Why Sven should walk - not for his libido but his football credo

Despite legal complexities, it is difficult to envisage the coach surviving
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's impossible not to feel something of a fraud in summoning these words this week. After all, we are treading upon territory which ought to be the province of our sex columnist, Emma Gold. ("A close friend has had an affair with not one, but three, senior people at work. She's not certain how she should deal with it.")

It's impossible not to feel something of a fraud in summoning these words this week. After all, we are treading upon territory which ought to be the province of our sex columnist, Emma Gold. ("A close friend has had an affair with not one, but three, senior people at work. She's not certain how she should deal with it.")

Certainly the former chief executive Adam Crozier cannot have imagined when the removal vans were sent down to Lancaster Gate during his tenure quite what an appropriate location for the Football Association's new headquarters Soho Square, adjacent to London's grubby locale of strip clubs, would become.

Contrary to some observations that have been offered, this material is definitely more suited to the Windmill than the Whitehall Theatre. It concerns rather more than two, or more, supposedly mature men dropping their trousers and causing hilarity among the majority of us and outrage among the deeply moral minority. What it has done is to hold up the FA, as an organisation, to ridicule in a manner in which even that bastion of absurdities has never achieved before.

It is not merely a question of probity and "whether Sven told the truth", either. Sven Goran Eriksson's curiously worded statement, somehow reminiscent of Bill Clinton's weasel words in a similar predicament, will no doubt be accepted by next week's emergency meeting, instigated by FA chairman Geoff Thompson. It will obligingly conclude, Butler-like, that "errors have been made", but that "no individual was to blame".

Some will argue that details of the carnal activities attributed to Eriksson and Mark Palios and published to sate the public appetite for scandal should be ignored. It is their private business. Correct, but naive. Constant scrutiny by the paparazzi and a target for those of a "f*** and flog" disposition makes that virtually impossible for those in a vulnerable position.

You do not have to be a blazered buffoon to believe that these shenanigans, which confront the public from every newsstand, do not sit well within an institution which oversees discipline and conduct, not just of adult professionals, but of young boys and girls. Presumably there will be a number of individuals considering their position. If not, they should be. They include the chief executive, Palios, who has not covered himself in distinction since succeeding Crozier. Ultimate responsibility for recent events lies with him and, though he was not responsible for hiring Eriksson, his renegotiation of the Swede's salary, extending and increasing it to at least £4m a year in the spring, after the coach had been linked with Chelsea, was made to appear ludicrous by subsequent events this summer.

Ironically, if you call the offices of English football's governing body at the moment and are placed on hold, you are still greeted by that optimistic refrain of the Euro 2004 anthem, "All Together Now". How hollow that sounds now. After the quarter-final defeat by Portugal. After recent revelations regarding the FA's Leg-over Larries: Palios and Eriksson and, apparently, a Third Man. Will Harry Lime step forward, please.

The feeding fury will abate though, one suspects, never totally. What is likely, regardless of the findings of the "inquiry" (Thompson has, astonishingly, already taken it upon himself to exonerate Palios), is that there will be blood-letting, both practical and ritual.

Will it include the head of Eriksson? It is difficult to envisage him remaining in the England chair, though if he departs it should not be because of his womanising, nor even his alleged economy with the truth, but purely, as was argued in these columns immediately post-Euro 2004, because of the lack of progress of England under his stewardship, and an increasing disillusion with his ability to improve matters by Germany 2006.

Among the detail offered to us by a "friend" of the woman involved - Faria Alam, the PA of FA executive director David Davies - was the insight: "It was Palios Faria loved. Sven was a poor substitute." The issue here is not his reported indifferent love-making but a more visible failing: his poor substitute-making.

The suspicion, and it is only that, is that certain forces within the FA have seized the opportunity to utilise current circumstances and cut Eriksson adrift - something that should have occurred at the beginning of last month purely on football grounds - while avoiding a significant compensation claim.

The Swede's "people" have indicated that he will not countenance that. However, the realities are that, should Eriksson vacate his role, he would soon enough find new work, which would, as the briefs say, "mitigate his losses" and thus cost the FA less than the £14m they anticipated. It is also possible that he would not relish a prolonged court case, in which all manner of interested parties could be called upon to discuss his conduct, both professional and private. He is wounded, but not yet fatally, principally because of the support of Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, a significant source of power within the FA. In the unlikely event that Eriksson has survived by this point next week, and is recognised as simply a football coach, then he is faced with a sequence of World Cup qualifying games, starting with an away double-header against Austria and Poland, both eminently winnable. Ultimately, that would convince many of his detractors, including the FA, of his value.

Of course, he has the England players' support. To suggest otherwise would be akin to opening the paper and finding "Man eats shark". When would they not? The players will support whoever picks them - until the next guy comes along (assuming that he does not write books about them, as Glenn Hoddle may have reminded his successors). The fact that David Beckham has declared his devotion to Eriksson, possibly one of the few international coaches who would have not only continued to select him when manifestly out of form but also persisted with him as captain, should be greeted by the response: "Yes, and your point is?"

Now a players' mutiny is mooted, again. No doubt Brother Neville will be rubbing his hands with glee. Has his moment arrived? Well, we've heard that one before, following Rio Ferdinand's ban. It carried no weight then, and wouldn't this time, either. You have to select your causes carefully when you blow the whistle and risk incurring the wrath of the public. Supporting a beleaguered England coach is possibly not one to espouse.

In the event of Eriksson's resignation, enforced or otherwise, Steve McClaren could be asked to step in, though one assumes that would be only a temporary measure. My understanding is that he is content to remain at Middlesbrough, where he has been purchasing players like a mini-Abramovich this summer, and does not covet the England role full-time.

Arsène Wenger would be first choice, but would not seek the England position, and certainly not if Dein has his way. Englishmen Steve Bruce and Alan Curbishley are plausible options, although they may prefer to broaden their experience in club football. Curbishley has long been considered a coach of international potential by the FA, though he has yet to manage a leading Premiership club.

Martin O'Neill would be mentioned in dispatches. It could appeal to him, and certainly his motivational qualities (not always witnessed in Eriksson) would be welcomed by England followers as an English-speaking version of Scolari. Should England look backwards to discover the future in Bobby Robson? Or Terry Venables? Or has Glenn Hoddle paid his penance? A veteran and a younger coach could work in tandem.

But that's for later. For the moment, we will settle for the FA putting their house in order. Their house of ill-repute.

Comments