When the England players heard that the Football Association had made official Sven Goran Eriksson's departure after the World Cup finals, a sense of dread will have touched every one of them. Not because they were all sorry to see him go - there will be many who won't be - but because a tense six months of World Cup build-up had just got a whole lot more complicated.
Preparing for a tournament as big as theWorld Cup brings with it many different stresses for a player: your fitness, your status in the team and the growing pressure from knowing that the expectation of the nation rests upon you. Now that the manager is also to leave after the tournament you can be sure that every press conference, and most of the private conversations among the squad, will be dominated by one theme.
I would go as far to say that the FA must have had no other option but to announce Eriksson's departure, or they simply would not have done it. The decision will put another layer of complexity on to an already fraught build-up which - unless there was no alternative - is just inconsiderate to the players.
There will be a natural appetite among the media to probe into how the squad's relationship with Eriksson has changed, to scrutinise all aspects of the preparation - in short the atmosphere will not be any more relaxed.
Believe me, I've been there before. In the build-up to the 1998 World Cup the role of the faith healer Eileen Drewery, who had been brought in by Glenn Hoddle, caused a lot of interest. We were asked about it constantly and, as a player, you had to make sure that you trod carefully with your answers. After that came Paul Gascoigne's infamous reaction to being dropped from the squad, when he took his anger out on a coffee table and a few other hotel fittings. Another crisis, another distraction that dominated all discussion with the press.
The difficulty with the Eriksson situation for the players is that everything will revolve around him and the fact that he is leaving after the tournament. Not only will the players constantly be searching for the right thing to say when asked about their manager but in private there will also be a second topic of discussion: who the new manager might be and his attitude to certain individuals.
There will be some players who will fear the end of the Eriksson era; there will be others who cannot wait for it to arrive. One thing is certain, it would make no sense getting rid of him now - change of that nature so close to the World Cup finals would just cause chaos among the players. They have done too much preparation, become too familiar with the current set-up to be able to absorb a new set of rules so close to the summer and with only three friendly games before the tournament begins.
Working under a manager who knows the date of his departure will be a new experience for all but a handful of the players in the England squad and there is no doubt that although it was widely expected that Eriksson would leave this summer anyway, this new development will change the dynamic of the group. Although club football is different to international level, I saw these problems at first hand at the end of my career when I moved to Southampton in the summer of 2003 to work with Gordon Strachan who, in January, announced he would be stepping down at the end of the season. By February, the club had decided he should leave straight away.
One of the key reasons I had joined Southampton was my respect for Strachan, who I knew to be an experienced, knowledgeable manager who had built a good working relationship with older players. I was impressed by the way in which he handled the players - he had a very strong authority over his squad. He ruled them without compromise and the announcement of his departure diminished the influence he held.
It was not always obvious exactly in what way his influence had suffered but if you looked closely you could see changes in the players' attitudes from the moment he called a team meeting and told us about his decision. I could not help but feel a little let down, but I understood his reasons. I had joined Southampton because I trusted Gordon as a manager and now I was being told that he wasn't going to be there beyond the end of the year. Among the more disaffected, you could see the commitment begin to slip even further.
Southampton never really recovered from the impact that decision had on the players and while I would not suggest that England's players would be any less determined to win the World Cup, the atmosphere in the group will have been changed by this latest decision. The task ahead of the players was already daunting - this latest development, many will feel, has only served to make it more complex.
By announcing Eriksson's departure now, the reaction to success or failure will be even more severe. The only winner, it seems to me, is Eriksson himself. If England are successful then he will walk away a hero with a pay-off that will seem cheap at the price for winning the World Cup - fail and the backlash will hit the FA while Eriksson concentrates on his next job.
When it comes to naming the next England manager I would, from an ex-player's perspective, say that it would be best for the FA to delay their decision. It is another element that will serve only to distract. However, one man I wouldn't rule out for the job would be Stuart Pearce, who commands enormous respect with the players. Yes, it would be a risky strategy but I think people would give him the time he needs to get it right.
Another foreign manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari or Guus Hiddink, will have to be allowed to do things their own way and - if they are picked before the World Cup finals - keep their distance while the tournament takes place. If a relatively young coach like Pearce is selected then I would favour him taking some part in the build-up to this tournament, although I know that is not an approach the FA are likely to take. Their main priority should be keeping the fuss around the players to a minimum.Reuse content