The most profound irony of an extraordinary week in the history of Manchester City revealed itself half an hour or so after Sven Goran Eriksson had delivered what looked, for all the world, like a last farewell.
Eriksson's side have, despite owner Thaksin Shinawatra's misgivings about him, all but qualified for the Uefa Cup through the Fair Play rankings, a fact which can only compound Eriksson's sense of sorrow that he will probably not be around to see through the "project" which attracted him back to England 10 months ago.
"You've been seeing me twice a week more or less and you know from the press conferences we've had [that] there are no doubts about it," he said when asked if he would like to stay beyond this season. "I like the club, l like the fans I like the players we have, I like the project. But that's it."
Eriksson refused to discuss his future yesterday other than to confirm that his departure was "a possibility" and to reject, in a moment of high farce midway through a distinguished performance, suggestions from a Mexican journalist that that country's football association had been in touch.
True to form, Eriksson had the good grace to say that he did know something about that nation. "I know a little bit," he said. "They played in the last World Cup for example. They were beaten by Portugal weren't they?"
Otherwise, the man whose apparent departure has managed to inspire a fans protest at the club's ground today, could only reflect on the fact that nothing in football really surprises him any more. "You know, football is great and life is great because it's never boring," he said, which is certainly one way of viewing it.
"There's always something new happening. You just have to accept it and see what's coming out in less than a week. [That will be] Sunday evening, Monday, I suppose."
As ever, the thought processes of Thaksin are not clear to him. There are no dates pencilled in for another meeting between the two, though City's tour of Thailand and China, which Eriksson leads next week, will presumably provide an opportunity.
Eriksson is ready to meet the Thai "whenever he wants" but his language suggested he heard plenty when the two met at Manchester's Edwardian Radisson two weeks ago. "One day I will tell you maybe – maybe," he said when asked why he believed Thaksin did not share his view that this had been a reasonable season for his side.
Even Thaksin may have a different perspective if City do make the Uefa Cup as the representative of the Premier League which in 162 matches featuring English clubs that were watched by Uefa delegates between 1 May last year and 30 April this year havesurpassed all other nations for positive play, respect of the opponent and the referee, behaviour of the crowd and team officials, plus cautions and dismissals.
The only team which may pip City to the place tomorrow are Everton, who are 0.5 Fair Play points behind them with a possible 10 points available per match, though a draw against Newcastle will take them into the tournament through a fifth-place finish, leaving City in the clear.
Eriksson has never been willing to discuss this mode of qualification, but his team and officials now seem certain to behave courteously at Middlesbrough tomorrow.
With Eriksson's possible replacement Luiz Felipe Scolari making less than encouraging noises about City yesterday – "I have no agreement with that club. Portugal offers me everything I need," he said – Thaksin may be wondering whether he has been hasty, though any rapprochement with the Swede would appear unthinkable.
Eriksson's only certainty is that he won't be out of the game for long. "Do I still want to go on working?" he said. "I've been in football as a coach manager since I was 27 and I had one year off and that was the worst year I've had in my life so it'll be very difficult to keep me out – I promise you."Reuse content