James Lawton: Eriksson set to profit from FA's loss of common sense

The Swede is being treated as though he is utterly indispensable. Does that square with the reality of his performance?
Click to follow

Perhaps it was because some addled-brained observers told them it was so. Or maybe they really believed they had pulled off a stroke of Machiavellian subtlety. Either way, it is surely time to let the Football Association know that its attempt to "flush out" the intentions of the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, by offering him a contract extension worth £14m is not a matter for admiration but scorn, and perhaps even disbelief.

You don't flush out a hugely rewarded employee of - when you get right down to it - relatively modest achievement. You sit him down and run by him a little loyalty test - ask for a touch of straightforward, man-to-man dialogue. You flush out snipers, conspirators, fifth columnists.

Imagine if some big public company operated as the FA has done these last few days. Derision would surely have been the reaction of the City, along with an explosion of shareholder rage.

Mark Palios, the new chief executive of the FA who came into office bristling with laudable intentions and with an impressive record of achievement outside the game, seems to have been paralysed by his discovery that within football there are simply no absolute values. In place, and virtually untouched by all the pressure for reform, is the great dichotomy that has always existed between the way things are done in the national game and in the real world.

The Eriksson situation could not happen in any world of proper accountability and, dare one say it, personal honour. What the FA wants to know are Eriksson's intentions.

While he indulges in coy double-speak, they wonder about the meaning of his meeting with Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, and the relentless linking of his name with Stamford Bridge. Eriksson may say that this is nothing to do with him, but that would be too ingenuous of a man of considerable sophistication. He is under contract to the FA until 2006 at £2.5m-plus a year and the offer is that he extends the deal until 2008 for an extra £8m. This is potentially one of the most expensive clear-the-air discussions since the Exxon disaster.

Apologists for Eriksson, and his failure to say emphatically that he intends to honour his contract, point out that the FA would have been quick enough to cut him loose if his successful qualification drives for last year's World Cup and next summer's European Championship had fallen apart. Maybe so, but that is the point of a contract. As it is, the Swede is being treated as though he is utterly indispensable. Does that really square with the reality of his performance? Only if you set it beside the catastrophic reigns of Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan before him.

No doubt, Eriksson did well to rescue the World Cup drive, and no one will forget quickly the impact of the 5-1 victory in Munich even though it was an achievement that promised a lot more than it eventually delivered against defences less comically inadequate than the German one that night. Again, he did the job of European Championship qualifying, but then the rapture that greeted the clinching goalless draw in Istanbul recently was put into some perspective by the success of lightly considered Latvia two weeks ago.

Beyond the columns of win and loss, we might also consider the style of Eriksson when his players threatened to strike in reaction to the perfectly reasonable, though admittedly poorly executed, FA decision to ban Rio Ferdinand from international football after his refusal to take a drugs test. Eriksson simply ran for cover. He was neither statesmanlike nor courageous, insisting, 48 hours after the strike threat had dwindled away, that he would only discuss tactics before the Turkish game. He was keeping his head down, as he is now.

Plainly, it is profitable work. The less assurance he gives his employers, the more they offer him. Richest of all is Eriksson's anger that the FA made public their offer. He suggests it was a form of betrayal, but of what? Of keeping your options open. Of taking the money, extremely big money, and waiting to see how things turn out. It's great work if you can get it, but don't bother to apply for it anywhere outside of football. Be sure you would be flushed out quickly enough.

THE REVELATION that the Leeds chairman, Professor John McKenzie, has been paid in advance a £200,000 consultancy fee, along with his salary of £100,000, by a club that recently announced record losses of £49.5m should provoke at least a small burst of rage. But strangely it does not.

Why is this? Maybe because Leeds United long ago ceased to register on the graph of shame and misadventure.

With commiserations to those fans who invested their dreams, and who remember Leeds when they were run by Don Revie and were cynical and hated and utterly brilliant, and with respect to the fine professional, and former luminary of their great team, the current stand-in manager, Eddie Gray, it has to be said that the club has become not something to be redrawn but wiped away. Perhaps something decent can be put in its place, but for the moment it represents all that has gone wrong with English football.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL has made his debut as the latest in a long line of celebrity sports columnists and he wants us to know that there is much more to Ethiopia than famine and war.

He gives us this astonishing information after running, commendably for the cause of leukaemia research, in the Great Ethiopia Run. He further reports: "There is a warm, generous population longing to be able to build a better future and who see in sport a potential force for good." For the moment there are, because of local difficulties, no plans for a Great Iraq Run. This, at least until Mr Campbell's split times improve, is probably just as well.

Bentley puts football's excesses in perspective

The arrival of Lawrence Dallaglio at Stamford Bridge on Sunday may just have reinforced the fast-growing idea that rugby and football players belong to separate species.

Though recent appearances may have been to the contrary, it just isn't so, and for proof of this we need stray no further than the fact that sitting up in the Chelsea stand and watching the hero's welcome for Dallaglio and his World Cup-winning coach, Clive Woodward, was Roy Bentley.

Bentley, of Chelsea and England, is the happily living proof that real men, of decency and pride, occupy both codes in roughly equal numbers, and that if football's image has been deeply scarred in recent years, there are two main reasons: an increasingly circus-like environment and a minority of professional footballers unable to deal with the kind of sudden fame and unimaginable wealth only now touching their rugby cousins.

In his time, Bentley, an ex-Navy man, did his best to settle in young pros. England's World Cup hero George Cohen reminds us of this with the story of how, when he was a teenaged member of a Fulham side guided by the veteran Bentley, he was awakened at 7am by a knock on his hotel door in Bristol.

Fulham were playing City in a Second Division game that afternoon. Recalls Cohen: "I looked at my watch and wondered who on earth was disturbing me at such a time. It was the great Bentley. 'Get dressed, son,' he said. 'I want to show you something.' He then walked me through the empty streets of Bristol and out to the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

"It was awe-inspiring and a little scary as the great bridge seemed to sway in the wind. 'I thought you should see this,' said Roy, 'and see what men can achieve when they put their minds to it. I just thought it might help you put the pressures of football into a little bit of perspective.' " Ah, perspective. These days, it too sways in the wind.

Comments