After this flak, does Sven really want to go to Chelsea?

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The Independent Online

It was just a grainy image of a familiar, receding, blond hairline on the front page of nation's biggest-selling tabloid yesterday morning. His face was virtually obscured. But it was sufficient to expose him, we are led to believe, as a footballing philanderer back to the habits of which he was always suspected.

It was just a grainy image of a familiar, receding, blond hairline on the front page of nation's biggest-selling tabloid yesterday morning. His face was virtually obscured. But it was sufficient to expose him, we are led to believe, as a footballing philanderer back to the habits of which he was always suspected. Sven Goran Eriksson was photographed departing after an assignation with Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon on Thursday.

No doubt there will be an explanation - of sorts, just as there was last summer when the Swede turned up at the residence of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich with the sharpest of Mr Fixits, Pini Zahavi, and was also caught on camera, but dismissed the visit as "social". Yet, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that unless the Football Association gain a convincing explanation for this latest episode which provokes headlines which are, at the very least, embarrassing to the governing body, it could lead ultimately to the premature conclusion of the Swede's tenure of England.

The FA, remember, have been attempting to persuade Eriksson to accept a longer marriage than agreed under his contract - a further two years after the 2006 World Cup, at even more than his current £3m a year salary.

It appears unthinkable that England may lose their head coach only 11 weeks before the European Championships. Certainly, it is a situation that the FA, who have maintained their faith in him obdurately since the days of chief executive Adam Crozier, will want to avoid. Some of the "commentators" who have immediately picked up a poison pen - "How dare you put the hopes and dreams of England at risk" is the start of Jimmy Greaves' rant - are opposed to a foreign coach in charge of England per se. This latest display of "disloyalty" merely provides them with further ammunition for the assault. Those of us who will wait to pass judgement until the summer would submit this: in the fickle world of football, one would not entirely damn Eriksson for making preliminary plans for the future, a strategy that is rather more readily accepted on the Continent than here.

At some stage, Eriksson will probably be perceived as a failure and asked to resign. Or he will have established himself such a success that when the likes of Real Madrid come calling with serious intent, he ups and leaves. Do we really suppose that he will still be in situ as England coach, come Germany 2006?

But for all that we take a cynical view of coaching and managerial movement, there is something distasteful about the manner in which Eriksson, as the figurehead of the English game, appears to be conducting his business. The meeting with Kenyon, said to have lasted two hours, was described by the newspaper concerned as "clandestine". Which begs the one immediate question: can there be such a thing where the Swede is concerned? He is aware that both he and his girlfriend, Nancy Dell'Olio, are under virtual constant scrutiny where the paparazzi are concerned. Only a fool would negotiate a deal at such a location if he wished it genuinely to remain a secret. Like it, or not, the impression will be gleaned by many that he is merely a brazen hustler.

If Madrid or Milan were his intended destinations, then one suspects that it would be accepted with considerably more approbation. Or even Tottenham. What is particularly disturbing, though, and what may ultimately deter Eriksson from accepting any overtures from Chelsea is the current public perception of the machinations at Stamford Bridge.

In truth, the Blues faithful, for all their protestations at the uncertainty of Claudio Ranieri's future under the present regime, would no doubt come to lavish praise on Eriksson should that tantalising championship become a realistic prospect. The remainder of us would regard the loss of an England coach, under such circumstances and with such underhand methods, with, at best, contempt. At worse, as treachery.

It is doubtful that Eriksson, who is already troubled by what he considers excessive scrutiny of his private life in England, would be prepared to brave the inevitable outpouring of venom, merely to accept the challenge at a club where nothing but significant success will ever satisfy the owner.

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