Would things have been different had he still been in charge? It is at times like these that you ask yourself the question. On the one hand there is England, trying to come to terms with the void left by Steve McClaren. On the other, Manchester City, third in the Premier League after eight consecutive home wins, the stadium a sea of smiling faces, with none more charmingly infectious than that of Sven Goran Eriksson.
Stephen Ireland's goal, deep into stoppage time, snatched a point from Reading and prompted the suggestion that the manager must feel like "lucky Sven" again. That was the label Eriksson acquired pre-England, as if titles won in three European countries could somehow be put down to good fortune. The remark prompted a chuckle from the Swede, an acknowledgement, even, that such an assessment was reasonable on this occasion, given that a draw had seemed certain.
But for an inclination towards modesty, Eriksson might have allowed himself a degree of self-congratulation. Not because it was down to him that Ireland had managed to pull off such a sweet and telling volley so late in the game, but maybe because, without his guidance, his exuberant 21-year-old match-winner might have been removed from playing Premier League football at all.
It was Ireland, at a moment of crisis in his personal life, who invited ridicule in September by alleging the deaths of two grandmothers in order to be excused duty with the Republic of Ireland. More recently he exposed himself in a different way, after he scored the winning goal against Sunderland, by dropping his shorts. He was also, rumours suggest, subject to treatment close to bullying from some Irish team-mates, prompting his withdrawal from further matches.
Against that background, a period out of the spotlight might have seemed appropriate. Yet under Eriksson's supervision he has been able not only to continue playing, but at a high level. It was his energy and commitment on a day when Elano looked jaded that gave City the edge. It was his dangerous low cross that enabled Martin Petrov first to put City in front.
"Stephen is a good boy," Eriksson said. "After what happened [with the Irish national team] I sat down with him and other people at the club did too. But when we were young we all had problems and it is good to be there and try to sort out whatever it is because it is important for him to play football. As for the national team, it is good for Stephen there are no important games for a while."
Eriksson laughed when it was put to him that City fans are talking about winning the title. "We will see at Christmas and new year if we have a squad to play two games a week," he said.
Reading, whose James Harper, having shackled Elano, scored a fine equaliser just before half-time, felt the result was harsh. But Steve Coppell – who Eriksson believes is well qualified to succeed McClaren – was not unduly surprised.
"Compared with when we last played here, there has been a massive change," he said. "If you spend £40m to 50m it is going to make a difference. We overachieved last season, when we took advantage of a lot of teams who got it wrong, teams like Manchester City who, through significant investment, have now put it right. Now it is down to us to dig in and show some other qualities."
Goals: Petrov (11) 1-0; Harper (43) 1-1; Ireland (90) 2-1.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Isaksson; Corluka (Jihai, 43), Dunne, Richards, Garrido; Hamann, Fernandes; Ireland, Elano (Geovanni, 58), Petrov; Mpenza (Samaras, 46). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Ball.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Hunt, Gunnarsson, Harper, Convey; Doyle (Long, 85), Kitson. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Oster, Fae, Bikey.
Referee: S Tanner (Somerset).
Booked: Reading Hunt, Long.
Man of the match: Hamann.
Nicky Shorey (Reading)
James Harper put an English name on the scoresheet but Shorey, a twice-capped, 26-year-old left-back, has the better chance of figuring in the future, though his flank gave up City's first goal.Reuse content