By a quirk of the fixture list, allied to the regrettable impatience of one of a new breed of foreign club owners, it appears that the City of Manchester Stadium has already seen the last of Sven Goran Eriksson. Manchester City's final game of the season next Sunday was originally scheduled to be at home to Middlesbrough, but because the Uefa Cup final is being staged at the ground three days later, the two Middlesbrough matches were reversed.
After visiting Liverpool in the televised game this afternoon, City therefore finish at the Riverside Stadium instead and Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai owner intent on sacking Eriksson after only 10 months, will be spared an embarrassing demonstration by home supporters.
Online polls in the past week have shown support for the former England manager running at between 90 and 97 per cent, despite the team having slipped from the top four at Christmas to ninth, which is where they will probably finish – up five places from last season under Stuart Pearce. Thaksin, who relied heavily on being in touch with public opinion during his controversial period as prime minister of Thailand, is suddenly about as popular as Gordon Brown, and has already discovered that even recruiting a replacement with as high a profile as Luiz Felipe Scolari – who denies having agreed anything – would not pacify the City fans.
They are a remarkably patient as well as long-suffering bunch, following a club who have not won a major trophy since the League Cup in 1976. Dennis Tueart scored the winning goal that day and eventually became a director of the club, but he was forced out in the Thaksin takeover last summer. He said of Eriksson's proposed departure: "I'm as mystified as everybody else. I spoke to Sven at a golf day early in September and said it would take two or three months at least for the new players to bed in, but that if he was 10th to 12th by Christmas, he could see what he'd got and take it from there. He'd have got to know the players and know his best blend.
"Then come Christmas you have a chance to change, possibly in the transfer window, and push on. And to finish 10th to eighth would then be progress. People talk all the time about success, but what you have to do is make progress. That doesn't happen overnight, especially in the Premier League, when you're up against a quartet of clubs with almost unlimited funds."
Eriksson's problem in terms of results is that City have done things the wrong way round by having an excellent first half of the season before falling away. Winning their first three games – the third of them at home to Manchester United – put them top of the earliest Premier League table and they won every home game before Christmas, remaining in the top four almost the whole time.
Matches such as the 6-0 defeatat Chelsea in October nevertheless emphasised that they were in a false position, and the manager sensibly distanced himself from excitable talk of breaking up the big four's monopoly. "I'm sure the new owner wants to challenge for that," he said in these pages at the time, adding presciently: "But it's difficult."
How difficult soon became apparent as City drifted down the table, despite a dramatic first win at Old Trafford for 34 years. Having arrived only a month before the new season and been forced to buy in a hurry, Eriksson has not surprisingly made as many bad signings as good. His misfortune was that one or two of the most expensive have been among the worst, such as the £8.8m striker Rolando Bianchi, now on loan at Lazio. Elano, at £8m, looked impressive initially but does not seem to have found his best position. On the other hand, Martin Petrov has had some outstanding games wide on the left, and City were unlucky that Valeri Bojinov, another expensive striker, was injured before August was out.
If one good thing comes out of the present mess, it will be that the wider issue of short-term thinking by trigger-happy owners receives greater attention. The League Managers Association, under their new chief executive, Richard Bevan, have taken the unusual step of criticising a possible sacking even before it happens, pointing out that "the current situation reflects a growing trend of football club owners having unrealistic expectations andnot giving managers sufficient support and time in the role".
Later this month, the All Party Parliamentary Football Group, who have 150 MPs as members, begin an inquiry into the governance of English football. Their chairman, Alan Keen MP, who was a Middlesbrough scout for 18 years, says: "People in charge of football clubs do seem to think managers can bring instant success. Sven has been relatively successful anyway. What on earth do the owners expect in a first season?"
Considerably more than ninth position and a double over Manchester United, it seems.
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