James Lawton: Eriksson diplomacy masks refusal to fight for new values

Click to follow
The Independent Football

As TV cameras are thrust under your nose at Ataturk airport, as customs guards check your name against a long list of hard-core hooligans stapled to their desks - the list, that is, not the hooligans - you have to be reminded all over again of the forces that have worked for so long against the good name of English football.

According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, approximately 300 known trouble-makers may have slipped in here by kick-off tomorrow night to threaten England's place in the European Championships.

It is depressing enough in itself, this picture of veterans of so many hellish, lemming charges slipping past Turkish border security in their unswerving dedication to the cause of national shame, but this time they are somehow on the edge of our scorn.

They have been usurped by a smaller group of malcontents, 23 of them to be precise. We are talking about the England squad and the coach who must be judged not by what he said but what he didn't say.

Sven Goran Eriksson erred on the side of mealy-mouthedness when the Rio Ferdinand convulsion first hit on Tuesday lunch-time. But there was a tendency, shared here, to grant that he was stepping through a minefield and that he may have been following a practical agenda when he stayed away from the centre of a controversy. He, like the rest of us, must have suspected it had the potential to devastate preparations for the game with Turkey, which has at least to be drawn.

But yesterday, as England finally moved themselves to the battlefield, such consideration was surely dying on the withered vine of respect for both him and his team. That he didn't whisper a word of protest that his name and his position had been annexed by the players in a statement so embarrassing in its self-serving and utterly unreflective attitudes put his position as the £2m-a- year employee of the Football Association, and the leader of England's national team, in the most serious doubt yet.

If England do rescue a result here tomorrow night after coming back from the brink of a threatened strike which has left much of England shaking with disgust, Eriksson may draw a little praise for his famous pragmatism, his willingness to job along from one match to another, but who again would really trust his willingness to make a stand on any issue not directly involved in his own survival? Certainly, he has refused to be counted in the column fighting for the values and the discipline which the new FA chief executive, Mark Palios, is pushing so hard and so riskily for his own future career path in football.

Indeed, Eriksson's acceptance of the statement that was apparently the price of the players getting on the plane here suggests more strongly than ever that the rest of his lifespan as England's coach must be counted in months rather than years - and if the result goes wrong here tomorrow night - perhaps even in days.

Stamford Bridge and the largesse of the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, would certainly suggest a more congenial operating theatre for a man who this week made Pontius Pilate look like a hair-trigger moral activist.

It is stunning that Eriksson could read the nauseating statement of the England players without a murmur of detachment.

"All the England players are proud to wear the England shirt and would never let England, Sven Goran Eriksson or our magnificent fans down," said the statement. Which fans did they have in mind? Presumably the ones they ran over to salute in Macedonia - the ones who had been advised that their mere presence in Skopje threatened England's continued place in the European Championships.

But perhaps the passage which most challenged Eriksson's integrity as a professional football man in charge of the team of the nation which gave the game to the world came after some sickening self-congratulation about levels of team spirit, as reflected, presumably, in the brinkmanship which so transfixed a shocked nation all through Wednesday.

It read: "It is our opinion that the organisation we represent has not only let down one of our team-mates but the whole of the England squad and its manager. We feel that they have failed us very badly." Could Eriksson have read this statement before it was broadcast to the nation? And if so, did he point out to his players that they do not represent an organisation - they represent England. Did he point out that at no stage of their statement do the players acknowledge that their team-mate Ferdinand was already proven guilty of a most serious offence in the regulations of any well-ordered sport? He had walked away from a drug test. He had gone to a shopping mall while three of his club-mates fulfilled their professional duty. Did Eriksson mildly inquire if his players were so hare-brained they didn't grasp the implications of playing Ferdinand?

At any point, did Eriksson tell his players that he was running a national team of mature professionals not the inhabitants of one of world sport's most opulent kindergartens?

We can only presume he didn't, which means that he doesn't understand some of the basic obligations of his job - and that the sooner he leaves it the better for the chances of a psychologically sound, grown-up national team and, no doubt, for his own interests.

ENGLAND CRISIS VERDICT ON THE PLAYERS' REBELLION

This situation is not acceptable. There is not enough discipline and respect in our game. If we don't get more discipline and respect then I don't know where we go with football.

Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, football's world governing body

The FA had their reasons for acting the way they did and we understand and appreciate those reasons. If the game hadn't gone ahead because of the failure of the England team to appear there would have been very serious consequences for English football, so it's very good news that they are coming.

Mike Lee, director of communications of Uefa, Europe's governing body

Day after day, the sick and sordid culture of Britain's national game is laid bare. The millions who love football for its excitement and spectacle can no longer escape the rottenness within ... Rarely has there been such an insight into the ugly heart of the beautiful game.

Daily Mail

The problems which were expected to surround this game involved fans going to Istanbul and causing trouble, but England fans appear to be showing a hell of a lot more moral fibre than the players. Most England fans who I've spoken to ... are saying that we can't have this.

Mark Perryman, of the official England Supporters' Association

Who did they think they were? How dare they threaten not to board the plane for Turkey? They were too big for their flashy boots. Their mad mutiny would have driven fans to despair ... Today self comes first and country a poor second.

The Sun

The players are going to feel really angry that it has come to this. But what it should do is galvanise them, it should make them a united force to go out there on Saturday and do the job

Terry Butcher

With the avalanche of scandals engulfing our national game, it beggars belief that David Beckham and his team-mates would choose this week of all weeks to behave like a bunch of petulant prima donnas.

Daily Mirror

Off the pitch the English lads are a disgrace.

Peter Osgood

Critics have been arguing for some time that the management and culture of the game have not adopted properly to the change in its circumstances, that organisations with a shambolic, amateur ethos preside over a vast and lucrative business with an important role in the national affections. The past fortnight's events make this assessment incontrovertible.

The Times

[Wednesday] should be regarded not as the end of an unfortunate incident but the start of a long haul to drag British football kicking and screaming into a more civilised world. There never were any golden days of pristine behaviour, except to the extent that, 30 years ago, players did not have the money to commit such excesses and if they did, a less vigilant media might have let them off.

The Guardian

You can't have the tail wagging the dog. The FA have to be allowed to run the game.

Sir Geoff Hurst

English football today is in a state of near collapse. How the rest of the world must be laughing their socks off at us. Players, the FA and clubs have all got to take a share of the blame ... The FA's stance has come too late. They lost control long ago.

Daily Star

Comments