James Lawton: Eriksson the gentleman should start acting the tactical genius

Euro 2004: National coach has unflinching loyalty of his players but for how long can they continue to defend his increasingly bizarre formations?

Michael Owen's fervent defence of Sven Goran Eriksson is not in all respects a masterpiece of football logic. Praising the boss for rectifying a fundamental mistake in Bratislava after one of the worst halves of football ever played by any England team certainly errs on the side of generosity.

But if Owen can't be kind to Eriksson, who can? There is no doubt about the Swede's supreme achievement of a 20-month regime. It is to value properly the extraordinary scoring talent of the Liverpool marksman, to make him feel not only wanted but quite indispensable – a reality which Owen underlined once again in Slovakia with the predatory instincts that helped him create one goal and score another.

Owen's contribution was the difference between a valuable win and the kind of catastrophic defeat which would surely have applied far more critical pressure on the coach that any amount of pillow-talk candour from his scorned mistress, Ulrika Jonsson.

But if Owen's performance – and his public support for Eriksson – fits perfectly into the principle of one favour deserving another – it should not unduly influence any debate over the most important issue facing the coach and his team before tonight's European Championship qualifier with Macedonia. Victory should be even more of a formality than was presumed of the Slovakia game before the onset of a nightmare in tactics and performance.

Before any brief exhuming of the relevant facts of that misbegotten but amazingly rescued adventure, though, we should perhaps give unto Eriksson what is undoubtedly his. Most importantly, it is a civilised manner which has preserved for him a fundamental strength in his operation – the goodwill of his players.

This, when you examine the experience of three of four immediate predecessors is more of an an achievement than some might imagine.

Graham Taylor was quickly at odds with his most important player, Gary Lineker, and it was a breakdown in relations which led to a shameful denouement in the European Championship of 1992 in Sweden when the striker, who had rescued the campaign with a late goal on an icy night in Poznan six months earlier, was humiliatingly withdrawn shortly before England's exit from the tournament.

Glenn Hoddle brought unnecessary pressure on the young David Beckham when he talked loosely in public about the player's head not being in the right place. It was perhaps something to think – especially in view of later events in St Etienne, when Beckham was sent off for the most ill-considered reaction – but not to say anywhere but in the privacy of a two-man conversation.

Kevin Keegan, of course, made Owen's life a misery – repeatedly withdrawing him from the action in the finals of Euro 2000 and, climactically, dropping him in favour of the scoreless Andy Cole before the prestige friendly against the world champions, France, in the Stade de France.

Eriksson's employee relations have been conducted on an infinitely higher level of sophistication, no question. But of course there are other equally important issues, and last Saturday night they surfaced so plainly that any blurring of them by a fortunate escape surely also needed the widespread distribution of blindfolds.

Owen appears to be in charge of the supply. He was yesterday quoted thus, "I think everyone should be positive and look forward to the next European Championship. We will go there with a realistic chance. The team will improve and Portugal [who stage the finals] should be good, but the next World Cup in Germany should be the absolute pinnacle for this team."

That was pretty much the theme of the captain, Beckham, after the abysmal failure to challenge seriously the 10-man Brazilians in the second half of the World Cup quarter-finals? But where is this optimism underpinned?

There was certainly no evidence of it in Slovakia, when Eriksson played Paul Scholes on the left side of midfield with predictably miserable results. Where was the progression here? Eriksson made the same mistake in the World Cup against Argentina, but was rescued on that occasion by the injury to Owen Hargreaves which brought the need for reorganisation of the team. The result was the crucial injection of natural width on the left with the arrival of Trevor Sinclair.

Now Eriksson apparently intends to go against Macedonia with the same duplication of Steven Gerrard and Nicky Butt in midfield and no naturally left-sided midfielder, David Thompson having been brought into the squad for apparently no immediate reason. Alan Smith, a much more logical partner for Owen, is again omitted in favour of Emile Heskey, who doesn't score goals, doesn't complement Owen and, amazingly enough, seems to have been confirmed in his position by dint of mere strength and willingness in the Slovakian mud.

On the much smoother surface of Southampton, England should blow away Macedonia, but removing doubts about the true development of the team is an entirely different matter. Owen's support doesn't really address this rather important issue. "When you start a game you set out to play in a certain way," he said. "But there are times when you have to adapt once the game has begun and against Slovakia the manager was quick to change things around."

But what did he change? His own mistakes, and ones he had committed just a few months ago in the World Cup. Owen has legitimate reasons to support his coach but none of them should have anything to do with what happened in Bratislava. Loyalty is commendable. Misrepresentation is not.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballIt's not a game to lose, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
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

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes