James Lawton: He's a £40m joke – but Notts County laugh at their peril
Thursday 23 July 2009
No wonder the Iceman's eyes shone so brightly from behind the rimless specs. It's a wonderful joke, the Sven Goran Eriksson football story, English edition, and every laugh is worth a million, at least.
The last, almost exquisite twist is that just when the old schmoozer's credibility in the job – out of which he is estimated to have made at least £40m since he arrived as England manager eight years ago – finally collapsed, a new one has been created for him by another venerable failure known as Notts County.
It is new for him, at least. Football directors have been around for some time, mostly with disastrous consequences, but until County, the oldest but at the moment not conspicuously the wisest of football clubs, received their Middle Eastern windfall via the tax haven of Switzerland, no one would have imagined Sven joining their ranks.
The job doesn't work, basically, because it is completely at odds with the time-honoured concept of how you make your success at every level of the game.
You appoint a strong, successful manager who nominates the players he wants and, according to the resources of the club, the training facilities and scouting system he deems necessary. This doesn't require Nasa levels of planning. It's old-fashioned common sense, leavened now by the need to have an idea of what is happening in the world market which, we are told by County, is where their new football director comes in.
He was at pains yesterday to report that his mobile phone had been ringing non-stop since the news of his appointment. No kidding. Sven said he knew a lot of agents.
Some of them no doubt had guarded his number jealously from the time Thaksin Shinawatra, former owner of Manchester City, provided him with £40m-plus to reseed a moribund team. The result was a burst of signings which included a hazard number made on the less than foolproof evidence of video tapes and slightly more than half a season of football of some virtuosity. Then, pretty much wholesale disintegration and another sweet pay-off.
When Mexico sacked Eriksson after their poor start put them in danger of not qualifying for next year's World Cup, and chipped in another whacking donation to his subsistence fund, naturally he cast about for further opportunities.
Yesterday he explained that if he had wanted a good climate and a beautiful environment he would probably have returned to Italy, though perhaps not Lazio, where for some time they have been counting the cost of the Scudetto he won there before setting up the David Beckham Appreciation Society as manager of England.
What we have to understand, though, is that Sven is at Meadow Lane, not for the money but the challenge. The challenge, this is, of getting back to the roots he first laid down in football with a lowly club in his native Sweden, the springboard for his success in Portugal and Italy and, well, Portugal and Italy.
We laugh at Sven, though, only at our own peril. If his record since he left Lazio is beyond satire, it seems it is also beyond the possibility of unemployment. He survives with considerable charm and an aura that is preserved with something not far short of genius.
True, he ran a brief gauntlet of interrogation yesterday. Patiently, he explained that, yes, he could take the easy life if he wanted, but football was so in his heart that he was happy to take what was maybe the greatest challenge of his football life, which was, it had already been explained, to set up a training complex, institute a scouting system and talk to a lot of agents.
Meanwhile, the manager, Ian McParland, would go about the business of making the team a little better equipped to avoid exile from the league in which the club has always proudly boasted of its status as a founder member. McParland is widely believed to be vulnerable to the Eriksson broom, but after pointing out that when he first heard the news it wasn't 1 April he added to the chorus, saying it was a masterstroke.
The executive chairman, Peter Trembling, said everything you would have expected him to say. Eriksson was a great football figure. He had turned his back on an easy, luxurious life, because football was still in his heart, he couldn't put aside the challenge. Not at the loss of £2m a year, he couldn't.
When Eriksson was coach of England he tended to take a passive role in training sessions. Shortly before the European Championship of 2004 he consulted his players about the disposition of the midfield and two years later he went to Germany and the World Cup with Theo Walcott and one other fully fit striker. At various times he was courted by Chelsea and a faked sheikh, the latter collision largely instrumental in his losing his job. In the mid-term, however, he had won a massive pay rise.
Since then he has earned, with pay-offs, the best part of £10m. If all this is indeed a joke, who can say it isn't a miraculous one?
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