Why Eriksson staying in charge is England's nightmare scenario

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The Independent Football

"The final ron-devouz", "In the Name of Allah Go", "Norse Manure", "Blair Gives Hoddle The Red Card".

As Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor, Glenn Hoddle and now Sven Goran Eriksson have discovered, there comes a time when the authority of an England manager drains into a mush of scouring headlines which pronounced them one stumble from the exit door, a wounded animal. Eriksson this morning is already a lame duck and the woods are full of hunters.

The question now is not if Eriksson will go but when and for how much. There are four planks supporting an England manager: the players, the FA, the press and the public. Eriksson can probably still count on the men he took to Japan and Portugal and yesterday his captain, David Beckham, who knows what is like to have a private life ripped open, came out in his support.

But his authority over the players is continually diminishing What credibility would Eriksson - or his chief executive, Mark Palios - have the next time an England player makes the front pages of a Sunday tabloid?

The public is a more nebulous concept. Kevin Keegan's abrupt resignation, delivered to Adam Crozier in a Wembley toilet, was triggered by the mass booing that greeted the defeat in the rain to Germany in the final match at the old Empire Stadium.

But as the one-time head of the Football Task Force, David Mellor, discovered you cannot cling to office as a figure of fun.

As for the media, especially those sections that campaigned hard for Terry Venables' return four years ago, they are increasingly decided.

Finally there is the FA. The rule of thumb is that if you have its backing, you will survive; if not you are for the meat slab. All the signs now are that, whatever is said in public, Eriksson is rapidly losing that backing too, if he hasn't lost it already. Once that happens, there can only be one outcome.

We have been here before. The Sun was handing over "Robson Out" badges at England games as early as 1984 but the FA's then chief executive, Graham Kelly, recalled that with every press attack, his backing increased. "The irony was that just before the 1990 World Cup, the chairman, Bert Millichip, finally lost patience, let his tongue run away with him, and said that Robson either had to win the World Cup or go, and Bobby reacted by approaching PSV Eindhoven. Had this not happened, he would have served another four years, believe me."

Eriksson does not enjoy that unequivocal support. The parallels with the Swede and Hoddle are intriguing. The latter became a lame duck almost overnight. In June 1998 his team was flown back from St Etienne after a heroic defeat to Argentina.Seven months later he was unsalvageable.

If the World Cup Diary was Hoddle's affair with Ulrika Jonsson, then the remarks that the disabled were paying for past sins was a romp with David Davies' secretary. Crucially, Hoddle had made one serious enemy at Lancaster Gate, someone who was determined to oust him. Eriksson, by contrast, has the support of the Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, but all the signs are that other members of the FA board are wavering.

But the question nobody seems to have asked is whether Eriksson wants to stay on. In the current climate it is barely conceivable that. Vilified daily, he has become, at best, a figure of ridicule. Club management, especially in Milan or Rome, where he is protected by privacy laws, must now seem very inviting.

Yesterday's statement by Eriksson, combined with the growing legal view that it would be difficult to sack him without compensation, even if he misled the FA, makes it appear increasingly unlikely that his personal conduct will constitute legal grounds for dismissal.

Neither is his record as a coach. Two quarter-finals in major tournaments represent a reasonable return. So contractually he appears to hold every card, and the FA's panicky decision to tie him down at £4m a year now appears a very expensive straitjacket.

The only sensible way out for both parties would appear to be a pay-off. Eriksson may not receive the full balance of the £14m he is owed on his contract, but it will certainly be substantial.

When Don Revie abandoned England he still managed to win a subsequent court action which left the FA with a bill of £150,000. Eriksson's parting shot could reduce that to insignificance.

After Klinsmann and Van Basten, isn't Gary Lineker the obvious choice?

The Dutch Football Association, like their German counterparts earlier this week, opted for an icon ahead of a technocrat yesterday. They announced that Marco van Basten, one of the greatest players ever to wear the Oranje shirt, has agreed to become the new coach of the Netherlands.

The 39-year-old former striker will replace Dick Advocaat, who resigned shortly after the Netherlands lost 2-1 in the Euro 2004 semi-final to Portugal.

Van Basten has never held a head coach's job at any level of the game. After taking a seven-year break from football on his retirement in 1995, his only coaching role has been as part of the technical staff at Ajax. But his status as a Dutch role model has never been in question. He was European Player of the Year three times, World Player of the Year once, and was rightly known as the most feared goalscorer of his generation.

The Dutch FA's appointment comes hot on the heels of Germany appointing Jürgen Klinsmann, another "virgin" coach. He has been coaching LA Galaxy in America but, like Van Basten, has never held a senior post. "The fans hope we will be world champions in 2006, and that's my goal too," he said yesterday. "I think we'll go at it with a different attitude than we've seen at the soccer federation in recent years."

A mood for managerial change is sweeping across Europe, ushering in stars of recent decades ahead of older, greyer helmsmen. The FA declined to comment last night on whether Gary Lineker, despite his lack of experience, might fit the bill in England should Sven Goran Eriksson depart. Lineker's agent, Jon Holmes, was more forthcoming: "I think it's more likely that you'll see Gary selling the Big Issue."

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