Eriksson the lame duck manager for whom there is no redemption

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The Independent Football

When the Football Association announced well before the World Cup finals in 1990 that Bobby Robson would leave his job as manager after the tournament, the reaction from the man who had been unseated was spectacular. He interrupted the attempt by the FA's then-chief executive Graham Kelly to portray the decision as amicable, he told the reporters who had gathered that - however much his bosses were trying to say otherwise - he was, effectively, being sacked.

It was, by all accounts an impassioned performance, one in which Robson rightly faced down any insinuation that he was being traitorous in not staying until the tournament was over. The choice, he thundered, had already been made and he wanted to make sure that everyone knew it had not been a decision made by him. The sight of an England manager taking on the FA was a memory that lived long in the minds of those who were there.

Even for those who believe there is a dimension to Sven Goran Eriksson's personality that has been hitherto hidden from public display, it would take the most optimistic student of the Swede's behaviour to predict the same fire-breathing defiance when he comes to take his leave.

Eriksson officially goes to the World Cup this summer as the lame duck manager, the dead man walking for whom there will be no redemption, whatever happens in Germany. It was hardly a secret that he and the FA would part once the tournament was over but now that, five months in advance, the deal has officially been done we know for certain at least how one aspect of the story will end.

There was, eventually, no alternative. The FA chief executive Brian Barwick had to resolve the nature of the relationship between his organisation and the governing body which would, at some point, have come under pressure from Eriksson's plans on what to do after the summer even without the News of the World's fake sheikh sting. Everything Eriksson did in private - which was proving impossible to keep secret - indicated he wanted out. Making that wish official removed the capacity for scandal.

There will be those who now suggest that Eriksson should be removed before the World Cup. The simple response to that would be: who replaces him? If there is no obvious successor when we look forward to the end of the World Cup finals when a good deal more managers become available, then what would suggest that there is a ready replacement now?

Will Eriksson's regime be diminished by his status as a manager who has no interest in the England team beyond this summer? He is, even the most generous observer would admit, hardly a manager who rules by fear. England's players do not perform on the basis that a bad game could earn them Eriksson's unyielding disapproval. Comparisons with what was originally intended to be Sir Alex Ferguson's last season at Manchester United - 2001-2002 - when he felt his impending retirement dulled his players' hunger in the first half of the season are redundant when applied to Eriksson's departure.

Whatever he gives to his players - a sense of security, reassuring continuity - it is not borne of fear and it will not be negated by the knowledge that he will not be there to pick them once the new season starts. England's players have had at least three years to get used to the idea of Eriksson departing - in fact, some from Manchester United and Chelsea have, at certain times, expected to return to pre-season to find him in charge of their club.

There is also evidence that England have not responded badly in the past to the prospect of losing their manager once the tournament ends. Robson took England to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, Terry Venables managed the same at Euro '96. It does a great disservice to the senior players in this current squad to suggest they will perform with any less commitment, or be any less determined to grasp this opportunity, than they would be if Eriksson was also leading them into the Euro 2008 qualifying competition.

In the end, the lame duck status has a certain resonance with the whole mood of the Eriksson regime: a slow, unspectacular winding down, a long painful goodbye. The decision to end the game of poker being played between the FA and Eriksson over who would blink first on the two years remaining - and £8m - on his contract after this summer is the sensible one. The only problem is that it still does not solve the fundamental flaws with this team.

They include of course, the very strong sense that Eriksson does not seem to be as devoted to detailed preparation as Jose Mourinho or Rafael Benitez. That his decision-making during games, especially with substitutions, is often erratic. That he does not seem to be any closer to solving why Frank Lampard is incompatible with Steven Gerrard. That he appears unable to define clearly to the individuals in his team the requirements of their task. Those elements would have been unchanged whether the FA had announced the departure of the manager now or on 10 July.

It is tempting to imagine Eriksson dolefully emptying the contents of his FA desk into a cardboard box, no different to any hurt and bewildered 57-year-old man made redundant before his time. With Robson in 1990 the issue of his impending redundancy was one of pride, of a man being denied the authority that his job conferred upon him. With Eriksson, as the FA's lame duck of 2006, none of that has ever seemed to matter.

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