James Lawton: Eriksson self-interest betrays English cause

We don't know as a matter of fact what Sven Goran Eriksson's job status would have been this morning if a door-stepping photographer had not caught him going into the flat of the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, last week. But maybe we are permitted a guess. Perhaps we can assume that he would still be locked in the old game of fending off speculation that he was toying with moves to Chelsea, or Real Madrid, or Internazionale or maybe even the Ikea works team.

There is no doubt a danger of naïveté in any assessment of Eriksson's behaviour - and that of his suitors Chelsea. Yes, we have to live in the real world - we have to understand that football has developed the working ethics of a tank full of piranha. But allowing for that, and the older truth than any man is entitled to seek out the best for himself - it is still hard to celebrate Eriksson's decision to extend his contract to 2008.

This is partly because of his apparently enthusiastic acceptance of the view that loyalty to a commitment, rather than a set of financially binding legalities, is hopelessly old hat.

It has also been less than beguiling to see the Football Association pay him such slavering court. They signed him, they paid him £3.5m a year and their reward - apart from some pathetically inflated assessments of the benefits brought by his reign as England coach - has been to be treated with as much public loyalty as some tottering sugar daddy living in daily fear of betrayal.

The FA has paid the money and played the game, while Sven, flickering his eyelids, has, and now by his own admission, played the field. It is what happens in football, he tells us, with that bland delivery which was first taken as the style of a common man of uncommon understanding of the realities of the game in which he had racked up some considerable achievements. In fact what we had, we know now well enough, is a man of slide-rule calculation in the number one priority of self-interest.

His sharp eye for commercial exploitation of his position on the build up to the 2002 World Cup was a surprise, and a disappointment, to those who fancied he had brought a style of impressive detachment to the pressures of the England job. His affair with a TV girl was his own business, but then again it was another blow to the idea that England had invested in a figure of urbanity and shrewd judgement.

His football achievements with England? Of course they are considerable, but they have been subject to some gross exaggerations. Yes, he picked up the baton impressively after the first hapless World Cup qualifying attempt of Kevin Keegan, and the 5-1 victory in Munich, albeit over a Germany that were completely unrecognisable as the World Cup finalists of less than a year later, seemed to be a landmark of the English game - a desperately flawed interpretation, it was revealed quickly enough. Subsequent qualifying performances against Albania and, particularly, Greece were among the most arid ever produced by an England team.

In the World Cup there was the notable victory over Argentina, one significantly helped by the injury to Owen Hargreaves which meant that the team operated for the rest of the game with a balance that was plainly lacking at the start, and the quarter-final defeat by Brazil revealed absolute bankruptcy in the matter of tactical adjustment. It is also true that he made the disastrous decision to take a half-fit David Beckham and Michael Owen to the world's greatest football tournament, something that would have shocked the only manager of England to win the World Cup, Sir Alf Ramsey.

As a football coach, Eriksson has his virtues. He has a pair of relatively safe hands. He isn't going to dismay us with crackpot religious theories. He isn't going to make tactical howlers, well not for most of the time. But the idea that he is some kind of Svengali of winning football, with just one defeat in competitive football with England, needs some caution. Most of the victories, and draws, have come against second class football nations, including, can anyone forget, Macedonia and Slovakia. His timorous approach to the club-and-country issue - Sven certainly doesn't like to make enemies - has turned England's programme of friendly games into meaningless farce and a stream of cheap caps.

These, anyway, are some of the reasons why the urge to reach for the champagne yesterday was easy enough to contain. Eriksson's style was plainly visible. The man who did not utter a public squeak when his players were threatening to strike before one of the most important games he had faced as England coach, said only what he had to yesterday - but that was infinitely more than England supporters could have expected without the work of the watchful cameraman.

It does not matter that Sven Goran Eriksson is a foreigner, at least not to those of us who welcomed his appointment as one of some considerable imagination. The problem is that we fancied - partly because he told us it was so - that he would bring to the England job the force of his great experience and a considerable amount of pride. When he arrived, he suggested he was embarking on a crusade - not some wretchedly prolonged advertisement for himself.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot