A Still, small voice in the revolution

The Eriksson coup was the brainchild of not one Scot, but two - and things in England will never be the same
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Last Saturday night, Adam Crozier shed a few tears. But then so did his wife, whom the Football Association's chief executive had taken to see the film Billy Elliot, an unlikely and uplifting story of the triumph of dedication to a cause - a young boy yearning to become aballet dancer - over prejudice.

Last Saturday night, Adam Crozier shed a few tears. But then so did his wife, whom the Football Association's chief executive had taken to see the film Billy Elliot, an unlikely and uplifting story of the triumph of dedication to a cause - a young boy yearning to become aballet dancer - over prejudice.

Perhaps the moral of the tale struck a chord with him. Whether it did or not, the FA's chief executive was a relaxed man. Far more than one charged with the responsibility of head-hunting England's next football coach had a right to be, had he not been secure in the knowledge that Sven Goran Eriksson was close to signing away five years of his life for the privilege of salvaging the stricken national team. By Saturday, all that could come between Crozier exposing England's international future to a golden new dawn, or the leaden stormclouds of further depression, depending upon your point of view, was the agreement of Lazio's president, Sergio Cragnotti, and the negotiation of the Swede's near £15m contract.

The following day, the deal involving Eriksson's own version of a job-share was struck and three days later the Lazio coach flew in from Rome to a hastily arranged press conference, staged appropriately enough near the ancient Roman city of Verulamium, these days known as St Albans. The Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, one of the prime movers in the capture, remarkedhow "incredibly quickly Sven Goran Eriksson has been delivered to the nation".

It was all expedited so swiftly thanks principally to one man, Athole Still. The avuncular, softly spoken Aberdonian, having spent the last few weeks as Steve Redgrave's agent organising life after five golds, handled the Eriksson deal as the Swede's representative. The pair first met in 1986 when Eriksson had wanted to sign John Barnes, managed by Still, for Roma. The deal fell through, but the former opera singer maintained contact with the coach.

When it emerged that Eriksson was on the FA's "wanted list", Still kept the Swede informed. "Sven'sreaction, from the beginning, was always positive," recalled Still. "He would say to me, 'That would be interesting. What a challenge'. Then, late last Saturday, it became clear to me that they were going to offer him the job. I met with Sven on my own on Sunday. Then, Adam Crozier and David Dein came out late on the Sunday night, and we all went for a meeting on a Monday afternoon with Cragnotti, and others from the club, including Dino Zoff. It went on for two and half hours, and everything was discussed in a surprisingly friendly manner. Cragnotti's attitude was a very generous one. His view was, 'This is a lifedecision for him. You don't get this kind of challenge every day, so I will do everything possible to make it work for him.'"

So, England got their man. Or will do so eventually. Possibly, even by 28 February, the date of their friendly against Spain. They are prepared to wait for their first choice, which they continue to insist has always been Eriksson, although Arsÿne Wenger would clearly have held that position if he had been on the short-list of three (which contained one Englishman, probably Roy Hodgson). According to the FA, though, he wasn't on it because he was "unavailable" - though it later became apparent that he was never actually asked directly.

"It [the decision to target Eriksson] was unanimous," said Dein. "It was very clear that Arsÿne Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to respect their contracts. This was all about the art of the possible. Who could we get? There was no point wasting our energies on someone we couldn't get."

Nevertheless, there remains something unsatisfactory about such an obvious contender being overlooked quite so readily. But Crozier would only add: "The whole selection team agreed that the person we wanted was Sven Goran Eriksson. Arsÿne Wenger doesn't come into that."

Neither did Terry Venables who, to the chagrin of many, was rejected from consideration. "We were very clear that at the top of ourcriteria was a sustained record of success," explained Crozier. "There's no question that Sven has had that. He's won championships in Sweden, Portugual and Italy. I'm not being rude about him at all, I promise you, but the fact is, looking at pure footballing terms, Terry hasn't had that success over the last four years."

Until proved otherwise, even the curmudgeonly players' union chief executive, Gordon Taylor, who predicted, "It will be tears before bedtime", cannot dispute the 52-year-old Swede's pedigree. But some have already began to belittle the man referred to by the FA as Eriksson's "eyes and ears", the evocatively named Tord Grip, who apparently spent a year as the manager of Norway without winning a single game.

But otherwise there was little that was going to disturb the tone of triumphalism on Thursday as Eriksson, all bronzed, blond and toothy smile, was paraded like a spoil of battle. He was not exactly forthcoming on future plans for England. "David Beckham - what is his best position?" someone asked optimistically. Eriksson laughed. "I need at least a couple of practices with him before we decide that." There was also to be no discussion of England's errors past from the man who maintained that Brazil were the only other national team he would have considered.

"The most important thing is to create a good group, a good ambience, of people who are going to love the English team," he said, innocent presumably of stories circulating about cliques operating within the England team and card schools playing for £10,000 a hand. "If you don't have that, you will never get good results." Eriksson insisted that World Cup qualification should not be surrended prematurely. "Of course, you must plan for the future, but to give up World Cup qualification now would be very stupid."

By any estimation, the cats at the top table alongside Eriksson on Thursday - Crozier, Dein and the FA executive director, David Davies - were slurping at the cream. Yet, they will be aware that some in the game will be hoping, privately, that it will all turn sour. Others comprehend the logic behind the appointment, but need persuading that the structure will have the desired effect of continuity and allow England to flourish and not degenerate into political warfare between different factions.

I put it to Eriksson that the relationship between his aide and the men appointed as England's princes-in-waiting, Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren, could be a source of conflict. "In football as in life, it's important to have different ideas," he said. "Otherwise it would be very boring and not constructive. It is important to know that when I take charge I will take the decisions. But I am a very good listener. When I take a decision I am very [he banged the table for emphasis] sure."

Nevertheless, a set-up in which Eriksson and Grip, the FA technical director Howard Wilkinson, Taylor, McClaren, Brian Kidd and Alan Curbishley all have some input, with others like Stuart Pearce, Tony Adams and Alan Shearer beneath them, could be the source of clique-based power struggles. Crozier disagreed. "In the long run, having a clean start will prove to be a very good thing," he explained. "1966 was absolutely fantastic, but we have done nothing since then. We are not in the frame, at the moment, of countries that can win tournaments. To do that we have to have a real sea change in the way we do things."

He added: "The intention is to have three or four coaches ready, so that, as the French and Germans have found, at the point the head coach moves on one will be ready to step into the breach. By just having one guy as 'the chosen one' it puts an incredible pressure on that person and their club." That remains a distant concern, if the FA have got their priorities correct.

Only the myopic or the xenophobic could condemn their philosophy of placing reputation before national identity. Crozier was right to condemn the comments of Gordon Taylor and Jack Charlton, describing the reaction of suchcritics as "absolute nonsense". Whether Eriksson is the man for the job will become clearer by next summer.

The demands on him will be absurdly high; far greater than on an Englishman. The FA have total faith in their selection. "It's up to Sven to show the public how good he is through the team he picks and the way the players react to that," Crozier said. If the Swede fails to achieve that, he will not be the only one to depart in ignominy. "We take collective responsibility," interjected Dein, when I asked Crozier what it meant for him if, to use the common vernacular, it all went belly-up. The likelihood is that there will be those leading the FA revolution who will lose a Grip, in more senses than one.