FA in fight to save Eriksson after remarks infuriate Premier clubs

'Allegations have not been good for the game's image' says FA chief executive
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The Independent Online

After the embarrassment of last week's disclosures about senior players including David Beckham, Michael Owen and Rio Ferdinand, this week's revelations brought even more serious allegations about the England manager. There is a private insistence at the FA that they will stand by Eriksson and resist any attempt to force him out of the job before the World Cup finals this summer but this time his indiscreet comments will require more than just grovelling phone calls to his players.

In a conversation that was secretly taped by an undercover reporter posing as a bogus sheikh, Eriksson agreed that one Premiership manager was corrupt, and his agent, Athole Still, named a second manager and alluded to malpractice at a third club - all unnamed by the newspaper. Eriksson also said that managers "put money in their [own] pocket" in transfer deals.

This morning Eriksson, who was at Old Trafford for the visit of Liverpool yesterday, and Still, will be called to the FA's Soho Square headquarters to speak to investigators looking into corruption in football transfers.

His comments follow allegations made by the Luton manager, Mike Newell, and his Queen's Park Rangers counterpart, Ian Holloway, that agents are offering money to managers to buy certain players. However, it is understood that Eriksson has no evidence of corruption. He will tell the FA's compliance unit that he, and Still, simply made flippant comments over dinner in Dubai with the bogus sheikh who was posing as a potential wealthy football investor.

However, Eriksson has brought upon himself the wrath of the Premier League, who privately believe that his comments have tarnished the reputation of their clubs and managers. They will speak to their members this morning before making an official response later today but the disbelief they expressed privately at Eriksson's comments yesterday suggests the Swede has made a powerful set of adversaries. "A decent man would resign," said one senior club source.

While Eriksson indulged in the kind of gossip about transfers and finance that is common among football people, the revelation that the most high-profile employee of the FA believes the game is rife with corruption will be difficult for the governing body to ignore. With relations between the FA and the Premier League already strained, Eriksson can expect little sympathy from the clubs.

The FA stood behind Eriksson yesterday and a meeting between its chief executive, Brian Barwick, the head of corporate affairs, Simon Johnson, and the executive director, David Davies, did not even discuss sacking the Swede. Eriksson will be required to meet with Barwick today for discussions about his future which could yet result in an agreement that he will leave after the World Cup finals and receive a pay-off for the two years left on his contract.

Barwick said: "Allegations made during the past week have not been good for the game's image. However, the FA fully appreciates the importance of supporting Sven and the England team in the build-up to and during the World Cup this summer. We realise how important this is to every England supporter and are fully aware of our responsibility to provide Sven and the team with the best chance of achieving success in Germany. I'd like to call on everyone connected with the game to get behind Sven and the team over the next five months as we count down to what is one of our best opportunities in a World Cup finals for many years."

The Swede was once again described as being "distraught" about the new disclosures although he decided to go to Old Trafford none the less, where he cut a lonely figure in the directors' box. For the last week, the FA has tried to persuade the News of the World to hand over copies of the conversation involving Eriksson, Still, the Swede's lawyer, Richard Des Voeux, and the fake sheikh.

Privately, the FA feel that the conversations, when published in full, will show that Eriksson did not willingly initiate any discussion of the clubs accused of corruption. In a transcript of the conversation in the News of the World, the reporter refers to what he describes as a "stereotypical dodgy [Premiership] manager". Eriksson responds by saying that this manager is the "worst".

It is Eriksson's agent, Still, who then goes on to name another manager as guilty of a "big scam". In another conversation, Still identifies a third club as "paying far too much for certain players." Still, who was representing Eriksson before he took the England job in January 2001, then went on to describe the politics of football transfers as a " cesspit".

The News of the World describes the first club whose manager is accused as a "struggling Premiership outfit". The second is "one of the country's most famous names". The third club is another "leading side" who have made "illegal payments".

Still released a statement yesterday insisting:

l "At no time did Mr Eriksson or I say that 'top Premiership clubs are riddled with corruption'."

l "Careful reading of the articles shows that both Mr Eriksson and I were reacting conversationally to a topical subject of debate initiated by their hosts and already being discussed in football circles and the media."

l "At no time did either Mr Eriksson or I claim to have any evidence in relation to improper transfer dealings in football."

Eriksson also faces criticism from the League Managers' Association, the managers' union, of which he is the president. The LMA's chief executive, John Barnwell, said yesterday: "We obviously make a lot of it. We've made a conscious decision not to make a knee-jerk reaction. We are very sensitive to what has been said but we will not be making any public statement until we are ready."

In last Sunday's revelations, it emerged that, as well as making indiscreet comments about his players, Eriksson had suggested Aston Villa as a potential takeover target and touted himself as a potential manager of the club. He hinted that if he were to return to club management, he would require a £5m-a-year net salary that would top his annual £4.1m FA wages which give him a £3m net wage.

Should the FA attempt to broker a deal with Eriksson that would see him leave after the World Cup this summer it is understood that the Swede will demand £6m net - the full value of his remaining contract - to walk away from the job. The first opportunity for the Swede to address the incidents of the last nine days will come on Thursday when he speaks in Switzerland ahead of Friday's Euro 2008 qualifying draw.

Give us Dubai details, FA urges newspaper

The Football Association issued a statement on its website www.TheFA.com yesterday which read: "Further to today's allegations in the News of the World concerning Sven Goran Eriksson, the Football Association has this morning requested from the newspaper details of all the conversations which are alleged to have taken place with an undercover reporter in Dubai.

"Additionally, FA chief executive Brian Barwick has spoken to Sven Goran Eriksson regarding the allegations and will discuss them further with him tomorrow.

"Sven will then attend a meeting with the FA's compliance unit to discuss some of the issues raised in today's article. This is standard practice with such matters, as in the case with Luton Town manager Mike Newell and Queen's Park Rangers manager Ian Holloway.

"The compliance unit will also interview Athole Still, Sven's agent who accompanied him to Dubai and is quoted extensively in the News of the World. This follows a meeting earlier today which Athole Still attended at Brian Barwick's request with Barwick and FA executives at Soho Square."

Barwick said: "Allegations made during the past week have not been good for the game's image. However, the FA fully appreciates the importance of supporting Sven and the England team in the build-up to and during the World Cup this summer.

"We realise how important this is to every England supporter and are fully aware of our responsibility to provide Sven and the team with the best chance of achieving success in Germany. Rest assured, we are committed to doing this.

"I'd like to call on everyone connected with the game to get behind Sven and the team over the next five months as we count down to what we all believe is one of our best opportunities in a World Cup finals for many years."

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