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Naive Eriksson pays the price for scandals

Naive Eriksson pays the price for scandals

Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign as England's first foreign manager has been a tale of one spectacular result, two mediocre tournaments and a Scandinavian forest's worth of tabloid spreads about his off-field activities.

Like two of his three predecessors in the job, Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables, the Swede's main problems have had little or nothing to do with the performance of the team.

From his failure to disclose "categorically," as he put it, to his Football Association bosses whether he had a brief relationship with an FA secretary in 2004, to last week's "fake Sheikh" sting in a Sunday tabloid, controversy has followed him around.

Last week's News of the World story, in which a journalist posed as a wealthy Arab businessman, quoted Eriksson as saying he would dump his England job to take over Aston Villa.

The story also contained Eriksson's candid comments about several England players.

Exhausting FA patience

A week later, a further story in the same newspaper quoted the Swede as saying that three Premier League clubs had been involved in illegal payments in relation to transfers.

It appears that story finally exhausted the FA's patience with a man they have stood by through thick and thin and paid a king's ransom. On Monday, they announced he would leave his post as head coach after this June's World Cup.

Eriksson became England manager in January 2001 after a distinguished career in charge of IFK Gothenburg, Benfica, AS Roma, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Lazio.

On the surface the slim, suited 57-year-old with the air of a diplomat seemed the ideal appointment for the FA after the roller-coaster reigns of Venables, Hoddle and Kevin Keegan.

Eriksson's dignified demeanour, though, masked an almost naive attitude to the more mischievous elements of the English press.

Unmarried but living with a long-term Italian partner, Eriksson survived the revelation of an affair with Swedish television presenter Ulrika Jonsson in 2002.

A year later speculation was rampant that he was about to become Chelsea manager after he was photographed outside the home of the club's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich and later with Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon.

Eriksson was handed an extended deal in 2004 that would take him though to Euro 2008 - a lucrative contract that made him one of the highest-paid managers in world football.

England was a little unlucky in losing on penalties to hosts Portugal in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004, having had a last-minute winner ruled out in normal time.

Germany thrashing

In simple terms, the performance represented no progress from the 2002 World Cup, when England lost to Brazil in the quarterfinals and departed with a similar sense of what might have been.

Eriksson's current squad is the most talented England have possessed since the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where they reached the semifinals.

With striker Wayne Rooney, who Eriksson plunged into the side as a 17-year-old, now established as one of the sport's great talents, and a midfield that is the envy of the world, England will be realistic challengers in Germany.

With Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Chelsea duo Frank Lampard and John Terry, not to mention Real Madrid's David Beckham, England will expect to reach at least the semifinals.

If the discovery of Rooney is Eriksson's biggest legacy - on the pitch at least - his finest hour was the 5-1 demolition of Germany in a World Cup qualifier on September 1, 2001.

Over 90 glorious minutes, England supporters and their modest manager could scarcely believe their eyes as the team tore apart the Germans at Munich's Olympic stadium, recording their biggest victory over their old foes.

For that result alone, England supporters will probably always have a soft spot for the Swede who erred once too often.

If he could deliver the World Cup, 50 years after England lifted the trophy against Germany at Wembley, even his most fierce critics would give him a grudging pat on the back.

Updated : 2021-06-25 06:02 GMT+08:00