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England might just end up missing Sven now he's gone

England fans really are a fickle bunch. Whether the media exacerbates the national mood swing of irrational optimism to angry finger-pointing after failure or is simply a reflection of it is a moot point.Perhaps the worst offender in our ignoble turncoat tradition is the British red-top tabloid The Sun. In the days before an excellent David Beckham free kick rescued another drab performance by England in its last 16 match against Ecuador, the paper ran headlines such as "Axe Beckham now" and "No Bexcuses," only to revert back to obsequious fawning over the exploits of "Goldenballs" after he showed exactly why he was in the team.
Five years have flown by, yet the 5-1 bashing of the Germans in Munich during qualifying for Japan-Korea 2002 could not seem further away. Having opened his reign as England manager with a 3-0 friendly win over Spain in February 2001, Sven Goran-Eriksson was initially the recipient of copious and effusive praise. If he was ever under any illusions regarding the changeable nature of the press in England, he soon came to his senses.
As he gave his final press conference from England's Black Forest camp on Sunday, columnists across England were etching disparaging epitaphs. Here molders Sven: a charlatan, an inept colorless Swede. A builder-up of unrealistic hopes. A spineless long-ball merchant who went from being bereft of a Plan B to having too many bloody plans. And worst of all, a whimsical squanderer of a golden generation of England footballers.
Perhaps Eriksson was overpaid. Maybe he should have done better with what he had at his disposal. But, disregarding for a moment the "value for money" question posed at Sunday's media gathering, was his 5-1/2 years in charge really that much of a failure? Lest we forget, Eriksson inherited a shambolic state of affairs from his predecessor, the tactically clueless Kevin Keegan, who had quit on the back of a humiliating 1-0 defeat at Wembley and a dismal Euro 2000 campaign which saw England fail to make the second round.
With the same talent at his disposal, Eriksson exacted crushing revenge after England had gone one down to an early Carsten Jancker strike in the aforementioned triumph in Munich. This was just six months after he had taken the reins. Granted, England was rather fortunate to take the automatic qualifying-spot for Japan-Korea, but Eriksson had achieved a degree of coherence and unity where Keegan had glaringly failed.
England made the quarters in Japan, going down to a ten-man Brazil after Eriksson tried to shut up shop. Although he was not yet being roundly berated for his ostensible lack of the much harped on about "Plan B," it would soon become a favorite line of attack for his detractors.
But what if England just wasn't good enough this past month? Is that impossible? At club level, virtually every player in the England squad is surrounded by foreign internationals adept at passing and maintaining possession. Frank Lampard has thrived in front of the inimitable Claude Makele who allows him to embark on the surging runs that have become his trademark at Chelsea. Is it a coincidence that he failed so ostentatiously to replicate that form in Germany? Owen Hargreaves was good against Sweden and by far the best player on the pitch against Portugal, but Makelele he ain't.
Sure, Eriksson might have got his tactics wrong. The use of three different systems during this World Cup led to legitimate claims of indecision. Eriksson countered these by pointing out that he could not win: when he did not change things, he was unadventurous and had (yep, you guessed it) no Plan B. When he did, he was indecisive and without a clear vision.
Despite his claims to the contrary, he also certainly erred in not bringing a fifth striker. So Eriksson must shoulder his share of the blame for his failure to take England beyond the quarterfinals this time..
But despite his shortcomings, Eriksson maintained a superb record in competitive matches with England and his overall win percentage is bettered only by Sir Alf Ramsay, the sole England manager to lead his country to World Cup glory. He is also remarkable for being the only England manager to have been in the post for three or more major competitions without failing to qualify for any of them, and for making the quarterfinals each time.
England's first qualifier for Euro 2008 will be against Andorra on September 2 and hopefully will not be too taxing. It will be interesting to see what changes new manager Steve McClaren makes in terms of personnel and formation, especially given Beckham's resignation as captain on Sunday.
Who knows how we will fare in this next campaign. But it wouldn't surprise me if, by the end of it, people start to miss the bespectacled 58-year-old from Torsby.


Updated : 2021-12-09 10:30 GMT+08:00