March 29, 2004


It can't only be me who's been incensed by the noxious cant and self-serving hypocrisy issuing from Wapping in respect of Sven Goran Eriksson over the last few days. (Actually, it isn't: at least one columnist in The Times today raised an eyebrow.) No wonder the Swede was exasperated and bemused by his recent monstering. All he had done, after all, was speak to a prospective employer who was prepared to make him a very good affair. An exceptional offer, actually. Eriksson stood to become the best-paid coach in the world with an almost unlimited budget. Come July, when those same journalists (mostly redtop, but not exclusively so, I'm sad to say) may well be chief torch-carriers in yet another witch-hunt, this time calling for Eriksson's removal from the post, his turning down the Chelsea job may be a decision SGE comes to rue. There was no question of Eriksson walking out on England before or during the European championship finals. His 'crime' consisted in sounding things out, listening to an offer, considering his future after Euro 2004. Of course, no journalist - a profession renowned for its high-mindedness and ethical probity - would even consider a better offer from a rival newspaper. Heaven forbid.

Needless to say, 'the motive' for this latest slew of invective was the usual unseemly pottage of journalistic opportunism, English auto-laceration (for what would driving Sven out be if not an act of collective self-destruction?), myopia and --- xenophobia. It is the journalists, not Sven, who are fellow travellers and freeloaders; it is they who exploit the passion for the national team, who exhibit a fickleness that goes far beyond mere lack of loyalty. The criticisms of Eriksson - for his alleged coolness and deficit of passion - trade on a less than subtle national stereotype, but what they reveal is that it isn't SGE's lack of professionalism that's the 'problem'; it's his excess of it. Eriksson's sin is to view the England job as just that: a job. Not a divine mission, not a lifelong vocation. But a job. As Sphaleotas remaked to me: would you want a passionate plumber? But oh yeah, we had a passionate plumber. Anyone care to remember Kevin Keegan? The implication of course is that only a foreigner would view the post in so detached and pragmatic a way. The idea that detachment, pragmatism and self-interest could actually be virtues in an England coach - this hasn't occured to any of the hacks. (But, naturally, I'm giving them too much credit by assuming there's any reasoning in their positions). Ask yourself this: would we want an England manager who regarded holding the position as being detrimental to his self-interest?

The embarrassing paucity of credible alternative candidates is the most compelling argument for going cap in hand to Sven. Alan Curbishley? Steve Mclaren? You're having a laugh. Surely we've learned the lesson by now that employing an international coach who has not won a trophy of any serious status, let alone a league championship, is, to say the least, a mistake. To this minimal requirement, I would add: some experience of managing top-quality players and of the Champions League and, preferably, some experience of managing abroad. Successful experience, I hardly need add.

btw It's actually the rare England manager who has won a league championship. (I think the last one was Terry Venables, who won La Liga with Barcelona back in 1985. And before that?) Sven's c.v. prior to taking on the England job was, by some considerable distance, the most impressive of any incumbent. Bobby Robson's most successful work was done after he managed England. And as for Hoddle, Keegan? Also-rans, never-should have beens.

I don't mean to disparage Curbishley or Mclaren. Far from it. But they're clearly not ready for the job and in any sane world, they wouldn't even be considered for it.

We should count ourselves lucky that we've still got Sven.

Posted by mark at March 29, 2004 07:33 PM | TrackBack

I had to laugh on Sunday morning as every front page cried 'Judas', at the same time as Sven announced he'd signed for another 3 years. The whole story stank, as you rightly observe - no matter what the guy said, the universal press assumption was that he was being bought (by that other 'shady foreigner' in English footie, Roman Abramovich). I think every sports desk had egg on its face over the weekend, because they would rather believe pictures in the Sun than words on record from the man himself.

(P.S. A pedant might mention Howard Wilkinson, but that doesn't really answer anything)

Posted by: Tim at March 30, 2004 08:08 AM

Fair point on Sgt Wilko tho he was only caretaker manager thank God.

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 30, 2004 09:55 AM

There seems to be an assumption on the part of the papers (esp. the Sun) that 'the fans' will take against Sven's 'disloyalty'.

I can see no evidence for that, and certainly those of us who support teams other than the 4 or 5 biggest are completely used to players and managers viewing football as a job. We know that if someone's good they'll move on to bigger and more lucrative things.

What annoys fans the most is lack of effort while in post / on the pitch.

Who do you support, Mark?

Posted by: Tim at March 30, 2004 01:49 PM

Who do you support, Mark?

Forest.... What about you, Tim?

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 30, 2004 05:52 PM

Your piece is right, Mark. The tabs would prefer a 'passionate' and useless yeoman of the shires to manage the national team to any decent European.
I think they are still pining for Terry Venables, and indeed some of the loudest anti-Sven voices are personal friends of Venables - such as Geoff Powell in the Daily Mail.
Also the sports hacks, who are dim as a breed, don't like it when a manager is palpably brainer than them, as was pointed out in the Guardian today by a decent sports writer, Kevin McCarra.

Although admitting to supporting a team in Scotland is akin to declaring a blood oath to a pagan deity in its ominous sense of imminent violence, I have supported the super-Hoops, Celtic, since i moved here in 1992 (when they were crap).
Now they are almost embarassingly dominant in Scotland (witness their contemptuous swatting of the R*ngers on Sunday, 2 days after beating Barca) and Mark you must be delighted to see Martin O'Neill, who was such a great Forest player, doing such a fine job.

Posted by: baal's ankle at March 30, 2004 09:42 PM

Yr right, Baal.

Venables is the most overrated coach in football. Apart from that league win with Barca, he's done sod-all. An FA cup win with Spurs (which they shouldn't have had any way - Gasgoine should have been sent off for violently assaulting two of our players), that's it. His Leeds and Boro sojourns were hardly covered in glory....

Course I'm delighted about Martin O'Neil's success. Great to see Celtic seeing off Barcelona last week. A European performance worthy of Clough's best teams. Keep it tight!

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 30, 2004 09:54 PM

Baal, TIME FOR ANOTHER POST --- it's been a week, we're HUNGRY out here....

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 30, 2004 10:46 PM

I support Exeter, thanks for asking, and the past 18 months have been strange times for us...

Posted by: Tim at March 31, 2004 10:22 AM