Mike Rowbottom: Sharks know when to attack Eriksson

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The Independent Football

You can't take anything on trust these days, can you? Then again, I could be lying to you about that.

Let's set aside for a moment whether Tony Blair will eventually decide to do the decent thing after misleading the country over the Iraq war. The issue currently exercising the nation relates to the credibility of the man in charge of England's football team.

Has Sven Goran Eriksson's private life got sweet FA to do with his employers? Or is there something rotten in the state of Sweden?

Medium term, of course, there's no need for alarm. In both cases, Trevor Brooking is standing ready to take temporary charge.

But with that comforting thought in mind, we can address ourselves to the matter in hand.

A week in which the Football Association has, metaphorically speaking, run gibbering from bedroom to bedroom with its trousers round its ankles has ended with a familiar question flapping in the breeze: what actually happened?

As that man of faith, John Donne, once observed, "...on a huge hill, cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will reach her, about must, and about must go..."

Doubtless the committed Christian who serves as the FA's chairman, Geoff Thompson, will come to realise the accuracy of Donne's words this week as he attempts to unravel the snarled events which have reduced his organisation to comic disarray.

Some reports have indicated that this whole affair - to give it an appropriate title - hinges on the phrase which Eriksson is said to have uttered when questioned by a senior FA figure shortly before the issuing of a legal denial of his relationship with fellow employee Faria Alam: "This is nonsense". Was that a denial? Or a dismissal of the question itself?

However the awkward ambiguity is dealt with when Thompson announces his findings to an extraordinary meeting this Thursday, one fact remains unspoken but unchallengeable.

Had England won Euro 2004, none of this would be happening. Without that, Eriksson is bobbing vulnerably in the water as the sharks circle. And how quickly they gather. The man who brought dignity back to the job after the histrionics of the previous incumbent, Kevin Keegan, and rescued an almost moribund World Cup qualifying campaign before reaching the last eight can feel the water thrashing. The man who has taken England to the last eight of the World Cup and European Championships can almost feel the teeth closing on his dome-like head.

It's all about timing. Glenn Hoddle was precipitated from the England managership after the re-emergence of his views on reincarnation. Hoddle's views had been aired before. It was just that their latest appearance coincided with his failure to take the team beyond the last 16 in the 1998 World Cup and a misguided decision to publish a diary about the campaign which risked undermining the confidence of his players.

Suddenly, everyone has their own version of why Eriksson is no use any longer, and was never any use. The old, chauvinistic objections which greeted his appointment have shuffled back out of the shadows. No passion. Money-obsessed. What else could you expect from Johnny Foreigner? Told you so.

There is something infinitely depressing about the current posturing going on both in the media and the smart new Soho offices of the Football Association.

So the powers-that-be at the FA are livid that Sven didn't level with them about his in-house affair? How incompetent do you need to be to issue legal denials without being clear about your facts? How hard is it to ask the obvious question?

As to settling for "this is nonsense" as a response - that is nonsense.

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