Eriksson pacifies restless Romans

England's new coach has a hard job to keep all factions happy at Lazio
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The Independent Football

The storm that seems likely to break over Sven Goran Eriksson's head sooner or later was averted for the time being yesterday afternoon by two substitutions of the type that coaches dream of the world over. With 36,000 Lazio supporters in the Olympic stadium growing restless at the prospect of a draw against lowly Brescia to follow last week's defeat by Verona, Eriksson showed a talent for changing things around not always demonstrated by his predecessors as England manager.

The storm that seems likely to break over Sven Goran Eriksson's head sooner or later was averted for the time being yesterday afternoon by two substitutions of the type that coaches dream of the world over. With 36,000 Lazio supporters in the Olympic stadium growing restless at the prospect of a draw against lowly Brescia to follow last week's defeat by Verona, Eriksson showed a talent for changing things around not always demonstrated by his predecessors as England manager.

The Swede pulled off his captain Paolo Negro and then sent on an extra attacker in Fabrizio Ravanelli for the midfielder Dejan Stankovic. By the look of the instructions being given to him on the touchline, Ravanelli, once "The White Feather" of Middlesbrough, was being told to play wide on the left and waft inside. Within two minutes he did so to perfection, collecting a ball won for him by Negro's replacement Giuseppe Favalli, cutting into the penalty area and hitting a shot that needed the merest deflection to earn Lazio a laboured 2-1 victory.

The last word is the important one. It allowed Eriksson to head for a media conference in London early this morning with a clear conscience and with the blessing, for the moment, of Lazio's president, Sergio Cragnotti, and the club's supporters. He will then demonstrate his commitment to the Italian champions by rushing back to Rome to take a training session this afternoon.

The job-share aspect of Eriksson's appointment is a sensitive one. The Football Association is desperate to have him available for England's World Cup games against Finland and Albania next spring, but needs Cragnotti's approval and must continue the delicate process of persuading him that England's gain in the week of those matches would not be Lazio's loss.

David Davies, the FA's executive director, was at his diplomatic best after yesterday's game when he said: "We've been very warmly received by Signor Cragnotti. Sven has a coaching job to do with Lazio and we're very well aware of his responsibility towards the club." The FA will be heartened by Cragnotti's declaration that "I do not feel betrayed. This is show business."

From the man himself there was no word. Like his players, he has imposed a black-out on the Italian media - not an encouraging sign - following their coverage of Arsenal's complaints about racist behaviour on and off the pitch in Rome last month.

England have already won a small victory in obtaining the release of Eriksson's Swedish assistant, Tord Grip, who confirmed that he would start work at the FA's new headquarters in Soho Square on 15 November. His influence will clearly be strong, especially while his countryman remains in Italy. "I will work as I did with the Swedish national team, not just looking at opponents but looking at English players in the league and suggesting who Sven should pick," he said.

Grip is optimistic about the task ahead and how he and Eriksson will adjust to it: "There's a new generation of players coming through in England and I think the change has already started. I hope we don't change our management style. You can't change your style of leadership or personality, it's not like changing your shirt.

"Sven is not the kind of man who stresses himself out. It's remarkable how he can cope with the situation. Inside he's been burning with a real flame but you can't see it from the outside. I see this as more like taking charge of a club because the borders between nations are more and more unclear in the football world."

So Eriksson's Lazio have lost their Grip. Despite yesterday's victory they have also lost five points from the opening four games in their defence of the Serie A title, leaving them too far behind the early pacemakers for critics like Giorgio Chinaglia, the former Swansea Town striker who became a folk hero by returning to Rome as part of Lazio's championship-winning side of 1974 - their last title until Eriksson delivered the Scudetto in May.

"It's a catch-22 situation," Chinaglia said yesterday. "If he stays now, they'll say he should have gone, and if he goes they'll say he should have stayed. It's very, very difficult for him. The big problem is he didn't want the news to come out. He hoped to be able to continue until the end of the season. Then it was leaked and now the situation is hopeless.

"It seems impossible for him to continue here, especially if we lose a couple of matches. We're already behind Roma and we've lost to Arsenal in the Champions' League.

"If it was just Juventus, Inter or Milan it would not be so bad but nothing could be worse than Roma. The scenario is that Sven could even decide it will be best to leave and [Dino] Zoff and [Roberto] Mancini would take over while Lazio look for a new coach."

Paradoxically, then, the best outcome from England's point of view would be for Lazio to suffer a run of bad results in Serie A and the Champions' League, in which they have qualified as runners-up to Arsenal for the second phase.

For almost 80 minutes of yesterday's game that process seemed about to begin. Eriksson, tall, white-haired and bespectacled, had received a mixed reception. One newspaper yesterday had the headline "Sven's low blow", possibly encouraging the isolated boos when his picture was flashed on the big video screens before the match, but not dissuading others among the fiercely committed Lazio following from chanting his name.

After an exchange of converted penalties in the first half an hour - the home side were behind after only three minutes - the game developed into a typical Italian tease of cat against mouse. Brescia's mice scampered back to their own penalty area in large numbers, frustrating the home players and supporters alike.

With his full-backs breaking forward, Eriksson's favoured 4-4-2 system looked unbalanced against nine determined defenders. But Ravanelli emerged as the unlikely saviour, leaving Cragnotti accepting hugs all round in the directors' box and bestowing his presidential blessing on the coach for a little while longer at least.

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