a mercenary Swede have scarcely been respectful of the office before. Though the attacks on Terry Venables centered around the business problems which mean he still has another ten months to serve of a seven-year ban on being a company director, that is a unique case.

Sir Alf Ramsey, still the only England manager to have won a trophy, had an intense dislike of the press that he barely bothered to disguise. Bobby Robson, now lauded as a benign elder statesman of English football, was treated with little more than disdain for much of his tenure. A headline read In The Name Of Allah GO! after a draw with Saudi Arabia. And Robson won damages after being called a traitor when, aware that his contract would not be renewed beyond the 1990 World Cup, he arranged to join PSV Eindhoven after the finals, rather than the dole queue.

The travails of Graham Taylor, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan are so well known as to be barely worth repeating. Brian Alexander – then at the Sun, now a BBC news discussion presenter – may have apologised for turning Taylor into a turnip in 1992, but his successors did worse a year later, with Norse Manure. Hoddle was laid low by remarks similar to ones that had gone unnoticed when he was the press’s darling. Keegan was a media appointment that they quickly washed their hands of.

The high turnover rate perhaps explains some of the current attack instincts. Keegan lasted barely 18 months in the job; Hoddle and Venables two and a half years; Taylor three years and three months. Which means that by the time Euro 2004 starts, the sharks will have gone the longest spell without claiming a victim since Robson.

One name rarely mentioned in the rush to call Eriksson a mercenary is that of Don Revie – funny that, as he is the only man to walk out on the job to make more money elsewhere. The story was a major scoop for a certain Daily Mail journalist, a Mr Jeff Powell. But then as Revie was English, even getting the Wem­bley band to play Land of Hope and Glory as well the national anthem, that wouldn’t suit the agenda.

The FA have bent over backwards to reach a new agreement with Eriksson because they know that he’s good. For the first time in a while, possibly ever, an England coach is in demand. And even if he was English that will be the case if the man is reasonably successful. Gone are the days when Bobby Robson had to accept a pay cut to take the job and a near pay freeze in it. And rightly so.

From WSC 207 May 2004. What was happening this month