Results will make up Cragnotti's mind

Farewell to Rome
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The Independent Online

At the Lazio Superstore in the Via Farini, hard by Rome's central railway station, British culture meets Italian in a manner that would presumably please Sven Goran "Two Jobs" Eriksson. A theatre poster advertises performances of Jesus Christ Superstar and the Rocky Horror Show (either of which might come to seem appropriate in future months); there is a large autographed picture of our very own Paul Gascoigne, still loved after all these years; and - what a photo-opportunity David Davies missed here - an English policeman's helmet with the Lazio badge in the middle.

At the Lazio Superstore in the Via Farini, hard by Rome's central railway station, British culture meets Italian in a manner that would presumably please Sven Goran "Two Jobs" Eriksson. A theatre poster advertises performances of Jesus Christ Superstar and the Rocky Horror Show (either of which might come to seem appropriate in future months); there is a large autographed picture of our very own Paul Gascoigne, still loved after all these years; and - what a photo-opportunity David Davies missed here - an English policeman's helmet with the Lazio badge in the middle.

Plus, of course, the standard para-fan-alia of scarves, shirts emblazoned with "Italian champions" and, for the young fans who slalom through clogged-up Roman traffic on their scooters, like Gazza at his best going through stationary defences, crash helmets marked Irriducibili.

But for the indomitable ones, who include the neo-Fascist element historically present among the Lazio following, these are confusing times. When Eriksson's picture was flashed on to the giant screens at their Curva Nord end of the Olympic Stadium before Wednesday's match against Brescia, there were isolated boos and whistles, soon replaced by applause and the chanting of his name, which he took good care to acknowledge with an enthusiastic wave. By the end of the game, which was eventually won by the three players Eriksson brought on as substitutes, the applause and the smiles were almost universal.

Like the Lazio president, Sergio Cragnotti, the supporters - even the equivalent of the Little Englanders who would prefer to have one of their own in charge - appreciate what the Swede has done for them. As one Lazio-watcher put it this week: "Cragnotti took over in 1991 and until he got Eriksson, Lazio never won a thing. Then they won the Italian Cup and Super Cup, the Cup-Winners' Cup, European Super Cup and, of course, the Championship for the first time in 26 years."

They clearly have a lot to thank him for, even as a former coach of the hated Roma, who for whatever reason - presumably his rate of trophy-winning - suffers none of the ill-feeling directed at George Graham for having slept with the enemy. That was certainly the feeling at the Lazio shop the following day, where Eriksson was regularly described as one of the best coaches in Europe, if not the world. There seemed no great sense of betrayal, rather a feeling of some pride that England, "the birthplace of football" had come to Rome in search of a saviour - albeit a Swedish one.

That is the line that Cragnotti will continue to peddle, for as long as it suits him. "He's become the most successful trainer in the history of Lazio," he said. "But he needed a new challenge. I understand him, there's a feeling between us. With Sven, I adopted the same methods as with managers of my companies: when they're pushed by desires for something new, I let them go, because it's better for them and for the company."

How quickly, though? Asked in a television interview if it would not be better to make the break immediately, rather than have Eriksson running up a record number of air-miles trying to do two of the biggest jobs in football - manager of England and of the Italian champions - Cragnotti insisted: "That's just stupid. We're coming to the end of a cycle, but only at the end of his contract, repeat, contract."

The Football Association will discover over the next few days whether they are over-optimistic in believing that on the Ides of March, Eriksson will be announcing England's squad for the critical World Cup games against Finland and Albania. The press corps who cover Lazio as best they can, while being cold-shouldered by the players and coach (following the accusations of racism during Arsenal's recent visit), think the only question is whether he will by then have left the club for good. Even if Cragnotti prevaricates in negotiations this week, in time-honoured Italian fashion, their reasoning is sound: if Lazio's results are good in Serie A and the Champions' League, the president and supporters will remain well disposed to Eriksson and the FA; if results are bad, the assumption will be that the coach's mind is elsewhere and that he might as well be replaced immediately.

Since Dino Zoff, manager of Italy's Euro 2000 finalists, is sitting in the stand as a Lazio vice-president, and the highly regarded Roberto Mancini is already working as assistant coach, there is a ready-made partnership to hand. The conclusion has to be that, for all his popularity, the music in Eriksson's ears will shortly be: "If you gotta go, go now."

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