Wily Fox Eriksson turns on that old charm again
Former England manager looks forward to his first Leicester game tomorrow with that familiar twinkling in his eyes
Friday 15 October 2010
Even the badge on Sven Goran Eriksson's gleaming white Leicester City tracksuit, depicting a fox's head, seems to suit the Swede's wily personality and reputation as a crafty, even cunning, operator.
Better, certainly, than the magpie that adorns the crest of the former England manager's last club in the East Midlands. Asked whether his reputation suffered during his seven-month tenure at Notts County, Eriksson replied bluntly: "I think so. People still ask me: 'Why the hell did you do that?'"
The answer, he revealed, was that he was tempted by the role of director of football to a club whose then owners had sold him the vision of steering the club from League Two to the Premier League. "I was happy," he recalled. "I had five years to take them through the system. But what should have happened didn't happen."
There are those, possibly even among Leicester's sizeable fan base, who will have doubts as to whether the same scenario will be played out at the Walkers Stadium, where Eriksson will take charge for the first time tomorrow against a Hull City side under the stewardship of Nigel Pearson, who led the Foxes to promotion 18 months ago.
The team Eriksson, 62, has inherited from Paulo Sousa is in the relegation zone of a division in which he has never worked, the Championship, and the club has new Thai owners, the father and son team of Vichai and Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn, with no experience of the English game.
If Leicester's position is a reflection of their abilities, he has much work to do. Do they deserve to be where they are? "Good question," Eriksson said with a twinkle of the eyes and that disarming, flattering smile that became his trademark during his five and a half years with England. "But I can't answer it. I saw them beat Scunthorpe and they played very well. But their position is awful."
Eriksson's last brush with Thai owners, under Thaksin Shinawatra at Manchester City in 2007-08, ended in dismissal by the former Prime Minister and an 8-1 defeat in his last match as a club manager, at Middlesbrough. Dr Thaksin then made him take the squad to Thailand even though he knew Eriksson was finished at Eastlands.
"The last game was awful," Eriksson said. "Things were very difficult. The players knew I was leaving and didn't want to play in protest against Thaksin. But there's no doubt about the ambition of the owners here. They want this club in the Premier League and they have told me they want that as quickly as possible. They tell me they're not in it for the short term, to take the club up and then try to sell it. I wanted to hear that from them."
Expectations can be a double-edged sword, and a local-paper columnist predicted Leicester would be "in the top six by Christmas". Eriksson views them as a blessing. "It's wonderful to work in a club, or a country, where there are great expectations," he said. "If there are no expectations, you're in the wrong place."
The England job, for him, was definitely the right place, even though it ended at the 2006 World Cup with a third successive exit from a major tournament in the quarter-finals and with his image somewhat besmirched by the Faria Alam and "Fake Sheikh" sagas. Did he have a wry smile when Fabio Capello's team incurred the wrath of the Wembley crowd? "No. Why should I smile? I want England to win. Most of the players in the squad are ones I had.
"I was extremely proud to have that job and happy every day I was in it. If it was up to me, I would have stayed, but I couldn't."
The most recent World Cup and results like Tuesday's make his already respectable reign look better all the time, but Eriksson will not be tempted into criticism of Capello, with whom he once shared an Italian rivalry when they coached Lazio and Roma respectively, saying: "He'll come through this OK because he's such a good manager."
As for his own England record, he added: "I wasn't that bad, maybe. But that's history." Having relished his return to the technical area with Ivory Coast in South Africa, he is looking forward to the tussle with Hull and Pearson. "The dugout is the closest and best place to be. Looking back, I realise how much I missed it at Notts County. Sometimes when they were training, you just felt, 'Shit. I'd like to be there'."
Eriksson is also, of course, back in his adopted country. "English people have always been kind to me," he said, flashing that seductive smile again. "I never had anyone say: 'Sven, why did you do that?' Never. During all my time as England manager."
'Of course Sven would be interested in...': Jobs Eriksson has been linked with since leaving England
No other manager has his name linked with as many vacant jobs as Sven Goran Eriksson. We round up the links since he left the England job four years ago.
Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the 2010 World Cup, claimed in March 2006 Eriksson's "attitude would be important when building a new South Africa team".
Linked with £3m-a-year deal in July 2006.
Linked with Italians in September 2006.
Agent Athole Still, May 2007: "Sven would be interested in Newcastle".
Still claimed the job was 'one of three opportunities' in January 2007, but Eriksson denied interest.
Eriksson dismissed reports linking him with the Londoners in September 2007.
The club confirms talks in May 2008.
David James, February 2009: "Somebody of his calibre would be a tremendous acquisition".
Jonas Nystedt, of the Swedish FA (Oct 2009): "There is a special list of names and Eriksson is on that list".
"I regret that I went there, it was a mistake," said Eriksson of talks with the Nigerian FA in May 2010.
Bookmakers favourite in June 2010.
Eriksson, June 2010: "I have been a fan all of my life. Would I want to be the manager of Liverpool? It is every manager's dream".
Still (July 2010): "It's a very attractive club. We've known for weeks Sven's one of the managers under consideration".
Linked in August 2010.
"Of course Sven would be interested. He has always said that he would like to go back into the Premier League," a source close to Eriksson said Still (August 2010): "There has been no contact from Villa. Sven gets associated with a lot of big jobs but, as we speak, there has been no contact".
Reports in the Saudi Arabian press last month claimed the Swede was close to agreeing a €1.5m deal.
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