As Sven Goran Eriksson's chauffeur-driven car nudged its way out of West Ham United's Boleyn Ground on Monday evening he received the expected call that confirmed his time as England manager was at an end. It was his agent Athole Still on the line. "He said everything was done," shrugged Eriksson. The negotiations with the Football Association, and their lawyers, were complete.
Eriksson, who had just watched the Premiership match against Fulham, then dialled a familiar number. It was that of his England captain, David Beckham. "I told him the facts of what will happen after the World Cup," he said. Beckham spoke of his sadness. Did Eriksson call any other players? "No, but I will do, the other senior players. They are all behind me. That will not be a problem."
Much is made of the bond between Eriksson and Beckham - not least by the Swede himself, most arrestingly in the sting operation conducted by the News of the World in which he stated he could easily lure the midfielder back to England.
But both men are also aware of the "circus", as Eriksson put it yesterday, that has surrounded their private lives. "And I can understand the FA, I can understand the fans, I can understand people in general if they might want to see a new face in this job," the England coach added. "I think people get fed up with Eriksson and not football. I get fed up. Because Eriksson should be football. My fault or not. I don't know."
It was - partially at least - an admission from the normally contained Eriksson that he was to blame for the fiasco which has obviously led to fears that England's World Cup preparations could be damaged. Eriksson yesterday brushed aside claims that he was now a lame duck, a leader whose credibility had been damaged and whose questionable commitment had been thoroughly exposed.
Brian Barwick, the FA's chief executive, was even more trenchant - or misguided - than the man he had just sacked. "Do I think Sven is handicapped by this?" he said. "No, I don't. I think this is about clarification, this is about giving Sven a natural target and giving the FA a strength of purpose as to where it's taking the England team in the next five months."
Eriksson admitted that the newspaper exposure had affected him but, in that sanguine manner, added "but not too much".
"It was a surprise what happened, of course it was," he said. "But here we are. We live in England. It has not affected the players, that's for sure. I have talked to all of them. No hard feelings. Let's go to Germany and win the World Cup. That was their answer." Eriksson feels that it is an achievable goal. "I always liked the job. I still do. I think we have a fantastic team and a chance to do well in Germany. Hopefully win it."
There is a precedent - of sorts - in how Eriksson left his previous job to join England in 2000. Then he was coach of the Serie A club Lazio, having led them to the Scudetto. But Eriksson feels that parallels are inaccurate. "I think it's quite different because the Lazio fans, and some of the players, said it was crazy that I left for a specific job. Some of the fans said, 'What's this? He's going to England? After winning the league, after going to play in the Champions' League?'" It was very different now, he stressed, because "I don't have another job, I don't have another job at this moment".
"The FA have asked me to look after myself after the World Cup," the Swede said. "The reason was not another job because I do not have any other offers."
Not, it could be argued - and because of his dalliances with Manchester United, Chelsea and the so-called "fake sheikh" - for the want of trying.
Talk of Lazio also brought Eriksson on to a staunch defence of his salary, the scale of which - at £4.1m a year, ever since the FA's previous chief executive, Mark Palios, panicked in the face of Roman Abramovich's overtures - has always rankled and played a part in his downfall. "What I can say about money is that when I was at Lazio I was on a certain amount," Eriksson said. "The money when I started working in England was more or less the same. If you are a club or a country and you want a coach on that level, and you can discuss whether I should be on that level or not, the fact is you have to pay that money. If you want [Fabio] Capello, [Carlo] Ancelotti, [Roberto] Mancini or [Sir Alex] Ferguson."
Eriksson then made an even bolder claim: "What I never understood in this country is that I'm accused of earning too much money. I can at least find out 10 managers earning more money than I do in Europe. Easily." Others may struggle - beyond counting Jose Mourinho - to do that so easily. But, more important than the salary, Eriksson was asked what kind of qualities his successor needs.
"He needs to be a good manager, a good coach, knowledgeable about football," the Swede replied blandly, before revealing the hurt. "I think his skin must be very hard like, how you say? A rhino, yes." It is a quality he has always possessed although even Eriksson has, finally, also shown awareness of the sensitivities involved.Reuse content