The end of the affair: England's five-year fling with Sven to end after the World Cup

Click to follow
The Independent Football

When the sophisticated, mild-mannered Swede arrived five years ago in the Football Association's Soho Square headquarters, one reporter asked him how he appeared not to have an enemy in such an ego-ridden and ruthless profession.

Sven Goran Eriksson's reply? He was Mr Moderate, shunning controversy away from matches to focus on the pitch.

The reality has been very different. Sex scandals, resignations and allegations of treachery for meeting with club officials while under contract to the country all mean Sven too often makes headlines on the front pages rather than the back.

The FA called an end to the increasingly painful soap opera last night, announcing that the Swede will part company with his England charges in July, cutting short a lucrative contract that was to run until 2008. The closing credits will roll this summer in Germany, where England - so the perennially hopeful experts say - stand their best chance of lifting the World Cup since Gazza's tears at Italia '90.

The amusing irony for all those who have long wished Sven would show the same passion in the coach's dugout as he does away from it, was that it was footballing comments, and not a romantic liaison, that proved his downfall.

Eriksson fell for the classic News of the World sting - dined by a wealthy Arab businessman, the paper's "fake sheikh" investigative reporter, Mazher Mahmood, and drawn into making a series of indiscreet and damaging comments. Among them were the revelations that David Beckham wanted to leave Real Madrid, that Michael Owen was only happy at Newcastle with his high wages, that Rio Ferdinand was "sometimes lazy", and that Sven himself might be willing to walk away from the England job if a higher offer was tabled. All comments that held the potential to upset squad harmony.

It all seems a long time ago that his reign began so promisingly with four consecutive wins. A stunning 5-1 win over the Germans in Munich in September 2001 should have cemented his place in the nation's affections.

But it was only a few months before his personal life seized the popular imagination. In April 2002, six weeks before he was to lead the England squad on to a flight to Japan for the World Cup, news broke of his four-month affair with TV presenter and fellow Swede Ulrika Jonsson. Eriksson was surprised by the ensuing media maelstrom but rode it out, leading England to a modest quarter-final exit from the tournament. He saved his relationship with feisty Italian lawyer Nancy dell'Olio - one that has endured to this day - but the honeymoon was over.

Many football fans who had been amused by their coach's bedroom antics were outraged by another example of infedility: the news in 2003 that he had met billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, fuelling speculation he was about to quit the England post for a job with the Premiership club. Confronted by the FA, Eriksson was able to secure a payrise to £4m a year, a record for an England manager.

But the public were left open-mouthed by revelations of a second affair - this time with FA secretary Faria Alam, now a "star" of Celebrity Big Brother - that engulfed the association and forced two resignations, one of them FA chief executive Mark Palios, who also had a relationship with her.

At the time, Eriksson spoke out about the intense interest in his private life: "Obviously someone is out there trying to disturb my job and trying to make me leave the country. If that's the case, I can promise them that they won't make me leave the country. If they think they can disturb the harmony in the England team, they are totally wrong."

Critics question his judgement, his loyalty and his passion for the England job. None of that will matter if he secures the greatest prize in world football.

At his first press conference, five years ago, Eriksson was asked how he would handle the pressures of being England manager. "I have to defend myself with good football, good results," he replied.

Now, more so than ever.

Comments