Peccadillos of Sven mask huge concerns over leadership

As huge pressure now bears down on Sven Goran Eriksson, the obligation of the Football Association has never, surely, been so clearly defined.

It has to deliver a verdict not on the latest failure of judgement by Eriksson. It has to consider the man - and his work - in full. It has to ask if he is worthy of its, and the nation's, trust - and after being lied to by him in the full glare of mass public attention, it may well finally conclude that he is not. The rest, you have to believe, is work for the lawyers.

None of this process should involve the FA passing judgement on its £4m-a-year under-achieving coach because he has triggered yet another storm of prurient interest in his trail of sexual conquests. No, Eriksson's peccadillos are not the point, and have never been so. But the way he handled the last of them certainly is. What the nation can reasonably expect from the leader of its most high-profile sports team is a certain style... and a few fundamental values.

Honesty, on and off the field, is surely one prerequisite. If you do not have that, if you do not have truth in performance and in your reaction to the inevitable ebb and flow of life, it is surely arguable that you have nothing.

At the FA's Soho Square headquarters in the next few days, the deliberations over Eriksson's future must run far deeper than any previous assessment of the worth of a football man who came to England with an impressive portfolio of achievements in club football and the demeanour of somebody who understood the world of highly competitive men and had a sophisticated way of dealing with it.

This, after the crank religious beliefs of one predecessor, Glenn Hoddle, and the admission by another, Kevin Keegan, that he was unequal to the challenge of the international scene, was surely something to welcome.

It gave a glow of great anticipation, one soon enhanced by what turned out to be the mirage of a spectacular 5-1 victory in Munich. But that fire is long burned out and the judgement on Eriksson should not be about his troublesome libido but the way he sees his job and his responsibilities. More than anything, it has to do with his weight as a man.

In all respects the slew of evidence must carry the FA councillors who have been embarrassed so deeply over the last few days to a damning conclusion. It is that Eriksson has been a serial abuser of their trust in one of the most basic matters that shape a man's life and specifically his professional career.

Twice, while under a firm and extremely generous contract, Eriksson has listened to the blandishments of potential rival employers, Manchester United and Chelsea, at times when he was deeply involved in major tournament campaigns.

Once, when England players were threatening to strike, he abdicated all the normal demands on leadership. He made it clear that his sympathies were with players who were ready to walk out on their country on the eve of a vital competitive game because they disagreed with the disciplinary measures of the FA, his employers.

Link those three separate but intertwining episodes and there is a prima facie case for examining Eriksson's suitability to lead the national game.

The latest affair of his denial of a relationship with a junior employee of the FA was - take your pick - the panicky reaction of a man suddenly aware of the vertiginous decline of his own public image, or a brazenly dishonourable refusal to face up to the probably fleeting consequences of his own behaviour. Either way, we have another major blow to his image as a man capable of genuine leadership.

As Eriksson's strength within the FA plainly declines, we are forced to consider the irony of his ultimate crime in the eyes of arguably the most indulgent employers in the history of professional sport.

It is not, amazingly enough, in allowing England over three years to drift further away from the heart of world-class competition, with wholly inadequate performances against Brazil and Portugal in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and European Championship respectively, and to have gone to that last competition, shockingly, without a settled way of playing, but exposing his employers to ridicule.

This, of course, is a serious offence in any branch of the employment market. In something as exposed to the public gaze as the national game, the consequences are always going to be heavy if not terminal.

Where the FA is now, in the most squalid of circumstances, is where other front-rank nations would have been a couple of weeks ago after the dismal failure to make a significant challenge for the European title. Elsewhere in Europe, coaches were fired or fell on their swords. In all cases the decisions were made out of conviction and a sense of what was right for the football of the nations involved. Here, we are adopting an entirely different approach. It is one denuded of conviction - and, of course, honour.

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