A modern type of major-general

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The Independent Online

A Championship winning coach in three countries, polyglot and citizen of Europe, Sven Goran Eriksson is the very model of a modern football major-general. In Italy he has had his critics - who in Italian football has not? - but most were silenced last May when he delivered the Serie A title to Lazio, the traditional Roman underdogs, after a 26-year wait.

A Championship winning coach in three countries, polyglot and citizen of Europe, Sven Goran Eriksson is the very model of a modern football major-general. In Italy he has had his critics - who in Italian football has not? - but most were silenced last May when he delivered the Serie A title to Lazio, the traditional Roman underdogs, after a 26-year wait.

For almost all that time, he had been working his way round the continent, coaching in his native Sweden, then Portugal, in two spells, and with four different Italian clubs. Born in Torsby in February 1948, Eriksson's first managerial job was with the lowly Swedish side Degerfors, from 1976-78.

IFK Gothenburg, then slipping behind the European Cup finalists Malmö and other Swedish sides, were sufficiently impressed by his work to identify him as the man to restore something of their former glory, made him their coach and, like Lazio two decades later, were rewarded with a first national championship for many a day.

Since 1982, he has worked in southern Europe, initially bringing successive titles to Benfica of Lisbon and earning an even more lucrative move to Italy for the first time, with AS Roma, who had just lost the European Cup final on penalties.

Some Romans were not impressed by his failure to build on that season's success, but, like the archetypal modern foreign coach, he had already taken to working in two or three-year spells and moving on - something that might give the Football Association pause for thought.

Fiorentina were next from 1987-89, before a return to Portugal and Benfica from 1989-92, where another title was achieved. Back in Italy at Sampdoria, a longer period of five years followed. He was taking over a club that had reached three European finals in its Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini inspired peak, but were again failing to capitalise on such promise.

In Genoa he worked with David Platt, the urbane and intelligent England player, who regarded him highly and could now be in line for some sort of promotion to work with him if he so desired.

In the summer of 1997, it seemed certain that Eriksson would strike out for England, where few foreign coaches had by that time trod. Ray Harford, given the unenviable task of carrying on where Kenny Dalglish all of a sudden left off after winning the Premiership for Blackburn Rovers, had reluctantly thrown in the towel and Eriksson agreed to succeed him.

As an English-speaker and an Anglophile, as well versed in English football as all Scandinavians, he was an imaginative choice, but mysteriously, the deal was suddenly off and the itinerant Swede was off to Lazio instead.

"I was sorry about the situation with Blackburn," he said last year. "I have always admired English football, especially the Liverpool model of the 1970s and the early 1980s. I was looking forward to working at Blackburn, but then there were personal reasons that kept me in Italy instead."

Whether that meant a wife's preference - or indeed, his own, equally understandable - for Rome as opposed to the Ribble Valley was never made clear. At Lazio, he bought some time and then bought some players, winning the Italian Cup (for the third time) and reaching the Uefa Cup final in his first season, while taking the team to a modest seventh place in the league.

Backed up by the serious wealth of the Lazio president Sergio Cragnotti and the Banco di Roma, Eriksson was encouraged to spend millions of pounds, let alone lire, in a spree that could be said to have fuelled the transfer explosion across Europe and left Brussels politicians determined to do something to stop it.

More than £70m was invested in players like Marcelo Salas and Christian Vieiri and Lazio suddenly took off, with a run of nine successive victories that sent them to the top of the Serie A table. Milan would pip them by a point to the championship, but winning the Uefa Cup at Villa Park against Real Mallorca (who had just knocked out Chelsea) and a Champions' League place were valuable consolation prizes.

Chelsea had to wait only a few months to take on the Romans, both sides progressing through the second phase of last season's Champions' League before going out in the quarter-finals. Eriksson enjoyed his visit to London, winning 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, more so than last month's to Highbury, where Arsenal beat his under-performing team 2-0.

Lazio have again qualified, along with Arsenal, for the second phase of the Champions' League and could yet meet the Gunners again. It seems he will return to England, in any case, but another meeting with Arsÿne Wenger in the knock-out stage, after choosing Lazio instead of Blackburn, where Roy Hodgson took over, would bring a certain symmetry to the FA's search for their man.

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