Eriksson's sympathy for McClaren over inflated English expectations

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So maybe England's fans should have appreciated you a little more while they had the chance?

Sven Goran Eriksson is far too diplomatic to leap at a proposition like that – "and how shall I answer?" he asked when it was put to him yesterday – but it was hard to avoid the conclusion that the man who safely delivered England to three finals probably felt the answer was "yes".

There was no sense of indignation from the Swede, nor of schadenfreude – they are both hard to conjure when your side has just waltzed up to third in the Premier League – but the relief was palpable as Eriksson described how he had awoken to field calls about Andreas Isaakson's delayed flight from Stockholm rather than questions about his future.

"It's never easy," he said. "I remember going to Albania and you think it's easy. Shit it's difficult! You have to work, have a little bit of luck to win those games." England got it – and won that 2001 World Cup qualifier 3-1. Eriksson will not intrude just yet on his former assistant's private traumas. He will be contacting Steve McClaren, though he had concluded yesterday was a little too soon.

"He is my friend, I've known him for many years and worked with him for five and a half [of those] so of course I feel sorry for him," he said. When the conversation takes place, Eriksson's thoughts about England's immense, perhaps inflated, footballing expectations may come into it.

"This is a big football country, one of the biggest in the world – expectations above the roof," he said, raising an arm to make the point. "Expecting too much is in one way dangerous, another good for football."

The Swede had watched the Russia match, of course – and there was a sense of déjà vu about the way he intoned, just as he so often used to do, that he thought England "looked good", "played well" and how a little more luck might just have taken them through. "They didn't deserve to lose – at least a draw," is his reading of Wednesday night.

For some, the prospect of considering the arrival of Birmingham City, as Eriksson will tomorrow, might seem a bit tame. But not when your blend of foreign imports and home-grown talent is re-assembling after an international break which reduced one rather farcical City training session last week to three players and four coaches. "That's a part of life," Eriksson said.

So speaks a man deliberating not about England, but about whether his talismanic midfielder Elano should play against Birmingham, when he will only have arrived back this morning from Rio de Janeiro after scoring in Brazil's 5-0 rout of Ecuador.

So will England send McClaren on his way, just as they had Eriksson? Another awkward question. "I hope not," Eriksson said. "But it's not my business any more to speak and think about England."