Football: So, Eriksson refuses to take a moral line on Ashley Cole? No surprise there, then...

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The Independent Online
SVEN GORAN Eriksson, the man who shapes the tactics and the working ethos of our national team, believes that, if it happened, it was perfectly fine for Ashley Cole to sit down, while slap bang in the middle of his contract with Arsenal and a desperate battle to save the title, and listen to the blandishments of Chelsea.

This, said Eriksson, was a right of Cole shaped by the fact that he lives in a democracy rather than a dictatorship.

You may think this is a stupefying commentary on the perspective of a man with huge influence in a game so bereft of any workable morality, but then he does earn more than pounds 4m year from Football Association employers whose reaction to his own secret talks with Chelsea was to tip up another million a year.

Who wouldn't be a passionate supporter of "democracy" in such sweet circumstances? Democracy works brilliantly for Eriksson, despite performances in a World Cup and a European Championship that in most places on the football planet would have led to a swift act of dictatorship, which is to say the chop. It worked well enough for Robbie Savage, when he walked out on his contract at Birmingham after offering the gut-wrenching excuse that he wanted to be nearer his parents.

Yes, of course it is a terrible concept, dictatorship, and no doubt unredeemed by the fact that it does get the trains running on time and also has a tendency to produce winning football teams. However, in the workings of a game which is suffering an epidemic of cheating on the field and cynicism off it, nor is "democracy" exactly enjoying its finest moment.

The point that Eriksson totally misses when he tells a bunch of sportswriters that they too are open to the highest offer - under democratic rules - is that along with the unique privileges enjoyed by today's footballers there are certain responsibilities. Loyalty, at least in the course of a freely entered contract, is not an unreasonable demand on a vastly rewarded footballer like Ashley Cole. It is a basic requirement if the fans, who ultimately give the game its point, are not to become - as things are going, somewhere not so long down the road - utterly disillusioned.

The fact is that Eriksson is the last man able to take a moral position on the Cole case. How could he criticise a player who, it may prove to be, did no more than he did when he was caught at the apartment of the Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon? Eriksson carried the hopes of all England supporters when he went to see what Roman Abramovich had on the table, just as Cole did if it is true he met with Kenyon and Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's manager.

For the FA the issue is quite simple. If it is proved that Chelsea did indeed illegally approach Cole they have to pay a serious price, and the only meaningful one given the wealth at their disposal is the docking of championship points. It is pathetic that some argue that such a penalty would be too severe. What is the point of rules if they can be flouted without significant cost?

There is, obviously, only one alternative to stringent action against a Chelsea club - if they are proved guilty - who under the leadership of Kenyon appear to think that the power created by money makes its own laws and conscience. It is to wipe away the regulations against "tapping up", something which has always existed in football but never to such a grotesque degree as today. And then what do we have? Legalised plundering of the resources of less wealthy clubs. Cherry-picking for the rich, grim futility for those who are not.

Eriksson's football democracy promises what? Nothing so much as complete abandonment of the concept of loyalty, for an agreed time, to the fans of one particular club, many of whom invest their spirit as well as their money.

What, you have to wonder, did the England coach's interrogator expect yesterday? Surely nothing more than the smart answer he received. The biggest lie is that football is like just any other business. If this is now truly so, Eriksson can verbally tap dance as long as he likes without disturbing the essential point. It is that if you take away all trust between a fan and his team, and if you make it official, the dream of football is, right at its heart, quite dead.

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