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Friday, 15 October 2010

Show Me The Money

Football can be a cruel mistress. Everyone knows this. But there is one man for whom football is never testy. Never hard work. Ever eager to whisper sweet nothings into his ear. That man is Sven Goran Eriksson, the recently appointed Leicester City manager. These days I almost expect Pudsey the Bear to chaperone Sven around, so often does the man get his hands on one of those gigantic cheques. How does he do it? It seems quite incredible to many that he manages to get work, time and time again. Is this too harsh a judgement? Let’s assess…

In plain black and white, here is Sven’s managerial career: Degerfors 1977-78: wins promotion to second division. Göteborg 1979-82: one league win and two domestic cup wins plus the Uefa Cup in ’82. Benfica 1982-84: two league wins, one doemstic cup, runner up Uefa Cup. Roma 1984-87: one domestic cup. Fiorentina 1987-89: nothing to write home about. Benfica 1989-91: league win, European Cup runners-up in ’90. Sampdoria 1992-97: one domestic cup. Lazio 1997-2001: one league win, one domestic cup, one Supercup, one Cup Winner’s Cup. England 2001-06: three consecutive QF appearances. Man City 2007-08: ninth place in the Premier League. Mexico 2008-09: nowt. Ivory Coast 2010: did not qualify from World Cup group stage.

For all the bad press he receives in England, a cursory glance above illustrates that Sven’s pedigree before he took the England job was superb. He is still revered at Lazio, where he led the side to their first Scudetto since 1974. His success at Benfica was vast. In only his second managerial role, he went and won a treble with Göteborg. However, it is probably the 8-1 embarrassment at the hands of Middlesbrough in his final game in charge at Man City that lingers freshest in English fans’ collective mind, along with his, let’s say, ‘ill-fated’ time as director of football at Notts County and the win-win summer he enjoyed in South Africa with the Ivory Coast.

Nevertheless, Sven is a hard man to dislike. His record with England, denounced at the time by arrogant sections of the media for whom success was more or less expected, has continued to look better and better with every failure his predecessors make. He lost just ONE qualifying match in his whole time in charge (the Northern Ireland debacle, remember that?) and with a little more luck during the lottery of penalties, he would have taken England to two semi-finals. Rob and I on these pages have argued time and again that England are a quarter final side; no more. There is no shame in this. To be in the top eight in the world is an achievement. England don’t have this God-given right to be finalists, despite the fact they enter every tournament among the 3 or 4 favourites with the bookies in this country. This has become patently obvious by the McClaren saga and the subsequent dross we witnessed this summer, culminating in the shooing at the hands of Germany.

To put Sven’s last 10 years in perspective, Roy Hodgson – the man Blackburn plumped for after Sven had an 11th hour change of heart to sack off Ewood Park for the Stadio Olimpico – also hasn’t won anything since 2001, when he won a league title with Copenhagen. Hodgson could also be described as a bit of a football mercenary, taking up roles with the UAE, Finland, a six-month stint at Udinese and a season with Norway’s Viking Stavanger, among others, since that success. That Uncle Woy doesn’t get anywhere near as much grief as Sven is probably due to Sven’s dalliances off the pitch, but at the end of the day, if you looked like Sven but were able to shag Ulrika Jonsson or Faria Alam, you wouldn’t think twice, no?

Yes, Sven is an opportunist. Yes, he follows the money. But a proven track record across a long and varied career still makes him a quite formidable manager. “This is real,” cooed Sven arriving at Leicester for his latest venture – currently third bottom in the Championship, and scarcely audible over the sound of banknotes being counted.

Who can blame him though? With history backing the claims that he can be a success when bankrolled and given time to build a squad, as he did most spectacularly with Sergio Cragnotti’s blank cheque book at Lazio, who would doubt his desire to get the recently flush Leicester back to the top flight? The signing of Kyle Naughton represents an excellent benchmark. “If they did not have ambition, then I would not be interested," said Sven of his new employers. He may not be the loudest, but he certainly talks a good game. Adam Bushby

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