The iceman goeth with new fervour for the heat of battle

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson will never be at ease with stage-managed performances and is far too shy and functional for impromptu theatrics, but compared to the exit prompted by a golden handshake from the Football Association in February the England manager positively revelled in the farewell orchestrated by Goldenballs himself on Saturday.

Looking as awkward as a 6ft 7in striker body- popping before the future King of England, the Swede reluctantly bowed to pressure from David Beckham to milk the acclaim of the Old Trafford crowd after his final game on home soil and appeared genuinely taken aback when his appreciation was reciprocated by the 70,000 audience. "You never know if everybody wants me to go," he reflected with subtle criticism of the FA's handling of his departure, even though he had decided to leave before an ill-fated rendezvous with a fake sheikh hastened the announcement.

"I hadn't thought about doing that before, but it was a good farewell and I enjoyed it very much," Eriksson added. "I didn't expect it. We [he and Beckham] discussed it and I said, 'OK'. Normally I'm not very keen on something like that but this was very nice. It's a memory for life."

The sight of Eriksson waving both hands at his adopted public, when he rarely raises a finger to his team, was indicative of a man who appears to be relishing the finality of his England reign as well as the enormous responsibility that hovers over his final days in the job. On the eve of the farewell game against Jamaica the England manager confessed he had not given a moment's thought as to what he might miss about the "roller-coaster" life he has enjoyed and endured for the past five years when it reaches the final destination this summer.

It was an admission that said much about the prosaic style of the 57-year-old, and prompted the cynical suggestion that regrets will be confined to the opening of his final pay packet, but it is undoubtedly a different Eriksson who will lead England into this World Cup.

Ever since the uncertainty over his future evaporated there has been a more relaxed air about the England manager, evident in his promotion of Theo Walcott, more ruthless decision-making, a sudden tendency to have a little fun at the press conferences that his body language indicates he loathes, and a promise to replicate Peter Crouch's dance moves if he conquers the world in Berlin next month. "If we win the World Cup, I will do whatever you want me to do," he vowed at the weekend.

The dropping of the Eriksson mask has not only been encouraged by the end of his England reign, however. As Rio Ferdinand explained: "He seems to be a lot more relaxed going into this tournament, but also confident as well. You can tell by the way he handles the media and how he is with us that he is very confident with the squad he has. The warmth of the reception he got after the game spoke volumes. The fans appreciate what he's done and they like him, and that reflects what the players' views are about him too. The only reason the fans don't sing his name more often is because it's not a good name to sing, is it?"

Though he refused to comment on the pranks that Ferdinand has been pulling on his England team-mates and which caused Beckham to jump from a moving car in Manchester last week - "That was blown out of all proportion and when you see it on television, you will see what I mean," insisted the centre-half - Eriksson again stressed on Saturday that the spirit and belief within this squad were finer than he has ever encountered. "Absolutely fantastic," he repeated once again.

Ferdinand said: "The only way to go into a tournament is believe you can win it. Four years ago we came up against Brazil and maybe we thought, 'Wow, this is the World Cup and we're playing Brazil.' This time we will go into every game, no matter who the opponents are, believing that we can win. We know that, whatever 11 players are on the pitch, we can feel confident. The spirit in the squad is fantastic, everyone is having a laugh, but when there is serious business to be done, we work hard."

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