Sven Goran Eriksson said last night that Roman Abramovich's sacking of Andre Villas-Boas was justified in the context of Chelsea's season and admitted that he would join the club "at once", in the highly improbable event of an approach from the Russian.
Eriksson rejected Abramovich's offer of the Chelsea manager's job while he was overseeing England in 2003, after the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri, and was a confidant of the Russian in the early months of his ownership at Stamford Bridge, when he dined and took tea with him and appeared to be a sounding board on transfers.
In his first interview since Leicester City's Thai owners dismissed him in October, Eriksson rejected the notion that Chelsea had become an impossible job and said that his own record at Benfica from 1982 to 1984 demonstrated that younger managers can flourish with older players.
Asked how he would respond if Abramovich approached him now, he said: "I would be very pleased but it won't happen.'' When it was put to him that he is well acquainted with the club's senior players, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry, he replied: "It wouldn't happen. I never thought about it. You only say no once [to Roman Abramovich]. Leave it, please.''
Of the notion that the Chelsea job has become one in which it is impossible to succeed, Eriksson said: "Why should it be? I don't think so. You work at [Manchester] United, [Manchester] City, Chelsea today and it's results. Because it's a huge club, big money. I can understand the owner and the club because next season, the Champions League without Chelsea? That would be very, very bad for the club. Not only the money but for the prestige of the club."
He also rejected the notion that the change Villas-Boas was being asked to implement was too great for a 34-year-old to handle. "I think I was even younger when I moved to Benfica and that was an old team with old, famous players. I was younger than three of the players but that was not a problem. Results came and then it's not a problem. I kept the [older players] for at least a year and we won everything!"
Eriksson, who was briefly an Independent columnist before his dismissal at Leicester, reflected on the friendship he established with Abramovich during their discussions, saying the Chelsea owner was "a very nice man, very quiet – from what I know. Passionate for football. At least he was when I knew him". He related how he had allowed boardroom intervention to the extend of agreeing to one of his chairmen's request to field a player, in order to help to sell him.
Eriksson also said he had been "absolutely" surprised by Fabio Capello's decision to walk out on England over what the Swede considers a perfectly reasonable decision, on the Football Association's part, to remove John Terry as captain, pending his court case.
"I can't understand that," the 64-year-old said. "[He's] done the job after the last World Cup. Qualified in style. And now the last piece of the work – not to want to take part in that... I had a similar case when Rio Ferdinand was not allowed to play [in a Euro 2004 qualifier with Turkey which almost prompted a player strike] and that, of course, was above my head.
"But you have to understand the FA. They attach great importance to things about racism and drugs. So at a certain point they have to go in and say, 'It's not possible for Rio to play or Terry to be captain'. I didn't like it but I had to accept it. It's the FA's right to stand up sometimes and say, 'No this is not right.' If anyone should be responsible for morals in sport in this country it's the FA."
Eriksson could not disguise the fact that he would jump at the chance to manage England again in a temporary capacity at this summer's European Championship in Poland and Ukraine – another opportunity he knows will not come his way.
"I would take it tomorrow. They should take me!" he joked. "I know all the players. Yes of course I would take it but it will not happen and you know that. Because that would be considered by the press and the FA as going backwards."
Reflecting on his treatment by the tabloids during his life as England manager, he said: "The English tabloid press is not a mirror of the English people. English people are very educated and never criticised me, they were always positive with me. If [there were stories] about [my] private life, people said, 'Well done Sven!' The tabloids always wanted to mix the public and the private."
Asked if he believed his phone had been hacked whilst England manager, Eriksson replied: "I know [this is an issue] but ... no. Can we take that question another time? I can't answer that question. Another time."