Sven Goran Eriksson: Enjoying his second helping of Thai owners
The Leicester City manager tells Ian Herbert that a return to the Premier League is on the menu after taxing times with Thaksin Shinawatra
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 about his treatment, 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, including Jerome Anderson.
There have been odd reminders recently of Thaksin, the man who destroyed the shot at Premier League football which Eriksson so coveted. In Thailand, five days before this summer's elections, Eriksson spotted a vaguely familiar face on all the general election posters before he realised it was Thaksin's sister Yingluck, who has now come to power. "I saw her face and I said, 'I know her! She came to City games! And now she has won!" he recalls.
But he is willing to forgive Thailand its political dynasty. It probably helps, that he is working with businessmen, not politicians, now, he says and 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, re-laid 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 where he found himself out of his depth and often vilified. "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 of the player. "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 relentless 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.
It is hard to envisage Mario Balotelli or Carlos Tevez embracing Nottingham, but Eriksson did, from the apartment he kept for seven months.
"Not very central but a very nice park; I was very happy," he says. "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 have never heard anyone being rude [to] me."
He tells a rather fine story of the time he attended a 2009 one-day international against Australia at Trent Bridge. "It's difficult. I think I was sitting with the chairman of the cricket club, or something. I was asking, 'Is it half-time now? He said, 'no half time!"
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."
If anything, this is like his "first really professional job", as he puts it – at Gothenburg, where his challenge was to take the club into Europe, he succeeded, and stayed three years. That was when his great friend Roy Hodgson was taking Malmo to great heights with Bob Houghton and Nottingham Forest's win over them in the 1979 European Cup final is still vivid. "It was 1-0. John Robertson crossed left-footed and there was a goal by Trevor Francis. I never met Brian Clough but I knew all about him."
Leicester fans won't care to be reminded of that particular British triumph but the East Midlands is certainly hungry for a hint of the triumph Clough that brought.
A big 'ead Eriksson certainly does not possess but his quiet conviction is that his new Thai friends could help him bring back the glories.
The multinational manager
2002 World Cup Quarter-finals, lost to Brazil 2-1
Euro 2004 Quarter-finals, lost to Portugal (2-2 aet, 6-5 pens)
2006 World Cup Quarter-finals, lost to Portugal (0-0 aet, 3-1 pens)
Sven Goran Eriksson's record as England manager is bettered only by that of Sir Alf Ramsey. He improved England's Fifa world ranking from 17th place in January 2001 to fifth in July 2006, reaching fourth during the 2006 World Cup.
Eriksson was less successful, however, as manager of Mexico. A 3-1 World Cup qualifying defeat at the hands of Honduras prompted his long-awaited dismissal and was greeted by a "victory rally", attended by an estimated 30,000 angry supporters.
Eriksson had an unexceptional playing career, as a right-back in the lower leagues of Swedish football. He was forced into early retirement by a knee injury, aged 31, playing for Karlskoga.
It was at Karlskoga where Eriksson first met Tord Grip. Upon his retirement, Eriksson was invited by Grip to join Degerfors' coaching staff. Grip was then appointed national team manager, allowing Eriksson to take over and guide Degerfors to promotion.
League title, domestic cups (2), Uefa Cup
Success at Degerfors attracted the attention of larger clubs. Appointed at Göteborg in 1979, Eriksson won the Swedish Cup in his first season. He went on to win the treble of the league, Swedish Cup and Uefa Cup.
League titles (2), domestic cup
In his first season in charge at Benfica, Eriksson just missed out on another treble. Winning the league (with just one game lost), and the Portuguese Cup but losing to Anderlecht in the Uefa Cup final.
His first crack at the big time resulted in just one domestic cup while at Roma.
Despite the talents of striker Roberto Baggio, Eriksson failed to win silverware at a club for the first time in his career.
Eriksson returned to where he knew best and was a whisker away from winning the grandest prize of all, the European Cup in 1990. Milan won 1-0 but the Swede celebrated domestic glory with the league title in 1991.
Eriksson had unfinished business in Italy. Regular top-half finishes and a domestic cup were enough for Lazio to tempt him away at the end of his reign.
League title, Italian Cups (2), European Cup-Winners' Cup
During his time at Lazio, £250m was spent on the likes of Pavel Nedved, Roberto Mancini and Pipo Inzaghi and the club's free-spending policy paid off as his side won the Coppa Italia in both 1999 and 2000. Erikkson also won the last ever European Cup-Winners' Cup and Lazio's second league title.
Manchester City, 2007-08
Thaksin Shinawatra was happy to provide a home for Eriksson after he resigned from his England post. Shinawatra's impatience, however, saw the Swede sacked at the end of the season.
Notts County (Director of Football), 2009-10
Following Notts' takeover by Middle East consortium Munto Finance, the Swede became director of football, having been swayed by the club's ambition. But that could not be matched with money, and unpaid tax bills and County's large debts led to Eriksson's resignation.
Leicester City, 2010 - present
Taking over in October last year, Eriksson took the Foxes from the relegation zone to a top-10 finish in the Championship.
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