Those keen on dragging Sven Goran Eriksson to the stocks yesterday were beset by several difficulties, not least the challenge of framing the charge. Disloyalty, greed, indiscretion ... when was the last time anyone in football could begin to argue that these were crimes?
The answer was supplied by veteran broadcaster and former Spurs and England star Alan Mullery. It was around 28 years ago when Don Revie, one of Eriksson's predecessors as England coach, also made a trip to Dubai. Revie was excoriated for flying out for a job interview with the United Arab Emirates football authorities even though the FA chairman Harold Thompson, a brilliant Oxford science don but also a man of sensational personal arrogance, was making no secret of the fact that Revie was about to get the sack.
Thompson treated Revie, like almost every professional who crossed his path, with scorn.
Even though he knew it was taken as a calculated insult in the professional game, unlike in his own rarified academic circles, he insisted on addressing all football employees by their last name, and with a particularly gruff delivery. That part of the past came tumbling back to life yesterday when Mullery, operating in a moral zone of stupefying vacuity, declared: "He [Eriksson] should stay. He's been naïve but football is a fickle game and you need to look after your future. It reminds me of Don Revie talking to the UAE."
Here it is necessary to defend the memory of a football man who while far from perfect spent the bulk of his managerial career building superbly one of the great teams in English football on wages so pitifully short of Eriksson's requirements we might be talking not of different ages but planets and who took a wage cut when he left Leeds United for England in the summer of '74. It is as well to remember precisely his salary at Elland Road when considering the outrageousness of any comparison of his behaviour with that of Eriksson, who cheerfully reported to his imagined prospective employers that he cleared £3m a year net on an England contract which is supposed to be honoured up to 2008. Revie was on £15,000 a year at Leeds. He took a cut of several thousand pounds a year when he presented himself for duty at the old Lancaster Gate fiefdom of Professor Thompson.
This, we have to guess, did not condition the response of Mullery to the moral dilemma which came to him when judging Eriksson's most recent behaviour so benignly, no more than that of Frank Clark, vice-chairman of the League Managers' Association. Said Clark: "Sven should be allowed to look after his future. What he has said about players is nothing more than people in football already know."
Clark, a fine pro in his day with Newcastle and Nottingham Forest knows more about the moral maze of today's football than most. As manager of Forest he had to deal with Stan Collymore. Unlike some of his successors in the chore, Clark's relationship with Collymore didn't help lose him his job, but it did provide a shocking insight into some of the thinking of the modern pro. Collymore, after months of unrest, demanded a "loyalty" share of the transfer fee which took him from Nottingham to Anfield, and when one old pro said it was time for the modern professional to take a look into the mirror, he was sent, insultingly, a benefit claim form by the Professional Footballers' Association.
The point, if we needed any confirmation, is that Eriksson's world is so different from that of Revie, and his World Cup-wining predecessor Sir Alf Ramsey, a whole set of new criteria has to be applied to everyone's critical faculty and not just the ones operating on behalf of Alan Mullery and Frank Clark.
Yes, what Eriksson did in Dubai was wretched and disloyal, the work of a professional ingrate and chancer, but within the game does anyone really care? Will the players be outraged and rebellious and in little mood to ride the World Cup glory-gravy trail? The idea is a nonsense. Do a few indiscreet words about David Beckham wipe out all the years of preferment, the special treatment, the lack of proper discipline, the indulgence of celebrity whims and periods of dismal form? Hardly. Is the coach who stood on one side when his players seriously debated the possibility of striking on the eve of an important qualifying game in Istanbul because Rio Ferdinand had been suspended for walking away from a drugs test going to be roasted for his guileless, grasping but ultimately idiotic behaviour on the junket organised and funded by the News of the World sting team? You can't be serious.
Those who have railed most seriously against Eriksson have not done so because of his affairs or his avarice. It has been because he has been found so wanting in vital areas of the job. He made a joke of friendlies, the classic form of team building. He has shaped not so much a football team as a private club of fierce loyalties to itself.
Twice he has sat inert while being outcoached by Big Phil Scolari in the quarter-finals of two major championships. When Brazil were reduced to 10 men in the World Cup, England were witless in attempting to exploit the advantage. Against Portugal, Eriksson watched Scolari rejig his team and yank the legendary Luis Figo, and his response? He sent on Phil Neville and kept faith with an invisible David Beckham. All that - and pathetic performances against Denmark and Northern Ireland - has been apparently washed away by qualification at the top of arguably the weakest of European groups.
When Don Revie, plainly doomed in his job, sought desperately some security for his family by flying to Dubai he was made a pariah. When Eriksson was caught negotiating with Chelsea, his reward was somewhat different - a vast increase in his salary and an extension of his contract.
That surely defines the moral vacuum in which Eriksson sailed so serenely in Arabian waters, quaffing his champagne and spelling out his desires for a future beyond the glory of just possibly winning the World Cup for England in five months time. Certainly as he dusts himself down after still another fall from what we might describe - for nostalgia's sake - as grace, he might thank the stars for the passing of Professor Harold Thompson.
Unlike the current chairman of the FA, his namesake, Geoff, the professor was a man who believed in certain standards - not surprising in someone who, when notified he was to deliver an important scientific lecture in Moscow, sat down and learned flawless Russian - in three months. Yesterday I asked someone who knew the fierce old boy how he would have handled Sven Goran Eriksson. "Handle him? He wouldn't have handled him. He would have run him out of town."
Another fine mess as FAI fails to grant Staunton independence
Given the latest Eriksson affair, it takes some nerve in these quarters to criticise the Football Association of Ireland, but in the matter of their national team coaching appointment they do seem to have made a fine old mess.
In a press conference which lurched into the ludicrous yesterday, Steve Staunton was so badly advised that he read out his acceptance speech so haltingly it might have been his last will and testament.
Sir Bobby Robson, his official adviser, sat beside him with an expression that moved from outright pleasure to be back in football - was there ever such a tireless glutton for punishment? - to a bewilderment that may have concerned the exact nature of his duties.
Staunton spoke so effusively of the old warrior's qualities that it was reasonable to wonder why the FAI hadn't made him the chief.
At the back of this confusion was a fine old irony. Jack Charlton, who did such wonders in the job, apparently suggested that Staunton, one of Ireland's finest players with a record 102 performances, should have Robson alongside him.
As some of his contemporaries, including his former player Liam Brady, pointed out, Charlton did his work with ferocious self-confidence and an absolute refusal to take anyone's advice.
It is of course the only way a young coach establishes his authority. Ask Arsène Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson. Ask anyone who made a fist of the job.Reuse content