FA knew Eriksson 'The Seagull' had a 'roving eye' - but did he lie over affair?

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The Independent Online

From an over-paid tactical novice to an icy footballing genius, Sven Goran Eriksson has been labelled many things since becoming England coach. But never before has he been likened to a randy sea bird.

That is the arresting image of the £4m-a-year coach that emerged yesterday from the lips of his boss at the Football Association, David Davies, during the employment tribunal case being brought by Mr Eriksson's former lover, Faria Alam.

Speaking to a colleague in the FA canteen a day after the claims of an affair were made public by a newspaper last summer, Mr Davies said: "I know Sven has a roving eye. I know he is like a seagull and can wrap his wings around people. But both parties categorically deny this [affair]. It is untrue."

The seabird image recalled a comment by Eric Cantona. After the kung fu attack on a foul-mouthed fan, which heralded his exit from the English game, Cantona said: "When seagulls follow a trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

But Mr Davies's comment could have repercussions for Mr Eriksson because they imply that hemisled his employer about his liaison with Ms Alam. She was working at the FA as personal assistant to Mr Davies when the affair began shortly before the Euro 2004 tournament.

The FA was under pressure last night to call Mr Eriksson to give evidence at the tribunal.

Ms Alam's lawyers said his private assurances to Mr Davies contradicted his public statements that he was never asked by his employer to confirm or deny the affair.

The "seagull" remark by Mr Davies, 57, who faces a separate claim of sexual harassment from Ms Alam, was made on 19 July last year - a day after allegations that Mr Eriksson was having an affair first emerged in the News of the World.

Giving evidence at the tribunal hearing in central London, Mr Davies said he had phoned Mr Eriksson on 17 July, before the story was published.

He said: "I can say I believed quite clearly at the end of that conversation he was not having an affair with my personal assistant."

Ms Alam, 39, who is claiming about £35,000 compensation from the FA for sex discrimination, breach of contract and unfair dismissal, admitted she had lied to her bosses but said she had only done so after being told by Mr Eriksson he would do the same.

But in a series of fiery exchanges, Mr Davies repeatedly refused to accept that Mr Eriksson's denial of the affair had been a "lie". Simon Cheetham, for Ms Alam, told the tribunal the FA had employed double standards - subjecting Ms Alam to close questioning and secret briefings while leaving Mr Eriksson alone.

Mr Davies later admitted that the England manager had not been sufficiently "frank" about his relationship with Ms Alam. Asked whether he was happy with Mr Eriksson's conduct, the FA executive director paused for some time before saying: "I'd have preferred that there had been greater frankness all round. Mr Eriksson would have been one of those people for greater frankness."

Mr Davies said he could not recall the exact nature of the questions he put to Mr Eriksson on 17 July. But he admitted he had a precise memory of a call to Ms Alam minutes later, asking her if she was sleeping with the England manager and obtaining her denial.

Mr Cheetham told the FA boss: "You are absolutely prepared to roast Ms Alam for telling a lie and give chapter and verse on what she said. But when it comes to anything Mr Eriksson said, your memory goes."

Mr Davies rejected Ms Alam's claims that he made suggestive remarks and tried to kiss her. Denying he would get so close to her in the "seriously small" lifts at the FA's offices that she had to rebuff him, Mr Davies said: "I have no recollection of being pushed away by any woman in my life."