Memory of Walker's warmth lifts Eriksson for Ewood visit

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson admits the generosity of the Blackburn Rovers benefactor Sir Jack Walker is the reason he is unlikely to receive a hostile reaction at Ewood Park tomorrow.

In December 1996 Eriksson, then managing Sampdoria, signed a contract to take charge of Rovers the following summer only to get cold feet when Lazio came calling. But Walker, who funded Blackburn's rise from the old Second Division to Premiership champions, tore up the agreement, allowing Eriksson to move to Rome, where he won the Scudetto, and refused to even consider compensation.

Walker had wanted Eriksson to re-energise a Rovers team that had won the Premiership in 1995, but had to settle for Roy Hodgson instead, and two seasons after the Swede would have taken over, Rovers were relegated.

But the grace with which Walker dealt with Eriksson's about-turn – in stark contrast to the results of the former England manager's other flirtations with prospective employers – means any bad blood at Ewood Park tomorrow will be restricted to on the pitch matters.

Eriksson said: "It was very, very close. In fact it was even more than close. I don't feel bad about it. I had signed a deal with Blackburn and I phoned up Jack Walker to see if it was possible to change my mind. I met him twice. I met him in England and I met him in Italy and at the end I said I'm prepared [to pay] compensation whatever it is.

"But at the end he said, 'I understand you, Sven' and he took the contract and tore it up and said, 'We are friends forever.' That's it. I didn't pay them compensation – he didn't want it. It is a good story. The first time I went to Blackburn as England manager I wondered what will they say and what comments will be made but there was nothing but welcome."

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