James Lawton: Eriksson should not be compromised by our prurient obsession

The coach's prestige will not have suffered; indeed, in some quarters it will have been enhanced
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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson may already have regrets about his trysts with a member of the celebrity B-list but they will surely concern the order of his personal life rather than any sense that he has betrayed his own professional values.

Though he has brought his impeccable football credentials to work in a society which has a grubbily adolescent preoccupation with things that happen in the night, it would certainly be absurd to suggest that he need judge himself in a way that would be naïve, even quaint, in those more sophisticated parts of the world where the legal doings of grown men and women in their bedrooms are much more a matter for themselves.

That Eriksson should choose to have a relationship with television's Ulrika Jonsson, whose serially publicised ill-starred love life is plainly in receipt of a shipload of oxygen – a major consignment was guaranteed by her appearance at Stamford Bridge on Saturday – is perhaps not one of his shrewder decisions, at least from the perspective of his awareness and distaste for the prurience of the English media and its gagging clients. But does it compromise his highly competent work as the coach of England's World Cup team? Not in any adult terms.

The Football Association has been quick to say that the vast publicity generated by the stunning revelation that Ulrika has seen Sven naked is a private matter, and, in the terms of his contract as a football coach, who can argue with that?

The only real question is whether Eriksson is prepared to put up with the inevitable hounding that will follow an item of scandal so juicy that those sections of Fleet Street in despair that they would ever breach the Ice Man's reserves of calm will probably consider the winning of the World Cup something of an anticlimax, so to speak.

He may consider the trial of it beyond even the consolation of a £2m salary, a figure which some believe compensates for all levels of intrusion into his private life – a proposition manifestly absurd when set against the profits reaped by the Football Association, and the game at large, from a successful World Cup campaign. It will be Eriksson's decision whether he pays the price – just as it was to take down Ulrika's telephone number.

Some may say that Eriksson's authority over a young football team has been diminished and that his calls for exemplary professional standards, and his celebration of a Michael Owen as a supreme example of a "clean pro", have been reduced to so much hypocrisy. Such an assertion would reveal a stunning ignorance of professional football. Within the dressing-room the coach's prestige – which has already been rated as "awesome" – will not have suffered; indeed, in some quarters it will have been enhanced. It is one thing to strike the pose of the aloof, football intellectual who commands rather than seeks respect. It is another to create that effect – and also have evidence screaming from the TV screen and the front page that you are also very much a man of the world.

Eriksson's behaviour may not commend him to the nation's moral guardians – if they still exist – but plainly they do not interfere with his function as the leader of a group of young, fit multi-millionaires. Nor is he compromised in his calls for professional behaviour. They were provoked by incidents of drunken loutishness and charges of criminal conduct. Eriksson's argument that professionals are obliged to behave well in public has not extended to their activities with consenting adults in the privacy of the bedroom.

Unquestionably, the image of Eriksson has changed quite sharply in recent weeks. His embracing of a high level of commercial exploitation of his position and celebrity as England coach sent a jarring message to those who particularly liked the idea of a football man who had insulated himself against some of the game's cheaper values. Having an affair with a young woman whose private and public lives have been so entwined has brought a further dwindling of his aura as a man guaranteed to avoid most of the potential ambushes inherent in his position.

Is his momentum as the man who brought sanity and a cool head to the running of the England team irreparably damaged? Hardly. When the Duke of Wellington was appraised of the forthcoming revelations of his mistress, he said: "Publish and be damned". It is a fragment of the history of Eriksson's adopted country he may care to ponder as he holes up in his Regent's Park mansion. Eriksson may yearn to be in a place where prurience does not reign. But, like the Iron Duke, it is no reason to prevent him getting the job done.

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