England make their move for Eriksson

The Keegan Succession: Swede poised to become first foreign coach to lead national side as FA talks of 'real progress'
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Sven Goran Eriksson, the urbane, bespectacled Swede who is currently coaching Lazio, has announced he will be quitting the Italian club in the summer.

Sven Goran Eriksson, the urbane, bespectacled Swede who is currently coaching Lazio, has announced he will be quitting the Italian club in the summer.

The move has fueled speculation that he is set to become England's first foreign manager after the Football Association claimed "real progress" in the pursuit of his services last night.

Lazio president Sergio Cragnotti confirmed his erstwhile manager was ready to make a move, saying: "He has made a choice about his life".

After an evening of mounting speculation last night, David Davies, the FA's executive director, issued a statement which held out the hope of the 52-year-old Eriksson assuming charge of the England squad for World Cup qualifying matches next spring before taking up a full-time appointment on 1 July.

Confirming that meetings had taken place over the past 24 hours between FA officials and Eriksson, as well as with representatives of Lazio, the statement continued: "The FA has discussed the possibility of his taking charge of the team both for key games in the short-term and in a full-time capacity in the long term. Talks will resume in the near future."

Davies later said that it was "premature" to suggest that the FA had "got its man", but he added: "Real progress has been made and talks will continue in the next few days."

Sources close to Lancaster Gate indicated that the FA is confident that Eriksson will be at the helm for the crucial World Cup qualifying fixtures against Finland (on 24 March), Albania (28 March) and Greece (6 June). Reports that he will be assisted by David Platt, the Nottingham Forest manager who played under him at Sampdoria, are being discounted.

Eriksson, who is understood to have been offered a contract for a minimum of three years plus an annual salary of £2m, is expected to remain with the Italian champions until his three-year deal expires next summer.

If the England appointment comes to fruition - and sceptics will recall that Eriksson reneged on an agreement to join Blackburn Rovers three years ago - he will certainly be going in at the deep end, England having taken just one point from their first two qualifying matches.

England's search for a successor to Kevin Keegan, whose resignation after last month's Wembley defeat by Germany prompted them to hand caretaker control to Howard Wilkinson, at first led them back to Bobby Robson. After Newcastle United refused to release their veteran manager, even on a part-time basis, the FA summoned the Leicester City and former England Under-21 manager, Peter Taylor, to take charge for the friendly against Italy in Turin on 15 November.

Taylor will be assisted by Steve McClaren, Sir Alex Ferguson's coach at Manchester United. David Davies last night stressed the importance of "building a team" of young coaches, one of whom might take the senior post in time. However, neither Taylor nor McClaren has the depth of experience at the highest level which the FA believes Eriksson can offer.

In the longer term, FA interest initially centred on a short-list almost certainly headed by Arsÿne Wenger, the French manager of Arsenal. Wenger's reluctance to relinquish his post at Highbury - which could yet be tested, ironically, by Lazio - then led them to Rome and Eriksson.

Reports that Eriksson had already accepted England's offer filtered out through the Italian agency Ansa. It claimed that Sergio Cragnotti, Lazio's multi-millionaire owner, had conceded defeat in the quest to keep his coach after his contract expired.

"Yes, it is true," Cragnotti reportedly said. "I couldn't stand in his way. It was the opportunity of a lifetime." Meanwhile, Italian newspapers claimed that the FA's chief executive, Adam Crozier, had spent several days in talks with Eriksson.

A good pedigree in club football is not necessarily a credible guide to the prospects of success at international level, but Eriksson's credentials certainly suggest a tactical acumen which Keegan palpably lacked. He made his name as coach to IFK Gothenburg, taking them to the Uefa Cup in 1982, before moving on to Benfica.

In his first season there he again reached the Uefa Cup final, only for Benfica to lose to Anderlecht. Moving to Serie A a year later, he guided Roma to the runners-up spot and also coached Fiorentina before returning to Lisbon and leading Benfica to the European Cup final in 1990, which they lost to Milan.

Going back to Italy in 1992, he worked with Sampdoria. Five years later he agreed to join Blackburn but thought better of it and eventually moved to Lazio. Again he enjoyed instant success, reaching the Uefa Cup final in his first year, although the breakthrough in terms of trophies was delayed by a further 12 months.

Despite that apparent success, Eriksson revealed a ruthless streak during the next close season when he off-loaded several mainstays and spent £70m of Signor Cragnotti's fortune revamping the side. Lazio won the last-ever European Cup-Winners' Cup, defeating Real Mallorca in Birmingham, but finished "only" second, a point adrift of Milan.

Last spring, in a dramatic denouement, Eriksson saw his team overhaul Juventus at the last to claim their first championship in 24 years. They are through to the second round of the Champions' League, despite having taken only a point from two meetings with Arsenal.

Intriguingly, Eriksson has always proclaimed an affinity with British football and particularly admired the Liverpool side of the 1970s and 80s. More recently, after the 1998 World Cup finals, he was frustrated in his bid to relieve the Anfield club of Michael Owen.

When Liverpool made it clear that their striking prodigy was not for sale, Eriksson remarked that if Owen wanted to make the most of his ability, he would eventually have to move to Italy. Now, barring a Blackburn-style change of heart, it is the Scandinavian who looks set to relocate to England.

THE ERIKSSON FILE: A SWEDE ABROAD

1948: Born Torsby, Sweden, 5 February. 1975: Finishes playing career in Sweden with his only club, Degerfors. 1976: Takes over as coach at Degerfors. 1979: Takes over as coach of IFK Gothenburg. 1979: Wins Swedish Cup. 1981: Wins Swedish title. 1982: Wins Swedish Cup. 1982: Quits Gothenburg to join Benfica. 1983: In his first season with Benfica, wins Portuguese championship and domestic cup, but loses in final of the UEFA Cup to Anderlecht. 1984: Wins Portuguese championship again, before taking over at Roma. 1986: Wins Coppa Italia (the Italian Cup) in his second season in charge at Roma. 1987: Leaves Roma to join Italian rivals Fiorentina. 1989: Rejoins Benfica. 1990: Takes Benfica to European Cup final, but his side lose 1-0 to Milan. 1991: Wins Portuguese championship for the third time. 1992: Leaves Benfica to join Sampdoria. 1994: Wins Coppa Italia. 1996: Announced as new Blackburn manager, but unable to join until the summer of 1997 due to contractual obligations with Sampdoria and later changes his mind. 1997: Joins Lazio. 1998: Wins Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup. 1999: Wins European Cup-Winners' Cup and Uefa Super Cup. 2000: Wins Italian Serie A title and Coppa Italia.

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