Eriksson to Notts County? 'If there's cash in it, he's likely to be nearby'
Sven has his critics but others believe the Swede deserves everything he can take from a game that has kicked him, writes Ian Herbert
Wednesday 22 July 2009
The lunch-hour walks by the River Trent might be vaguely appealing and London, a city he loves, will be less than a two-hour train journey away, but the prospect of life at Notts County – and a new campaign beginning with the arrival of Bradford City and the unprepossessing surrounds of Moss Rose in Macclesfield and Barnet's Underhill before summer is out – is not quite what Sven Goran Eriksson had in mind when he contemplated where he would like the twilight of his managerial career to play out.
Portugal – where his success in two stints with Benfica (1982-1984 and 1989-1992) launched him on his way to his halcyon days winning a Scudetto and European Cup Winners' Cup with Lazio – was the place he favoured. "It's a friendly country – small, extremely good weather, good food," he told The Independent shortly before his star began to wane at Manchester City, 18 months ago. "You have the sea, too. An extremely peaceful country." That seemed to be a real prospect a month ago when one of the candidates for the presidency of Sporting Lisbon, Paulo Cristovao, declared him his preferred manager. Cristovao and Eriksson were pictured together at the time but Cristovao collected only 10 per cent of the votes in the election – which pretty much sums up Eriksson's last 12 months.
The tour of Meadow Lane which Eriksson has already undertaken has led to him being appointed director of football and represents a remarkable fall for an individual whose managerial life in the bear pit makes that of his Manchester City successor Mark Hughes seem tame. After creating what World Soccer magazine labelled "the most expensive team in history" with Sergio Cragnotti's seemingly bottomless pit of cash at Lazio in the 1990s, he was told in the January of his third season: "Win something or you'll be sacked in June." He opted for the former.
But Eriksson's languid style and famed refusal to be apologetic for appreciating the finer things – and the finer women – in life have become an anachronism. Where once he fitted for England, only Fabio Capello will now do; where once for City, it is Hughes – an individual in the same, driven mould as the Italian. Eriksson was unfortunate to be removed from City so quickly – the aspirations he created in the first half of his first season were his undoing – but it is improbable that current owner Sheikh Zayed al Nahyan, with his highly driven business philosophy, would have cared for him much more than his predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra.
Eriksson will, of course, be widely ridiculed for following the money when he washes up as the most unlikely footballing inhabitant of Brian Clough country. ("If there's money in it, it won't surprise me if he's near it," was yesterday's remark from one Portuguese observer who has watched Eriksson closely.) But there are others who would say that he has every right to take what he can from a game which has kicked him. The way Eriksson, a gracious man, was treated at City before Thaksin's acolytes finally kicked him out was nothing less than disgraceful.
The whispers began as early as January 2008 and he sought several meetings with Thaksin's Thai entourage in Manchester. On one occasion he waited for two hours and no-one showed; on another he approached the individual he was supposed to be meeting at Manchester's Radisson Edwardian hotel and she hastily walked away.
The Thais were banking on him resigning but Eriksson stood firm, leading the club on a farcical post-season tour of Thailand in the knowledge his days were numbered. You will be hard pushed to find anyone in east Manchester who says he didn't merit that £2m pay-off. Perhaps the 61-year-old is no longer impervious to the way the game has treated him.
Some of those close to Eriksson, including his staunch ally and lieutenant Tord Grip – who taught him management at Gothenburg and has followed him around the world – are understood to have encouraged him to resist any temptations to take the easy life in Nottingham and the relatively modest sum understood to be on offer – the £40,000-a-week figure remains unconfirmed. It contributes to a sense that Eriksson could still do better. But he is his own man, he likes Britain deeply, and on one point there can be certainty: that he will be oblivious to the splutters of astonishment if he does make the move.
"You know, you take a job because you think it's a good job, a good country, things like that," he told The Independent in that conversation. "I've never really been afraid because I know who I am. I know what I have done, I know what I can't do and in that way I am rather confident."
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