The Nick Townsend Column: Eriksson laps up the largesse as the FA play their game of self-denial

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The Independent Football

Nice work, if you can't get it. Sven Goran Eriksson, that is. His shame confirmed by a front-page photograph of him "filling his time with a little gentle tennis", according to the caption in the nation's best-selling tabloid, he has the kind of opprobrium heaped up on him normally reserved for the retiring heads of national utilities.

"We're paying loser £13K a day until somebody's stupid enough to hire him", we are told of the former England coach who swiftly removed himself from the court of public opinion to one where the worst he can suffer is a dispute over a line call.

Of course, we have all known for months about the Swede's payoff agreed with the Football Association, which will yield him around £90,000 a week until next May - unless he gets another job, something which at present does not appear forthcoming, and not at that rate of pay.

It may have been assumed by the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, that in an international fortnight, with England preparing for their first game under a new head coach, and with our clubs furiously rummaging through the last remaining bargains in the transfer deadline bring-and-buy like pensioners in the village hall, there would not be too much scope for mischief-making on the issue.

The FA chief, who unlike some of his predecessors strives to keep his own counsel, discovered that the Eriksson years will not be easily consigned to the graveyard. There are many ready to exhume the bones.

When it was put to Barwick, in a Radio Five Live interview, that Eriksson was an expensive mistake, the response can best be described as Clintonesque. From the same kind of delusional self-denial that brought us "I did not have relations with that woman" came Barwick's "I would not accept that notion". Not, you notice, a spirited rebuttal: "Sven brought this nation's football forward tremendously"; or "Basically, he was a decent, talented man, who was desperately unlucky". Certainly not a concession to reality: "Mistakes were made, but we will learn from them".

The latter must surely have been in his mind, though. From the moment that Eriksson - and his No 2, Steve McClaren, for that matter - oversaw that 2002 World Cup quarter-final defeat by Brazil, right up until the termination agreement was signed, his relationship with the FA brought the organisation ever more into disrepute. No matter how many qualifications he oversaw. That early 5-1 defeat of Germany tended to deceive us all (if you view a rerun, incidentally, the spectacle of a hugely influential David Beckham only confirmed how far the former England captain had declined by this summer). The surf ride would rarely be as spectacular again.

If many of us had profound doubts regarding Eriksson's capabilities by the 2002 World Cup, there was no rationale whatsoever for his stewardship proceeding beyond Portugal. Ultimately, lest we forget, Eriksson was only shifted in the wake of the Fake Sheikh affair.

Yet, for all the righteous indignation over Eriksson's possible months with his ready-reckoner reckoning to come, can you blame the would-be Bjorn Borg for accepting not so much a golden handshake as the golden boot? It was an astute deal negotiated by his advisers - essentially the reward for that covert meeting with Chelsea.

Even a man who has earned a reported £25m over five years doesn't protest "enough, enough" at a further £3.2m if a new post eludes him, though it's just a thought that his pride may have inhibited him.

So, the Aunt Sally here is Uncle Sven. And Barwick & Co are presumably content for that perception to remain. True, the original extension to his contract was not of Barwick's making. Eriksson was a pretty terrifying legacy. One suspects that starting a job in the knowledge that the Swede was the principal staff member on your payroll is rather like arriving at Baskerville Hall to be told that you are the next in line of family succession.

It was in March 2004 that then chief executive, Mark Palios, declared, having put pen to a handsome new contract for Eriksson, that: "This is excellent news for the England team, the millions of England supporters, and for everyone connected with the FA."

Nevertheless, the search for a successor to Eriksson was in Barwick's remit. Remember that interviewing charade? And the Luiz Felipe Scolari fiasco, albeit that probably turned out be a fortuitous escape? The sudden elevation of McClaren as Barwick's No 1 choice? The terms of the Eriksson exit? And, on that subject, what of Eriksson actually completing his duties? Barwick says there was "little to be gained" from the Swede submitting a World Cup report, although he has announced he is now to head a full FA debriefing - without Eriksson, but including McClaren's input.

An Eriksson document, though, might have been quite instructive, not only offering a clue as to why, for instance, the untried Theo Walcott travelled but was not employed, but also including an insight into McClaren's contribution to England's downfall over three major tournaments. Little to be gained but embarrassment, perhaps?

But why would we expect more of a still-unreformed FA, an organisation who, according to Lord Burns' structural review, display "a lack of clarity as to who is responsible for what"? Barwick's rather prickly retort was that "the FA is a 143-year-old organisation and it should be evolution not revolution".

Plus ça change. Which will come first, one wonders: FA reform or the new Wembley?

Only one place for a sulking player - out of here

Finally, excruciatingly, Ashley Cole and Chelsea have got their way. England's coach, Steve McClaren, says there was a smile on his defender's face on Friday morning. Good for Cole. Not so fine for Arsenal, though. They were effectively forced into a deal, though William Gallas and cash can't be considered such a bad deal if the alternative is a sulking player.

At least the Gunners could afford to sit on their hands throughout the summer. Fulham have not been quite so fortunate with Steed Malbranque. One of their most influential players, the former Lyon midfielder rejected a new contract in May. Instead, he apparently insisted that he wanted to leave on a free transfer in 2007.

Fulham, not possessing Arsenal's financial clout, could not countenance that, and he was placed on the transfer list. Whether it was then wise for his manager, Chris Coleman, to state that the player would never play for the club again is debatable. Coleman later confirmed that he could "rot in the reserves". It all had the effect of reducing drastically Malbranque's value. At one time he had a price on his head of around £6 million. He departed to Spurs for an absurd £2.5m.

Some clubs have stood firm against such pressure from players, including Bayern Munich, who it was assumed would simply accede to Owen Hargreaves' demand to move to Old Trafford. It will be interesting to see if they maintain that stance in subsequent transfer windows.

Meanwhile, good to see a smile on the features of Cole and Malbranque, and also Wigan's Pascal Chimbonda - who has also moved to Spurs - among others. They have all benefited from the shift in the balance of power towards players and agents. Followers of the clubs who have lost those performers under such circumstances may take a different, more jaundiced, view as the game's credibility continues to suffer.

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