Bewildered Swede cast out of a nation's heart

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The Independent Football

The Swede has barely no supporters left. His allies among the players are dwindling, the Football Association hierarchy are aghast at last night's defeat and in newspapers and on television this morning he will find himself cast out for ever from the nation's affections. But what Eriksson does possess in his favour is a contract that lasts until the end of the European Championships in 2008 that pays him £4.2m a year and there still seems little chance that he will be abandoning that before the summer at least.

Beyond that, however, there will have to be change. The pretension that this Eriksson regime is any less vulnerable to disaster to all those that have preceded it has expired. From now on the comfortable compromises of his management style will no longer be acceptable.

As he commences his scouting tour of the Premiership this weekend, the pressure on Eriksson to make changes to a team that is patently incapable of winning the World Cup finals in its current state will reach an unprecedented pitch. He can no longer hope to shake up the formation but must instead make the kind of difficult, personalised decisions to drop players that he has managed to avoid for his four and a half years in charge.

The focus will fall primarily upon his midfield where the pairing of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard looks to have drifted beyond repair. The long-evity of David Beckham in the holding midfield role now seems shot and serious doubt was cast upon Shaun Wright-Phillips' development as a right-wing option last night. There is no future in 4-5-1 if these are the players to interpret it.

In attack, Wayne Rooney's temper is no better than that night in Spain last November when Eriksson made an uncharacteristically bold decision to substitute the volcanic teenager as his calm was lost in the Bernabeu.

Michael Owen was perhaps the most forlorn of his players last night, lost in a role that does not suit him, marooned by team-mates who could not provide for him.

But Eriksson's problems run far deeper than the question of formation and personnel. He looked bereft of ideas, vaguely pathetic as he wandered around his technical area last night, sending Owen Hargreaves on for a team that needed a goal not a defensive midfielder.

As usual, Eriksson accepted defeat with grace and patience. He remains a decent man who has little that is offensive about his personality but is perhaps only now starting to find out what an unknowable monster of a job he has taken on.

What this team requires most of all is an identity, Something it can relate to in times of crisis, a strength, a fundamental quality to see it through the most difficult days. While the England team remains a collection of some talent, it still lacks that core to its being that can only be provided by a manager.

We suspected as much about Eriksson before last night - the horrors at Windsor Park confirmed it to be true.

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