It was only the other week that I was discussing the best football songs with a few friends. The best, apparently, was Baddiel and Skinner’s effort way back in the late nineties; “three lions on the shirt” as I recall. The worst, not surprisingly which we all agreed on, was Ant and Dec’s rather lame effort of “On the Ball”.
This week I received a blast from the past. I’m not a regular follower of the Championship but, upon hearing of a certain Swede’s sacking in the news, I was reminded of that old favourite football song of mine with the charming “he’s a lovely geezer, but don’t forget that he’s from Sweden” line in it.
His sacking didn’t just remind me of old football songs though of course – it reminded me of how much I liked our old national team manager and prompted me to try and guess (although I don’t think anyone can when it comes to Sven) what his next career move will be.
Sven-Goran Eriksson brings a calm, serene touch to a game that, particularly motivated by the press, longs for brazen, overwhelming personalities and colourful press conferences where every sentence is a gag or a slight at a new manager. Sven is perfectly unemotional in a game which almost demands the wearing of your heart on your sleeve.
Like a mild October morning, he’s the perfect antidote to a Redknapp-esque sweltering summer or a Mourinho-like snow-swirling winter. Eriksson is calm, at ease and subdued, analysing his football and carefully calculating every situation which could possibly come his way. Like a hawk, the Swede hunts and caresses his results. And boy has he had some results in his lifetime.
Eriksson has won league and cup doubles in three different counties and reached the European cup final, while lifting the UEFA Cup and Cup Winner’s Cup for good measure. He performed well in each country he managed a side in; a textured array of football knowledge and the balls, bluster and execution to pull off successful stints.
Adapting is vital for a constantly changing, often job-switching manager like Sven and more often than not he has conformed to the style of a particular country with ease. To win so many trophies in so many different countries tells us that, instead of what the press would have had us believe, he is learned and intelligent football man.
He’s an ever-learning figurehead of success, a man whose trophy hauls matches the number of women he’s had affairs with.
His success at City is unfairly forgotten – it must be remembered Eriksson drove City to ninth place, along with delivering two very good results against their biggest rivals United in his debut season with the club. The treatment he received at the hands of the Thai owner was not only unfair but intriguingly bizarre and at the time City fans were outraged. Although we know now what would follow his departure renders his achievements with City miniscule in comparison, the Swede succeeded in his first campaign in English club football.
Sven may also go down as the most successful recent England manager. Aside from his extra-marital trouser-snake antics were his three successive quarter final finishes with England. Perhaps they didn’t play scintillating football but the results were there, unlike those brought by a certain Steve McClaren or even an arguably better manager than Sven in Capello, especially when the team Sven had to pull England towards glory was most probably weaker than the one we possess in 2011. Two penalty shoot-outs and an all-conquering Brazilian side were all that stopped England from progressing further in major International tournaments.
One must ask the question – what next for Sven? Will yet another golden handshake subdue any lingering passion he has left for the game? Perhaps it’s his drive which should be questioned. While Eriksson is undoubtedly an intelligent man, good manager and (from what I can gather) a relatively fine fellow, this will be the fourth team he has left in three years. That is far too many for a manager of his calibre.
At 63 one would expect him to be settling into a long stint at a particular club instead of still being cast out to football’s no man’s land. He should be driving forward now instead of waiting for offers; he should have his feet firmly under the table of a football club rather than still searching for a place he can call home.
Because of his rich, textured past and intelligent disposition the man from Sweden will most probably never be short of offers. It would not be much of a shock, however, to see him drift away from football. To reiterate – while a good manager, it is now his lust for football which must be questioned as much as anything. Can he instil passion and ambition to a fading dressing room? Did he ever truly possess the drive to take Leicester into the Premier League?
A successful journeyman of a manager, his time in football seems to have gone backwards – he should be lifting trophies in Europe now rather than lifting them when he was in his forties. He’s an enigma, a chestnut whose feelings may never be cracked open but that only endears me to him more.
So here’s to Sven – a unique character whose career, from his failed Notts County position to the dizzying heights of European finals, will never cease to amaze me.
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