The foreign coach born in England, made in Sweden

Steve Tongue talks to a manager well qualified to evaluate Eriksson
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The Independent Football

It is impossible to recall his name having been so much as mentioned in connection with the recent vacancy as England's national Aunt Sally, yet Stuart William Baxter could claim to meet just about all the criteria publicly laid down by the Football Association.

It is impossible to recall his name having been so much as mentioned in connection with the recent vacancy as England's national Aunt Sally, yet Stuart William Baxter could claim to meet just about all the criteria publicly laid down by the Football Association.

He would score particularly well on those at the top of the list, "sustained success as a coach" and "international experience and ability to handle pressure". Now he has decided to resign from the Swedish club AIK Solna, and English chairmen like Bradford City's Geoffrey Richmond, looking for another miracle- worker, should take note, even if the 47-year-old Baxter admits: "I can do wonders, but miracles take a bit longer."

"Sustained success"? The Baxter CV includes championships in two countries, taking AIK into the Champions' League and trebling their attendances in the process."International experience"? Difficult to better, as a player in six countries and a coach in four. "Handling pressure"? How about death threats from hardcore hooligans, forcing him to move his wife and young children from the family home?

Where Baxter might not have measured up so well was the FA's requirement to be "in good standing" with fans, as well as players and clubs. In other words, not enough people have heard of him, even at his former clubs Preston, Dundee United, Blackpool and Stockport County; just like his friend and former Japanese rival Arsÿne Wenger, who was welcomed to England in September 1996 by the headline "Arsÿne Who?" Other English coaches who made a reputation in Sweden, such as Bobby Houghton and Roy Hodgson, were given one chance in this country, at Bristol City and Blackburn respectively, and have not been invited back.

It is a problem Baxter acknowledges, without finding it insuperable: "If Arsÿne hadn't been successful at Arsenal, they'd have said the same about him, that he could do it abroad but not in England. That's Joe Public and that's your employer. I know the English game inside out and know the way English people think, but wherever you go, you make yourself acquainted very quickly with the attitudes of the people. You find out the best and quickest route to success and you go after it. If you get it, you're regarded as a saint and if you don't, you're the devil incarnate."

For most of his three seasons at AIK he was the former, winning the league title in his first year, finishing one point short of a successful defence in his second, while taking the Swedish Cup and enjoying a lucrative run in the Champions' League, with a couple of narrow defeats by Wenger's Arsenal. "We earned a great deal of respect from how we played," said AIK's general manager, Dick Lidman. "That's due to Stuart and it is a great compliment to him."

Unfortunately, some at the club had a strange way of repaying it, regularly selling the best players, and buying others without Baxter's full approval. When goalkeeper Matt Asper, who once set a European record with 14 successive clean sheets, was transferred to Real Sociedad for £2m eight games from the end of this season, at a time when AIK were joint top of the table, Baxter finally decided that the directors' ambition did not match his own.

"There have been many things I haven't been 100 per cent pleased with and it's been a constant battle," he said. "You get to the point where you don't really believe things are going to change, and that you'll finish your time at the club looking like a clown. My feeling was that I wanted to go with a little bit of dignity. It's an integrity thing. People within the club are saying I'm the most successful coach in their 104-year history and I don't want to tarnish that."

Nor, ideally, does he want to risk the wrath of the "Black Army" supporters' group, who once threatened his life: "That's something that mentally has never gone away and that I don't ever want to put my family through again. If someone with a huge cross in his ear and a bald head tells your nine- year-old daughter that her father needs to get himself sorted, that's quite a terrifying experience. I had a great relationship with the fans as long as we were winning, but I needed to be very optimistic and positive about the future, that we could kick on."

He has already had offers from clubs in Denmark, Norway and, most lucratively, Japan, while relishing the chance to test himself in England, France or Spain. In the meantime, he is better qualified than most to offer an opinion on the subject of Kevin Keegan's successor: "Arsÿne Wenger would have been my first choice and I think it's admirable the dignified way he's dealt with it. But I know Sven Goran Eriksson very well; he's an excellent character and a very serious football man, who knows what he's talking about.

"The one thing he'll have to learn as he goes along [with the England players] is how much to organise; if you're working with a Brazilian and try to organise him too much, he feels like he's a mental prisoner, whereas if you're working with poor players and just let them play, you have tactical chaos. That's the little balance he'll have to learn, because he's got everything else. Getting a foreigner in and having young English coaches working with him and preparing for the future is a very intelligent way to go about it. He's a world-class coach and I don't think the FA could have done much better." By any criteria.

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