History shows that Eriksson's men rise to the occasion

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson goes into Euro 2004 with the best record in competitive matches of any England manager in history. Ignoring friendly games as an irrelevance, which is what the Swede himself has been prone to do, his statistics read: played 19, won 13, drawn five, lost one. The sole defeat, 2-1 against Brazil two years ago, came in a World Cup quarter-final against the eventual tournament winners.

Sven Goran Eriksson goes into Euro 2004 with the best record in competitive matches of any England manager in history. Ignoring friendly games as an irrelevance, which is what the Swede himself has been prone to do, his statistics read: played 19, won 13, drawn five, lost one. The sole defeat, 2-1 against Brazil two years ago, came in a World Cup quarter-final against the eventual tournament winners.

The Independent has assessed the results of every England match since 1950 in an attempt to compare the team's performances under each manager. Each match has been given a rating, taking into account the quality of the opponents, the importance of the fixture and the venue. On this basis, "big" wins such as England's 5-1 victory in Germany in 2001 rate highly, being against leading teams away from home, while games such as the home capitulation to Australia last year receive negative marks to reflect the level of cringing embarrassment.

We have calculated an eight-match rolling average after each game and plotted them to give a snapshot of England's "standing" at any given point in time.

The resulting cardiogramesque rollercoaster, reflecting all matches including friendlies, depicts the manic lurch from triumph to trough that England fans have endured.

Since the tallest peak of the 1966 World Cup success under Alf Ramsey, there have been a handful of other relative highs. One came in 1982, when Ron Greenwood's England left the World Cup after five games undefeated. Two more arrived in 1986 and 1990, when Bobby Robson's side reached the World Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. Others came in 1996, when Terry Venables' side reached the Euro 1996 semi-final, and in 2002, when Eriksson's England made the World Cup quarter-final in Japan.

Otherwise England's history has been a landscape sculpted from valleys of underachievement. These have been carved through failure to qualify for major tournaments or limp early exits. Only two managers have escaped this fate: Eriksson, who has qualified for two tournaments out of two, and Venables, whose side did not need to qualify for Euro '96 and who departed afterwards for non-footballing reasons.

Using our system, Eriksson's record in competitive games is exceptional not only in terms of standard measurements ­ wins, draws and defeats ­ but in terms of the quality of his results.

England have won 68 per cent of their meaningful games under Eriksson. Ron Greenwood managed a comparable ratio of 65 per cent and Ramsey 61 per cent. Kevin Keegan won a woeful 36 per cent.

Eriksson's average "Independent rating" for his competitive games has been 4.58 marks per game. Only Venables, who managed England in only five competitive games and scored an average 7.2 marks per game on our ratings, beats that.

Robson deserves significant credit for his World Cup achievements but his overall record is dragged down by failures in the European Championships of 1984 and 1988.

Otherwise in the post-1966 era, only Eriksson and Ramsey have steered England as far as the last eight at the World Cup. Ramsey's England also made the third-place play-off in the old-style European Championship of 1968. In the era when the European Championship has been played with a finals tournament (since 1980), only Venables has taken an England team out of the group stages.

The high point of the Eriksson era was the 2002 World Cup quarter-final, a match that completed an eight-game run of three wins, four draws and a defeat. The low, after one win in the last six games and two expected victories before that, is now.

Judging Eriksson's England on their current "cardiogram" standing above gives no reason for optimism at Euro 2004. How could it when they have failed to produce much quality or any consistency against Japan, Sweden, Portugal and Denmark?

But strip away the friendly games, which Eriksson regards if not with contempt then with no meaning beyond trying to break records for substitutions, and a different picture emerges. He does not mind, it seems, losing friendlies, and he has lost five, against the Netherlands (2001), Italy (2002), Australia and Denmark (2003) and Sweden (this year). He knows that some results matter more than others.

Taking all results into account, Eriksson is England's fourth-best manager. But on the competitive results that truly matter, as in Portugal, shall he ultimately be judged. It was ever thus.

ERIKSSON'S PREDECESSORS

Walter Winterbottom: P 139, W 78, D 33, L 28

Although he never had full control of team selection, his tenure signalled the switch from the committee era to an age when England's managers gained real power. Highs - 10-0 win in Portugal (1947) and 4-0 win in Italy (1948). Lows - two landmark defeats to Hungary in the 1950s, and four disappointing World Cup finals (1950 to 1962).

Sir Alf Ramsey: P113, W69, D27, L17

Began reign with defeats to France and Scotland, but had only four more in the next 38 games (mostly friendlies) before start of the triumphant 1966 World Cup finals. Ramsey thought the trophy haul was just beginning, but it was all over, with a 1970 World Cup quarter-final defeat to West Germany followed by failure to qualify for 1974.

Don Revie: P29, W14, D8, L7

Revie, preferred to Brian Clough, began with a nine-match unbeaten run but his side were then ousted from the European Championship by Czechoslovakia in October 1975 and had their 1978 World Cup qualification hopes holed by defeat to Italy a year later. Departed acrimoniously for a lucrative job in Saudi Arabia in summer 1977.

Ron Greenwood: P55, W33, D12, L10

Hired as caretaker after Revie's departure but 1978 World Cup qualifying win over Italy, although not sufficient to reach Argentina, earned him the job on a permanent basis. Reached Euro '80, where performances were moderate. In 1982 led England to Spain World Cup. Eliminated unbeaten after second group stage.

Bobby Robson: P95, W47, D29, L19

Robson's reign had two dips (European) and two peaks (World Cup). England failed to reach Euro '84 after defeat to unheralded Denmark. At Euro '88 finals, England lost all three. In 1986 World Cup finals England went out to Diego "Hand of God" Maradona. The 1990 semi-final penalty defeat to West Germany was titanic.

Graham Taylor: P38, W18, D13, L7

Criticism started early, due to his direct style, though England lost only one of his first 23 games in charge. The 24th, England's third and final group match at Euro '92, when Gary Lineker was substituted in a tournament-ending 2-1 defeat to Sweden, signalled start of the end. Failure to qualify for 1994 World Cup sealed his fate.

Terry Venables: P23, W12, D9, L2

Venables lost only two matches in a 23-game tenure. One of those losses was to the then world champions, Brazil, in a friendly tournament at Wembley in 1995. The other was in the semi-final of Euro '96, on penalties, to Germany. Venables' departure, for non-footballing reasons, had already been agreed.

Glenn Hoddle: P28 W17 D5, L6

Home defeat to Italy early on was remedied with stirring 0-0 draw against same opponents in Rome eight months later. Reached knock-out stages at France '98; losing to Argentina on penalties was no disgrace. Stuttering start to Euro 2000 qualifying, and public-relations gaffe spelt the end.

Kevin Keegan: P18, W7, D7, L4

Too many poor draws in Euro 2000 qualifying led to a play-off with Scotland, edged 2-1 on aggregate. The tournament itself was a farce, England ceding 2-0 and 2-1 leads to lose 3-2 to both Portugal and Romania. England then lost 1-0 in 2002 World Cup qualifier to Germany in the last Wembley match. Keegan walked.

Caretakers

Joe Mercer (P7 W3 D3 L1) filled the gap between Ramsey and Revie, losing only once, against Scotland.

Howard Wilkinson (P2 W0 D1 L1) had two one-game caretaker stints, a 2-0 home friendly defeat to France after Hoddle's departure, and a 0-0 World Cup qualifier with Finland after Keegan's.

Peter Taylor (P1 W0 D0 L1) oversaw a 1-0 friendly defeat in Italy in November 2000 when Beckham was England captain for first time.

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