Fake sheikh reveals Eriksson 'bid to quit England'

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The Independent Online

As someone who has featured regularly on the front page of the News of the World, Sven Goran Eriksson should perhaps have been suspicious when he was invited to Dubai to enjoy the hospitality of an Arab sheikh.

The England football manager was yesterday left to rue the moment he entered the world's only seven-star hotel to eat crab cakes and lobster during "private" discussions with the "monied prince" about his future career.

In a case of what his agent claimed was "disgraceful entrapment", Mr Eriksson found himself revealing his ambitions to Mazher Mahmood, the "fake sheikh" behind the News of the World's stings on figures from the Countess of Wessex to a cocaine-snorting Tory peer.

The Football Association last night insisted that Mr Eriksson had its "full support" despite a catalogue of indiscretions to the Sunday paper's undercover team, including a claim that he would leave his England role after this summer's World Cup in return for a £5m-a-year contract to manage a Premiership club.

In Dubai's sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel, where Mr Eriksson and his entourage drank wine and champagne costing £900, it is claimed the England coach made a number of frank comments to his hosts about his career plans and several high-profile players.

Mr Eriksson and his agent, Athole Still, were claimed to have suggested Aston Villa as a club which the bogus Arab prince could buy for £25m - before making the Swede manager. Mr Eriksson talked about Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham, suggesting the England captain was unhappy at Real Madrid and could be tempted back to Britain.

In a statement last night, Eriksson, 57, said he was staying in the £4.2m-a-year England job and had received the support of the players he discussed with the undercover reporters, including Ferdinand, who he had suggested was "lazy sometimes".

Mr Eriksson said: "I would like to assure everyone, especially the fans, that I'm 100 per cent committed to the England job. I've told the FA this and I value the great support I have received from them. I have spoken with the players concerned today and I have been very pleased with their reaction."

The revelations from the usually reticent Swede came after he was lured to Dubai earlier this month by Mahmood, the paper's investigations editor. The FA were told by Mr Eriksson's advisers that he was travelling to the Middle East to discuss a consultancy role at a football academy.

But once enjoying the sheikh's hospitality, it was claimed that Eriksson showed little reluctance about discussing other matters, including his future after England's World Cup appearance in Germany this summer. After saying that his five-and-a-half years as England manager was a "long time", Mr Eriksson at first laughed when asked if he could be prised away from his current role.

The undercover reporter then said: "But you're not allowed to do two jobs, are you?" To which Mr Eriksson replied: "No, but everything is possible. But only at the end of the season." During a trip on a 72ft yacht, it was claimed Mr Eriksson and Mr Still discussed possible salaries for managing Aston Villa and the figure of £5m - claimed to be the salary of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho - was raised.

The Swede described Rooney as having a temper and "coming from a poor family" and said Owen, who joined Newcastle in a £17m transfer from Real Madrid last summer, had only moved to the North-east for the money.The revelations are the latest aspect of Mr Eriksson's life to be opened to public scrutiny thanks to the media's enduring fascination with the first foreigner to manage the England side. In April 2002, his affair with television presenter Ulrika Jonsson was revealed, jeopardising his relationship with his Italian girlfriend, Nancy dell'Olio. Another affair, this time with the FA secretary Faria Alam, was revealed in 2004.

Mr Eriksson's focus on the England job was questioned in 2003 when he was photographed entering the home of the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Mr Still denied yesterday that he and Mr Eriksson had been negotiating with the reporters. He said: "They said they had a substantial sum of money to invest in a premiership club. I mentioned Aston Villa and Sunderland.

"The rest of the conversation was sheer fantasy. At no point did Sven say he would not honour his contract with England."

Mahmood's "fake sheikh" routine has been in use since 1984, with the Countess of Wessex, the England rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio, the DJ Johnnie Walker and the Tory peer the Earl of Hardwicke all being caught making revealing statements.

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