As he reflects this morning on a job well done, so far at any rate, Sven Goran Eriksson would hardly be human if he did not take some pleasure in serving up to so many people a smorgasbord of their own words.
I think of Jack Charlton, the former manager of the Republic of Ireland who, apparently without irony, raged that England should be managed by an Englishman. I think too of Howard Wilkinson, the lugubrious Yorkshireman whose unfortunate lot it was to take over Kevin Keegan's duties in Helsinki a year ago. Not so much a caretaker as an undertaker, Wilkinson suggested mournfully that England might be wise to write off the 2002 World Cup and focus on 2006.
Even in the course of Saturday's remarkable match, observers were force-fed their own words. Alan Green, the excitable BBC radio commentator, poured scorn on David Beckham's insistence on taking all the free-kicks within 35 yards of goal, suggesting that something a bit different was needed. Events promptly rendered him wrong on an almost biblical scale of wrongness.
Indeed, had Green been around in New Testament times, he would doubtless have been the first to contend, his Ulster vowels laced with righteous self-assurance, that the boy Lazarus was history, an absolute gonner, dead and buried, yesterday's news.
Still, Green was not the only one to call it wrong on Saturday. Alan Hansen was another.
By and large Hansen is peerless as a football analyst, and incidentally my admiration for him, already high, trebled after the game when he said "that performance shows we've still got a long way to go". The "we've" was surely a slip of the tongue but even so, at least there is no hint from Hansen of the anti-English posturing that provoked one Scottish broadsheet writer to declare during the 1998 World Cup that "I wouldn't support England even if they were playing Mass Murderers United" (see The Book of Football Quotations, compiled by my colleague Phil Shaw, £7.99 in all self-respecting bookshops).
But even Hansen was guilty of misplaced confidence in England. At the one ground where he might be advised to mince his words – after his notorious observation of a Manchester United team destined to achieve the double that "you win nothing with kids" – he suggested in the pre-match chat that England would "nick" it by five or six. On the radio, Emlyn Hughes was even more gung-ho. In fact it was John Motson, of all people, who cautioned against over-excitement.
Motty was apprehensive. In fact Motty, whose 100th commentary on England should be worth listening to if the 98th (against Germany) and 99th (against Greece) were anything to go by, played a blinder on Saturday. Not only did he almost start beseeching Eriksson to make a certain substitution – "where are you, Teddy Sheringham?" – he also wondered, with extraordinary prescience, whether the four minutes of extra time would show Eriksson to be a lucky manager? From my own vantage point on the edgiest of edges of my living-room sofa, I thought the game was up as soon as Motty referred to Steve McManaman's entrance as "the last roll of the dice". Some of us would be more inclined to stick our grannies on in pursuit of a late equaliser. But Motty wondered whether Eriksson might be proved lucky, and he was right to wonder.
There are some who say that you make your own luck. If I had a pound for every time I have seen quoted Gary Player's celebrated aphorism that "it's funny, the harder I practise, the luckier I get", I would be almost as rich as he is. But luck is a significant factor in football management. All the great managers – Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Alex Ferguson, Gordon Lee – have had luck on their side. And so it seems to be with Eriksson.
He had the good sense to stick with Peter Taylor's decision to make Beckham captain, yet the fortune to inherit it. He had the good sense to construct his attack around Michael Owen, where Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan inexplicably dithered, yet the fortune to be blessed with a goalscorer in such a rich vein of form, as Saturday's creaking, Owen-less performance underlined.
Moreover, when the BBC repeated the Germany v England highlights on Saturday, I was reminded that, had it not been for David Seaman's agility in turning away Jörg Böhme's fine shot, and had Sebastian Deisler not missed a chance that my granny or even McManaman might have stuck away, the story might have been very different, more Edgar Allan Poe than Hans Christian Andersen. And if Germany's Oliver Bierhoff had been less profligate in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday, where apparently he alone missed five chances against Finland, Eriksson's luck might have turned. Thankfully it didn't. Long may it continue.Reuse content