Peter Corrigan: How much flak can Sven the unflappable take?

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Any man with a sliver of sensitivity would know when he wasn't wanted - so why does he keep annoying us? I'm not talking about Sven Goran Eriksson - at least, not at this precise moment - but a strange chap called Malcolm Glazer who wants to buy Manchester United and won't take "sod off" for an answer.

How on earth did they allow our game to get in such a state that anyone can roll up and buy one of our biggest clubs against the wishes of almost all concerned? OK, if it's a Russian with an endless supply of money maybe we can stretch a point but not if it's a weird American trying to cobble together a homemade mortgage that could destroy the club. At least Roman Abramovich is an unashamed football nut.

Glazer doesn't know anything about the game and neither does he even know the whereabouts of Old Trafford, much less what goes on there. Yet, despite a series of knock-backs, the latest of which came on Friday, Glazer, the owner of the American football club Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is ploughing on persistently in his bid and last week was the subject of a House of Commons move to block his plans and a demonstration by United supporters that included death threats. Under Premier League rules, they'll probably have to hire an agent to arrange the contract.

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the amount of money being offered is likely to tempt shareholders, most prominent among whom are the Irishmen J P McManus and John Magnier, who have also been threatened. Let's just hope, true sportsmen that they are, they'll send Glazer away with a flea in his Buccaneers.

Meanwhile Eriksson, that other gent whose welcome has expired, is absorbing flak like a wartime bomber after delivering another load of tactically inept, limp-legged frustration to 40,000 trusting citizens at Villa Park on Wednesday.

I've been in close attendance at the lynchings of many an England manager in the past 30 or so years - and been a member of the mob myself once or twice - and I can't recall a manager attracting as much derision. Other poor souls have suffered wrath and mockery but some critics have rallied to the defence. It hasn't been as unanimous as it is now.

The millions watching BBC TV would have heard Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and company pouring scorn and disbelief on Eriksson's entire approach to the match. Lineker's pay-off line may have owed more to They Think It's All Over than the Des Lynam school of gentle chiding but it spoke for the nation - or that part of the nation which admires a coarse put-down.

We in the newspapers have couched our objections to his approach in more thunderingly dismissive terms and have been doing so for so long that our reserves of resentment are close to running out.

What must concern his critics is that Eriksson doesn't bat an eyelid. That's a bad cliché to use because his eyelids get a terrible batting. Blinking as if he is baffled by all the fuss seems to be his only reaction to the mounting dissatisfaction. This Nordic imperturbability has not been a disadvantage in the four years he has been with us. Not only does it work well with the ladies it gives the impression of shrewdness, of profound thinking not easily shared with the sceptical ignorant.

Perhaps, we're all wrong and this appearance of doing absolutely nothing whether he is watching his players in training or out on the pitch is really a mask over football's most fertile mind.

His appalling record in friendlies, for instance, could be deliberate. He might have noted the stick that some of his predecessors received after poor performances in friendly matches, so he set about making them meaningless by mass substitutions. It took Fifa to stop him by ordering a maximum of six subs.

After the débâcle of England's last friendly in Spain, Wednesday was quite an important occasion for restoring confidence all round. Had Shaun Wright-Phillips scored from at least one of his early chances, the experimental 4-3-3 system might have settled down satisfactorily. But he didn't and it didn't, and almost every expert in the land has condemned the way Eriksson responded tactically.

It is appalling to think that so many spectators paid so much money to watch some of England's best and brightest young talents forced to patrol parts of the pitch alien to the best of their abilities.

Which brings us to another aspect of Eriksson yet to be seriously considered. He may well be the luckiest man in the world. If England faced more daunting opposition when the World Cup qualifying ties restart at the end of next month, Wednesday's performance would have given good reason to panic.

But England could hardly have been drawn in an easier group and their back-to-back visitors in March are Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan. I expect Northern Ireland to put up a stouter show than Wales did last year, but a team of England's potential could hardly ask for less challenging matches at this level.

There would be no excuse for them not gaining enough points to make the rest of the group matches a doddle and enable them to develop a playing style without too much pressure. Even if they do scrape in by the skin of their teeth, it is too late to sack Eriksson now.

In footballing terms Eriksson has already got away with murder. That late free-kick David Beckham scored against the Greeks for automatic qualification for the 2002 World Cup was a bacon-saver if ever there was one. But they failed to make the most of their opportunity in the Far East and lost in the quarter-final after a second-half surrender to Brazil.

Fate wasn't kind when they went out of Euro 2004 in a quarter-final shoot-out against the hosts Portugal, but Eriksson's luck was in when he was not only forgiven discussing a defection to Chelsea but given a rise to £4m a year. There is no doubt that he has in his charge one of the finest collection of established and emerging players in English history. If they are not playing for the best clubs in Europe they are coveted by them. How lucky would some of his hard-pressed predecessors have felt if Wayne Rooney suddenly dropped into their laps from nowhere. How he managed to bury Rooney out of sight on Wednesday is another puzzle.

But my mind goes back 40 years to the build-up to the 1966 World Cup and there were many, me included, who couldn't see exactly where Alf Ramsey was headed. It was a feeling that lasted until the tournament began and humble pie had to be eaten. There's little comparison to be made between the two but it is feasible that, at the World Cup itself, things could roll England's way.

If loyalty counts for anything in the minds of modern footballers, Eriksson must have a lot in the bank. He has stuck with them through thick and thin and they owe him more than he owes them. He must have built up a devotion among these players unsurpassed in management history. When he leaves England he might go for Gordon Taylor's job. There couldn't be a better advocate for players' rights.

World Cup 2006 could be the time they repay Eriksson for all his kindnesses. They might even work out their own tactics to save him the bother.

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