Sven Goran Eriksson: 'I liked city. they'll win the league – absolutely'
Sven Goran Eriksson tells Tim Rich a warm welcome awaits his old club at Leicester despite his messy Eastlands exit in 2008
Saturday 08 January 2011
Roberto Mancini and Sven Goran Eriksson have similar offices in similar 1970s-style blocks at similar-looking training grounds. The views, however, are very different.
From the one at Manchester City there are expectations of the title and the Champions League; for Eriksson there is the slog with Leicester through the Championship, which for a manager are the most dangerous waters in English football – as Darren Ferguson, Brian Laws and Roy Keane have just discovered. Tomorrow the two sides meet in a replay of the 1969 FA Cup final that Leicester reached while managing to get themselves relegated, which is a very Manchester City thing to do.
They are similar men, polite, urbane and rather tougher than you might imagine, who have known each other for the best part of two decades since Eriksson, in the midst of his serene progress through Italian football, arrived in 1992 to coach Sampdoria, whose attack was spearheaded by Mancini and Gianluca Vialli.
"I think they wanted me more than the chairman," Eriksson said. "[Mancini] was a brilliant footballer, of course, one of the best I ever had. His technique was fantasy. He was unlucky that he was in the Italian national side at the same time as Roberto Baggio and they preferred Baggio."
Those who know Mancini only from his brief appearances on Match of the Day would not recognise the man once the cameras stop rolling. The shy smiles cease, the grit sets in; this is a man who is more Gary Neville than Gary Lineker. "If you think he is calm and relaxed, then you don't know him very well," Eriksson added. "I took him to Lazio with me and he wanted to be a manager even while he was a player. He was the coach, he was the kit man, he was the bus driver, everything.
"At Sampdoria he wanted to check that everything was in place before training. Sometimes I would have to tell him: 'Mancio, you have a game to play on Sunday, you will be exhausted if you have to control everything.' But he was like that."
In 2001, they both came to England, Eriksson bound for his scarcely believable night in Munich with the national side, Mancini for a few games for Leicester. His chief memory was of leaving his first training session at Belvoir Drive and being taken by Robbie Savage and others for a drinking session that spilled into the night. Mancini was appalled. At Eastlands, he has shown little patience with the nocturnal behaviour of Adam Johnson and Joe Hart.
"He has always been mentally tough; he knew exactly what he wanted as a player," Eriksson said. "If he thought something, he said it and said it to everyone. He was my brains on the pitch and he understood everything.
"I have a good story to tell about him. We had problems with our central midfield at Lazio and one day he came into my office and said, 'Let me play central midfield'. I told him he had to be able to defend a little bit but he said he would do it. He played 17 games in central midfield, we never lost one and we won the league."
Eriksson has usually managed in shades of blue; at Sampdoria, Lazio, Leicester and Manchester City. The last was his first job since leaving England; he had spent the intervening 12 months in internal, luxurious exile at his lakeside home in Sweden brooding. Later, he would be asked to do an ad for Kleenex that had him "shoot" a piece of waste paper into a bin and celebrate by pulling his jumper over his head. It took more than one take, he said with a smile, but it showed an affection for him. Then, he felt rejected.
However, in July 2007, City's improbable new owner, the former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, asked him to become the club's new manager. He did improbably well. For the first half of the season, Manchester City were in the top four and beat United home and away before being dragged down. They were eliminated from the FA Cup at Sheffield United after the ball took a deflection off a balloon. When in April they squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to Fulham, Thaksin leaked that the Swede would be fired at the end of a season that unravelled into the ruins of an 8-1 humiliation at Middlesbrough.
"I have good memories apart from the last three games," Eriksson said. "Then, I had a football team that didn't want to play any more."
Thaksin interfered constantly: "His problem was he thought that when we beat Manchester United twice that was normal," Eriksson claimed. "We were too high in the table for a lot of the season and I don't think the team was that good. We were good but it was not a Champions League team. But I liked it – good fans, good people at the club and a good stadium. Sooner or later they will win the league – absolutely."
There was no chance of that under Thaksin. "No, I don't think the owner at that time had a clue. I know he didn't. The frustrating thing was that, if you played brilliantly and won, he hugged you. If you lost, he didn't speak to you for a couple of weeks. There was nothing in between. When I was sacked, I got a face-to-face interview and asked the question: 'Why?' but there was no answer. Never. Just silence."
He managed Manchester City while living in a hotel suite which suggested Eriksson thought it might not last. The unsustainable job of director of football at Notts County last season saw him ensconced in an apartment overlooking Nottingham Racecourse.
He felt conned and humiliated by the experience in League Two and when he left Meadow Lane, collar turned up against the wind, he seemed like a Heathcliff jilted by the woman at the chip shop. Now he is on more solid foundations at Leicester working for another set of Thai owners and added: "They are much nicer people."
Sven Goran Eriksson welcomes former side Manchester City to the Walkers Stadium for tomorrow's FA Cup third round tie, two and a half years after departing Eastlands. The Swede spent a year as manager of the club, starting well before a late season slump saw the club finish ninth, culminating with an 8-1 final day defeat at Middlesbrough.
Eriksson's record at City:
Appointed July 2007: P45 W19 D11 L15
Eriksson's managerial career:
Benfica: 1982-84, 89-92
Manchester City: 2007-2008
Ivory Coast: 2010
Leicester City: 2010-
Tomorrow's match also sees Eriksson reunited with former protégé Roberto Mancini, now in charge at City. The Italian played under Eriksson at Sampdoria between 1992-97, before following him to Lazio, where the duo won the title in 2000. After retiring that summer, Mancini briefly became Eriksson's assistant at Lazio, prior to the Swede taking the England job in 2000. Mancini came out of retirement to join Leicester in January 2001, for whom he played five times.
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