Sven Goran Eriksson was calm but clearly deeply disappointed last night after he was dismissed by Leicester City's Thai owners, despite the club sitting two points off the Championship play-off positions.
"Tell me about it," Eriksson replied when The Independent expressed commiserations, a few hours after a dismissal which the 63-year-old had not seemed to be expecting when the day began, despite a 3-0 home defeat to Millwall on Saturday. Eriksson began his first newspaper column with The Independent last week in the full expectation that Leicester's owners – the Raksriaksorn family – supported him to take on a club which he had pulled clear of relegation and secured a 10th-place position for last season, after he took over 12 months ago.
Eriksson had told The Independent that the Raksriaksorns, owners of the King Power duty-free company in Thailand who invested close to £10m on players and a substantial amount in infrastructure in the close season, "want to be in the Premier League last season". Though he knew he risked the sack if the pre-season Championship favourites started the campaign badly, he also insisted that "you don't have fears". He had been under the owners' spotlight in the past two weeks, a meeting with Apichet Raksriaksorn, son of the Leicester owner and chairman, Vichai Raksriaksorn, 11 days ago, coming at the start of an extended UK stay for the Thai. Leicester lost at Birmingham within 48 hours of that meeting and though a midweek win over Watford steadied the ship, the defeat to Millwall was bitterly disappointing.
The early favourite to replace Eriksson is Martin O'Neill, who enjoyed success at the club during five years in the post between 1995-2000. The Thai's representatives had dismissed rumours that O'Neill was being lined up, which first circulated six weeks ago. It is unclear whether O'Neill would prefer a Premier League role. The same goes for Mark Hughes – Eriksson's successor at Manchester City.
Eriksson did not conduct his usual Monday post-match briefing with the press at the club's Belvoir Drive training base yesterday and seemed to be particularly frustrated by the nature of the defeat to Millwall – Leicester's third at home in seven league matches. He was unhappy with the team's inconsistency, which was not helping what he had told this newspaper was one of his "biggest challenges" in football. His departure caps a turbulent four years following his dismissal by another Thai, Thaksin Shinawatra, at Manchester City. There was a 13-month period managing the Mexican national side, followed by the chaotic seven months at Notts County where the money promised by the Munto Finance Middle East consortium was not forthcoming.
Eriksson is likely to have an appetite for another role in the game though his contentment in England, where he says he has admired the respect he is afforded, has been tempered by challenging owners. Reflecting on the resignation of his friend Steve McClaren in last week's Independent column, he said: "People ask me whether I miss managing in a country's premier division but Steve's experience in the city where I had my own problems shows that the pressure is very strong at this level, too."
Eriksson said he had trusted the Raksriaksorns not to deal with him in the same way as Shinawatra. But they had warned: "I expect us to challenge for the Championship title and be in the Premier League next season."