The Peter Corrigan Column: High summer - and it's raining managers

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The Independent Online

Suddenly, the European Championship 2004 takes on a strange new dimension and Sven Goran Eriksson is presented with a prospect he'd prefer not to think about - if things don't go well for the England team, and the hounds are baying for the manager's blood, his nearest escape routes have been blocked.

Suddenly, the European Championship 2004 takes on a strange new dimension and Sven Goran Eriksson is presented with a prospect he'd prefer not to think about - if things don't go well for the England team, and the hounds are baying for the manager's blood, his nearest escape routes have been blocked.

The biggest and swiftest intake of foreign managers in British football history means that there are no juicy jobs left. His fleeing opportunities have been drastically reduced at a stroke; or, rather, several strokes of the pen at the foot of some seriously lucrative club contracts.

We have never before seen the like of the activity that swept like a hurricane through our sports pages in the space of a few days last week. This is the time of year when football clubs are kindly asked to leave the stage so that people like Tim Henman and England's cricketers can borrow the limelight for a while.

We cannot avoid football's presence via Euro 2004, but our anticipation of that promising event has been elbowed into the shadows by the vastly more intriguing business being done at club level. Even allowing for England's feeble attempt at appetite-whetting, it has been difficult to sustain any focus on the upcoming happenings in Portugal. Normally, this close to a major championship, my bets would have already been placed. But I have had so little time to concentrate I have yet to reach my first decision, which is whether to wager any more money in the hope that Spain will fulfil their potential this time.

No, my eyes have been transfixed by the comings and goings at Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Old Trafford and, in the shock of them all, White Hart Lane. A good publicity man would have staggered them to allow each transaction to have maximum sinking-in time before hitting us with the next one.

I find myself drawn back to Eriksson. While he watched his best-laid schemes going down the Swanee in the second half against Japan on Wednesday, was he mulling over the fact that Jose Mourinho was close to agreeing the terms of his move from Porto to Chelsea?

Sven could have been in that job for the past six months or so, and he might just have done better than Claudio Ranieri and could be now having his toes massaged on some sun-baked beach and watching some other poor sap lead the charge towards the French guns next weekend.

Instead, the fascinating Mourinho will be in charge of guiding Roman Abramovich's golden galleon through the choppy seas. Then there's Manchester United, a team with whom Eriksson was linked before the Chelsea business flared up. Any thought that job was being kept until Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement was smashed unmercifully when, without warning, Carlos Queiroz returned to Old Trafford as Ferguson's assistant after a year in charge of Real Madrid. Can you think of another era when a man would step from coaching Real Madrid into the assistant's role at Old Trafford with hardly an eyebrow being raised? Such was the quality of the breaking news in football over the past five days that there hasn't been time to be surprised.

Upon his arrival, Queiroz pronounced himself content to reoccupy the back seat he left a year ago. He makes no secret that he considers himself in pole position to take over the manager's job when Ferguson eventually relinquishes it. That's another succession sorted out, then.

There is no way of knowing whether Liverpool ever appeared on Eriksson's list of possible destinations, but Gérard Houllier's staying power was not as strong as some thought, and the gap left by the departing Frenchman two weeks ago is thought to be waiting for Valencia's Rafael Benitez, who resigned from the Spanish Uefa Cup winners on Tuesday.

With certain executives on holiday, Liverpool have been in no rush to seal a deal with Benitez who, in any case, doesn't complete his mandatory 14-day notice period until a week on Tuesday. The vacancy left by Benitez seems destined to be filled by our friend Ranieri, who is the most popular manager ever to be sacked by an English club - if, indeed, Chelsea can still referred to as such.

Before Ranieri can move anywhere, it appears that we are in for an unseemly legal argument over his payoff from Chelsea for the three years remaining on his contract. Chelsea are expected to argue, and they wouldn't be the first, that if he takes another job he would not be entitled to the full compensation. If he remained out of work, they would continue to pay him for the next three years. Otherwise, he would have to see them in court.

A salary of that dimension for doing nothing (he could sell programmes outside Stamford Bridge to keep his interest up) would appeal to many of us, but probably not to a man who must be burning to prove his Russian tormentor wrong.

It is an extra burden of the martyrdom that Ranieri feels. He collected the Variety Club's Man of the Year award in London on Wednesday and struck a sad note in his acceptance speech. Why was it, he asked, that Houllier had a dignified exit and had time to say a proper goodbye to everyone at the club? "Why was it not possible for me? That is a shame," he said.

At least he has the satisfaction that for once Abramovich was upstaged - and by those ditherers at Spurs, too. There's no doubt that the coup of the week was the capture by Tottenham of the French manager, Jacques Santini, on Thursday, just 10 days before he leads the Euro 2004 favourites against England.

We had an idea that Mourinho was coming, but the Santini acquisition was a touch of audacity one would never associate with Spurs. They've been trying to replace Glenn Hoddle for nine months, and looked more like competitors in a game of blind man's bluff than an outfit in serious pursuit of the right man.

Signing Frank Arnesen as sporting director before they got their man did not look a shrewd move. Incoming managers like a clear landing strip. But it didn't seem to bother Santini, who had become frustrated with the French federation's reluctance to give him a new contract until after the championship is over.

He should work for the Football Association; they've been inclined to offer Eriksson a new contract every week if he wanted one. Santini, who speaks limited English, seems otherwise ideal to attempt the restitution of Spurs. It gives an extra edge to their north London rivalry with Arsenal, who are the most outstanding example of what can be achieved by a strong French influence. This is not time to start slavering at the prospects for the new season when it starts in August, but how can you possibly absorb the movements of last week? You weep for the curtailed opportunities of home-grown managers such as Alan Curbishley, Steve Bruce and Steve McClaren, who might have to wait longer to devote their talents to a big-spending club.

Nevertheless, the enthusiasm with which the newcomers are embracing the chance to operate in the Premiership does plenty to suggest that the competition is not as flawed as many say it is.

Perhaps it's the fertile ground, as well as the money, that attracts them. No asylum seekers these. They've come to help sort the asylum out.

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