We thrived on Eriksson magic, says Schmeichel
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The mantra of consumer protectionism has not been far from the lips of the told-you-so faction around Nottingham these past few days. No one in Notts County colours has been spared their pitying smiles. If they see Sven Goran Eriksson, the man once famously fooled by a fake sheikh, before he leaves town for the last time, they might greet him in the same way.
The former England head coach bought into another Middle Eastern fantasy last summer, believing that a group of anonymous millionaires cloaked by an acquisitions company called Munto Finance wanted to give up to £50 million to a club who had finished the previous season in 19th place in League Two.
He embraced "the project" and continued to do so even after Munto's money proved to be a mirage, as Peter Trembling, the executive chairman who invited him to become director of football last July, searched desperately, in the face of spiralling debts and winding-up orders for unpaid tax, for new investment.
On Friday, however, the day after Trembling sold up to a businessman from Lincoln of modest means, the Swede conceded that it was over. Emotions as ever in check, he shook hands with each player, thanked them for their support, wished them well for today's fifth-round FA Cup tie at Fulham and waved goodbye to his unlikely alliance with the world's oldest League club.
Munto's Magic Bus to the Premier League is the mocking description popular in these parts. Yet if the episode looks like an embarrassment for a man who once held the top job in English management, that is not how the players he leaves behind see it. Only Sol Campbell, who quit after one game, doubted the authenticity of County's ambitions.
Kasper Schmeichel, the biggest name – Campbell excepted – among a dozen or so signings, believes there is a legacy that will bear fruit in May. Once the distraction of the FA Cup is over, the team are well placed, with a prolific goalscorer in the former Premier League striker Lee Hughes, to push for promotion.
"We're a better team and I'm a better player, 100 per cent, for being here with him [Eriksson]," the former Manchester City goalkeeper – and son of Peter – said. "He has been magnificent. He has been there every day, on the training pitch, come sun, rain, sleet or snow. He would speak to all the players. He gave us his number and said, 'Ring whenever you like'. That is the type of guy Sven is.
"I've worked with him here and at Manchester City and to work every day with a figure like him – for goodness' sake, he was the England manager – he gives you a great sense of like, 'Wow, this guy really is the business'. That has rubbed off on the whole team.
"The Premier League? Who says that one day it couldn't happen? You look at Peterborough: all of a sudden they are in the Championship from being in League Two."
It is a theme echoed by Dave Kevan, County's assistant manager and caretaker since Hans Backe quit in December.
"It was a bit surreal at first, working with Sven and Tord Grip, when you know who they are," Kevan said. "But they became part of the team in no time and I've learned so much. We'd have conversations long into the afternoon, talking about players and how he might want to play."
Kevan, you sense, might welcome quieter days ahead. Schmeichel, on the other hand, had seen it all before.
"It has reminded me a bit of what it was like at Manchester City," he said. "So in all this I've just focused on football. I was so long at Man City doing nothing that I'm just enjoying being in a long run of games. None of it [the attention] has affected my daily life."
Focus on the football: Eriksson's last words, says Schmeichel. "He knows that these things cannot be allowed to affect a team's performance and we should just be focusing on Sunday," Schmeichel said. "That's what he told us."
FA Cup fifth round
Bolton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur (ITV1, 1.30)
A fixture that normally provides plenty of goals and confirms a stereotypical view of southern softies, Spurs having won it only once in their past 12 visits, 4-3 in a League Cup tie. The year may not quite end in a '1' but Spurs could be on their way to Wembley again if they survive this time.
Fulham v Notts County (3.0)
This is one of those ties that would have looked infinitely more attractive the other way round, but Fulham won't have forgotten the humiliation of going out in recent seasons to Bristol Rovers and Leyton Orient after being given home advantage.
Crystal Palace v Aston Villa (ITV1, 3.45)
What better advertisement for a club – even better than one in the 'Financial Times' – than to be seen on national TV beating Premier League opposition? Equal incentive for Villa, who have lost fewer away games than Chelsea and Manchester United and are already booked in for the Carling Cup final this month.
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