Eriksson: 'Why must I be a saint?'

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson yesterday confirmed he would be the England coach until 2008. So why did so few of those interrogating him at the England team's Hertfordshire hotel believe him?

There is no doubt that Eriksson will now lead England into this summer's European Championship. He is also likely to take them into the World Cup qualifying campaign and, it is to be hoped, the finals in Germany. Beyond that is less certain. The new contract, which raises his salary to £4m a year, commits him in principle to 2008, by which time he will be 60 years old. However, it is thought that the final two years may be optional, to be completed if both parties are mutually agreeable. Even Mark Palios, the Football Association's chief executive, said: "There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge before then."

Eriksson was unembarrassed but defensive over the furore his indiscretion, in being seen visiting Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's owner, in the summer, and now Peter Kenyon, the club's chief executive, created.

"I have learned while in England it is more than a football job," he said. "But it is difficult to understand that whoever has this job should be a saint, should not earn a lot of money, should not have a private life and should not listen to other possibilities in life. I find that very difficult to understand.

"If you have ambitions, if something interesting comes up you listen to it even if you are England manager. Being a manager is not just sitting year after year waiting to be sacked. Sometimes you make me feel like I'm a criminal ­ I don't think I've done anything criminal. I'm not having any sleepless nights."

Nor did he have any embarrassment talking to Claudio Ranieri. "He's used to this. If you live in Italy it's normal. I met him in September and he said to me: 'When are you coming, Sven?' He has a very good sense of humour. I've known him for a long time."

Both parties hoped the speculation would now end. That is unlikely, though it may abate for a while. Eriksson stressed that it was his "human right" to listen to potential future employers while under contract to England, so there will inevitably be speculation should he been seen with leading club executives in the future.

Should Eriksson walk out before the 2006 World Cup the FA will extract £8m, two years' salary, in compensation. However, should Eriksson's tenure turn sour, should England, for example, disappoint in this summer's European Championship and then struggle in World Cup qualifying, the financially-strained FA will have to pay him off.

That the FA were prepared to take that risk, and give a pay rise to a man who has openly courted other employers while under contract, is an indication of their high regard for Eriksson's ability and the lack of realistic alternatives for both themselves and their rival suitors; Chelsea, Real Madrid and Internazionale.

All of these have spoken to Eriksson recently but none, he claimed, had offered him a contract, they had only discussed "possibilities". The evasions, the careful phrasing, were reminiscent of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair. A formal offer may not have been made but Chelsea, especially, made it perfectly clear there was a job for Eriksson if he wanted it, the one currently filled by Ranieri.

Eriksson did not finally reject these overtures until the early hours of yesterday morning following lengthy negotiations with Palios, David Davies, the head of football affairs, and David Dein, vice-chairman of the FA and of Arsenal.

Eriksson and Palios admitted that the revelation he had visited Kenyon, the chief executive of Chelsea, on Thursday night, had brought matters to a head. Palios said he was always confident Eriksson would sign but, even at midnight, other figures in the FA were not so sure. Eventually, they shook hands on the contract Palios first offered in November and, at 9am yesterday morning, it was signed.

Eriksson and Palios both "guaranteed" he would now be manager until 2006, Eriksson adding there was "no chance at all" of his joining Chelsea or any other club.

The FA's triumvirate had stressed to Eriksson the prospect of his achieving with England a place in history. Palios admitted that, financially, the FA could not compete with Abramovich. Instead they focused on the FA's support for Eriksson, who has been given a free hand in staffing and is soon to be granted his wish of a winter break. He was reminded of his excellent relationship with his players, the support he has had from fans, and asked how he would feel "walking away from the potential of being manager of a World Cup-winning side".

Eriksson pondered these arguments. He admitted to missing the day-to-day involvement of club football but will have recognised his job security is greater with the FA than any of the contending clubs. Financially, too, the lucrative spin-offs from being England manager would make up for the salary differential.

Tomorrow, Eriksson travels to Sweden for a fixture which he admits sums up many of the annoyances about his current job. The pressures of the club season means he has lost the likes of Michael Owen and Sol Campbell to injury and voluntarily omitted others, including Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard. In their place, for England's final match before he names his squad for Euro 2004, come the uncapped quintet of Jermain Defoe, JLloyd Samuel, Alan Thompson, Shaun Wright-Phillips and the Norwich goalkeeper Robert Green.

"It is very frustrating," said Eriksson. "We have to discuss if there's any meaning playing in March. This should be important and it is but it's in the middle of everything." With that he left the room, which had been fitted out as a players' lounge. Passing the Wurlitzer Elvis jukebox he paused, perhaps to see if Elvis Costello's "I don't want to go to Chelsea" was on it, or maybe the other Elvis's "Suspicious Minds".