Sam Wallace: Something rotten at the court of Sven

Last weekend, Smith's withdrawal announced that he was the vanguard of the disillusioned among the players who have served under Sven Goran Eriksson; by full-time on Wednesday we knew that he cannot be the only one who does not believe in the England manager. The mauling in Denmark does not mean a crisis for England. Neither is it the expiration of their World Cup hopes and it is naïve to suggest that the result will endanger Eriksson's position before next summer. But the circumstances of this humiliation give the lie to something much more fundamental about the state of our team and their prospects in Germany 10 months from now.

It is a warning that comes in small pieces of evidence that, when assembled one day when Eriksson has gone and his former players are able to speak freely about him, will make perfect sense. There was Smith's ambivalence and the confusion that surrounded his call-up, Eriksson's inability in the pre-match briefings to name the Danish midfield and then, finally, the reckless second-half collapse at the Parken Stadium.

Together they tell us of a management structure that is failing, a regime that has staggered on too long with no fresh purpose to sustain it.

Something rotten in the state of Denmark? Without a doubt. But if it is wisdom from Hamlet that you want to illuminate England's Danish disaster, then look no further than that meddlesome old courtier Polonius, surely a historical prototype for the old boys in Football Association blazers.

"Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act," he advised, and it is a creed that Eriksson has taken to breaking point. For so long we have assumed that his refusal to say anything of substance, his aversion to risk, has disguised a masterplan. Nights like Wednesday prove otherwise.

Among those most senior in the England side, with the exception of David Beckham, there is now private disquiet at what exactly Eriksson does for this team. It is not a mutiny, and it is unlikely to be voiced in public as England sail fair for World Cup qualification, but it shows no sign of relenting. Eriksson has never been an active coach, and is no great communicator, and that style has created a team run by its players with a manager who is inadequate but pliable. England are on autopilot.

Gary Neville was right when he said that the team would rise again after this defeat. "We'll beat them when it matters, don't worry about that," he said. "I don't think it, I know it." But even he is not defending his manager as vehemently as he once did. England's stability is provided by the players rather than a manager who has relegated himself to the sidelines.

The main opposition to Eriksson, and his management style, has always foundered on its inability to be anything but vicious and personal about him. There is really nothing much objectionable about Eriksson the man. He is polite, shy, no more interested in a discussion of his duties than the average minor royal; and he is equally indifferent to the scandal that has pursued his personal life. Eriksson has refused to engage with the rules that govern British public life. But that emphasis on non-participation has now stretched to his professional conduct.

Defeat in Denmark was a premonition of the fatal dangers when Eriksson's laissez-faire consensus management is allowed to run unchecked. Our international heavyweights - Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard - are free-styling their way through England matches. They are being forced to pick a tune and a beat themselves and improvise the melody. There was no Plan B to switch to, because in the world that Eriksson has created there was no Plan A in the first place.

In the aftermath of defeat in Denmark, Eriksson did realise that this was no place for the dissembling nonsense that followed last year's humiliation in a friendly against Spain, or the shrugged shoulders that have accompanied defeat in the last two major tournaments. For a few minutes he discovered a new vocabulary pertinent to the occasion that talked of a "disaster" and an "embarrassment", then dissolved into a non-personalised apportionment of blame. A vague assumption of guilt that signified nothing.

As Eriksson resumes his tour of duty around the Premiership this weekend it will seem even more pointless now we know how much he will have to rely on his first XI next summer. The senior players now control the destiny of this side. It will be the boys of 2006, and not their manager, who will determine whether, like 40 years ago, this country's footballers can still achieve greatness. Eriksson can take his place on this agreeable journey, but Wednesday night told us he has long since given up his authority to direct it.