James Lawton: He seemed to have such dignity, but now I'll see him in a different light

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The Independent Online

The greening of Sven Goran Eriksson may not be a matter for censure. But perhaps for a sigh, for a flash of regret that someone who seemed so much his own man has been parcelled up and sold off by International Management Group.

Eriksson seemed different. He was a man of football who had taken his rewards from the game with dignity, an apparently innate understanding of what might still separate the best values of sport from the scufflings of the marketplace.

Now he belongs as much to big business as to sport, and there is an inclination to see him in a different light. His portfolio of endorsements reflects his success as saviour of England's World Cup hopes, and some might say that to have excluded himself from the gravy boat of the world's most commercially exploited tournament would have demanded the unworldliness of a saint.

So why does an outright admirer of his contribution to the national game feel like the street urchin who was said to have cried to Shoeless Joe Jackson, "Say it ain't so, Joe," when the baseball star passed by? The charge against Jackson was bribe taking. The rap against Eriksson is not remotely so serious. It is more to do with image than character and comes because Eriksson seemed above the scrambling of those who have turned so much of sport into a juggernaut for profit. He seemed more likely to be encountered in a Bergman movie than an advertising spot. He had an edge, a hint of erudition that left him immune to the sort of media ambushes which waylaid his predecessors.

You couldn't imagine him compromising himself as Graham Taylor did when he agreed to a fly-on-the-wall documentary which, far from charting a story of triumph, itemised the break-up of a career. You couldn't dream of Eriksson meandering into self-destruction in the fashion of Glenn Hoddle, who published a World Cup diary that shattered the trust of his players. You couldn't believe he would be as careless as Kevin Keegan, who was a director of an on-line betting firm during his reign as England coach.

You only had to see him in action to form this conviction. He seemed so secure in his attitudes to triumph and failure. When England beat Germany in Munich, he refused to be lionised. A win was a win, he said, and you couldn't build an empire on one of them. He seemed more concerned about the heart attack suffered during the match by the father of his rival, Rudi Voller, the German coach.

None of Eriksson's remarkable success has been reduced by his decision to cash in. He has created no conflicts of interest for himself. He is simply selling his name.

But, however irrationally, some of his admirers will believe there is a cost, if not to his integrity as a football manager, then to his meaning as a public figure. His £2.5m a year salary from the Football Association has already been repaid by his skill in repairing England's campaign for a place in the World Cup finals. Now he moves to a new financial dimension.

He is no longer the cool football man operating entirely on his own terms. He is also a seller of products, a huckster to be wheeled in by the highest bidder. Like Jackson, he may say it ain't so. But then, maybe it's true that we don't know what we have until it's gone.

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