Ken Jones: Eriksson's ability to coach should not be affected by a few sniggers

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The Independent Online

One of my all-time favourite sports figures is the American footballer who pre-empted enquiries about his private life by silently directing reporters to answers pasted up inside a locker door. The answers went something like this:

I am not having an affair.

My marriage is not falling apart.

I don't have a drink problem.

I don't visit gay bars.

I don't do drugs.

He was camera-shy too. The only photographs he allowed were those over which he had no control, pictures of him playing. I wish I could remember this fellow's name, knew his telephone number, because Sven Goran Eriksson might find it useful. But then maybe not. What does Eriksson need with advice when he appears infinitely capable of handling a dodgy situation all by himself? No veiled threats, no urgent discussions – as far as we know – with lawyers. Remarking on the snappers and snoopers outside his door, Eriksson says merely: "It isn't nice."

The temptation, and a pretty safe bet is that I am not alone in this, is to ask what all the fuss is about anyway? When the world is in upheaval, what makes the sex life of a football coach so interesting that even serious-minded newspaper columnists and broadcasters feel compelled to get in on the act? One night at the Masters three years ago, conversation turned from golf to the scandal of the day, Bill Clinton's involvement with Monica Lewinsky. After a while one of the game's old heroes Sam Snead had his say. "Beats me," Snead said, "why there should be all this stuff about a guy trying to get a bit of ass." If this was typically sexist of Snead, there were plenty of his compatriots who agreed with the sentiment. If Clinton's morals weren't up to much, he seemed to be doing a good job of running the country.

Footballers being what they are Eriksson's apparent philandering is bound to raise sniggers in the England football camp, making it more difficult for him to maintain the air of inscrutability that prompts people to say that he must know a great deal because he doesn't say very much. What is going on in Sven's mind, the players will ask themselves, a way of winning the World Cup or the joys of sharing a bed with a Swedish sex kitten who has plenty of names on her dance card including that of the non-playing striker Stan Collymore, who slapped her around in a Paris bar during the World Cup four years ago?

Since we probably haven't heard the last of probes into Eriksson's private life, the question exercising the thoughts of people in this rough old trade, some who really ought to know better, others who have not the remotest idea of what makes a successful sports team tick, is whether England's chances in the forthcoming World Cup will be adversely affected.

Until recently Eriksson seldom was exposed to the public in a vulnerable position, when he didn't appear to be in complete command of everything within a 10-mile radius. That has changed. But not what his players so far believe he can do for them. Eriksson hasn't lost them and won't unless things go wrong on the field and he is unable to come up with an improving formula.

As a friend was quick to point out this week, people react differently to life's slings and arrows depending on their nature. For example, the trumped-up theft charge levelled at Bobby Moore shortly before the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico could easily have fallen on Bobby Charlton, who was in a jeweller's shop alongside the England captain. Where it might have broken the more sensitive Charlton, the scandal served to make Moore stronger. Listening to Moore at a press conference after he was released from house arrest in Bogota I remarked that nobody should relish the idea of coming up against him. Setting everything else aside, Moore played marvellously.

Prurient interest in Eriksson is nothing compared with the storm that broke around Muhammad Ali a few days before an epic contest for the heavyweight championship against Joe Frazier in Manila. The discovery by Ali's wife of his affair with Veronica Porsche led to a wrecked hotel suite and a thunderous departure. Far from being disturbed in preparation for what turned out to be one of the greatest fights ever, Ali sailed on as though nothing had happened.

That's about all. Save to say that in these dangerous and difficult times there are graver matters than Eriksson's love life to consider.

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