Eriksson savours second helping of Thai owners

Leicester City manager tells Ian Herbert that a return to the Premier League is on the menu after taxing times with Thaksin
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Don't let it be said that Sven Goran Eriksson hasn't invested time getting to grips with life under South-East Asian ownership. A fat biography of Mao Tse-tung was kept on the bedside table of the Valentino Suite of the Manchester Radisson, where he lived during his 10 months working for Thaksin Shinawatra at Manchester City. "It's that thick!" he told The Independent at the time and now he can confirm that he long ago finished it. "You know I read and I like history and, yes, I finished the biography about Mao," he says. "I don't know what you can say about that story. It was amazing, awful really in many ways, but amazing."

Which you might say sums up his relationship with Thailand. Eriksson was forced to lead City on a farcical post-season tour of the country in 2008, when already aware that he would be sacked, and despite the justifiable sense of indignation that he still feels, the 63-year-old decided within just 24 hours of meeting another Thai tycoon – Vichai Raksriaksorn, who commands a $200m (£123m) fortune from his King Power duty-free stores – to accept his challenge to lead Leicester City back up to the Premier League.

His latest Thai bosses seem to have scarcely more patience than the last, yet Eriksson insists there is a difference. He looked Raksriaksorn and his father in the eye at a London hotel last year, he says, whereas Thaksin's offer to him came, second- hand, through his football advisers.

The extraordinary overhaul at Leicester this summer underlines that Raksriaksorn will not heap on Eriksson the kind of farce had to endure at Notts County, whose owner's plans so spectacularly unravelled last year.

Player investment, which may near £10m; a new fans' store resembling one of the vast Thai airport duty-free stores Raksriaksorn monopolises; a pitch, with artificial weave, relaid to the specification of the Emirates and Wembley; a virtual rebuild of the training facility and pitches: Leicester look like a club who, as Eriksson puts it, "want to be in the Premier League last season".

There is a distinct Manchester City dimension to the reshaped squad, because Eriksson found so many players cast out by that club whom he feels have the work ethic he is looking for; and the erudite, multilingual Gelson Fernandes provided a sense of the enthusiasm that Eriksson's languid style can fire in players when he walked into his new job yesterday. "He has a way of speaking to you that comforts you. You feel more comfortable, relaxed. You want him to be happy," the Swiss midfielder said.

Paul Konchesky, who has arrived for £1m, needs some of it, too, after a desperate time at Liverpool. "I heard a little bit that he was not popular at Liverpool but I don't know the story behind it and I never tried to find out because it was not interesting to me," Eriksson says. "But when we found out he was available we tried to take him because I knew him as a person, the quality he has." Michael Johnson, battered by injury, might also feel lost. "He is outstanding as a midfielder and if he can just keep fit and be close to what he was he has everything." Eriksson's protégé Roberto Mancini will no doubt watch with interest.

The transfer strategy is simple – only players experienced in the Championship or higher are sought – and Eriksson's demeanour, patiently acceding to relentless media demands yesterday, also seems to belong to simpler days. No manager has been more beloved by staff at City in the recent era than Eriksson and, after the white heat of his England days, he has found a curious kind of kinship in the East Midlands.

"The reason why I'm here and very happy is the football and the quality and the atmosphere around it. The English people are always very educated and respectful. All the time I have been here, I've never heard anyone being rude [to] me."

He views the advent of a do-or-die campaign with typical equanimity – and perspective is certainly easier when you've had Lazio's owner, Sergio Cragnotti, telling you, "win something or I'll sack you in June" in the January of your third season. "You don't have fears," Eriksson says. "This is one of my biggest challenges but I've had a couple."