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Saturday, Jan. 28, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Forcing Eriksson out early makes perpetrators look weak


LONDON -- The hypocrisy, double-talk, deceit and lies have plummeted to new depths this week.

Christopher Davies

Does everyone involved in English football think the public is so thick it cannot see past the smoke screen of duplicity?

Sven-Goran Eriksson will leave his post as head coach of England after the 2006 World Cup -- or after the quarterfinals if history repeats itself -- after being the victim of a News of the World "sting," the Swede making indiscreet, though hardly revelatory comments to a fake sheik in Dubai.

Now we know -- passing on tittle-tattle is effectively a sackable offense.

In fact, Eriksson's crimes against English football amount to the high-profile bedding of a couple beautiful women and talking to allegedly rich Arabs on a luxury yacht in Dubai. I wish . . .

His record of four competitive defeats in five years -- one was in a penalty shootout against Portugal and another by Brazil when goalkeeper David Seaman allowed a speculative 40-meter lob by Ronaldinho to go over his head -- is not quite beyond criticism but almost.

The way some of the anti-Eriksson brigade talk about him, which borders on nationalism, you would think the Swede is a managerial non-entity.

Well, apart from winning championships in Sweden, Portugal and Italy, having a better record in qualifying campaigns and in major finals with England than any of his predecessors . . . apart from that what has he done?

He was wrong, some said, to discuss the possibility of future employment with the fake sheik.

But isn't everyone -- apart from the unemployed -- in a job when they are offered the chance to work elsewhere?

Another popular accusation is that Eriksson is mercenary.

So why do so many people move to better paid jobs, do the football pools or the lottery?

To get more money to have a more exciting lifestyle. It is OK for everyone else to want to better themselves, but not the England manager.

He is overpaid, many claim, but his £4.5 million salary is simply market forces. When the Football Association offered him the job Eriksson was on a good salary with Lazio and was hardly going to move for less money.

"Whether you are a club or country, if you want a coach at that level then the fact is you have to pay that money," said Eriksson. "Just the same if you wanted Arsene Wenger [Arsenal], Carlo Ancelotti [AC Milan] or Fabio Capello [Juventus]. I have never understood in England that people accuse me of earning too much money. I could easily find 10 managers in Europe who earn more than me."

Eriksson has not helped himself with his affairs with Ulrika Jonsson and Faria Alam, the Swede naive if he expected anything but what he called a media "circus" detailing the lurid details of his private life on the front pages.

There is more sympathy for the military-like operation by the News of the World that saw Eriksson's private conversation with people he thought were Arabs setting up a football academy becoming very public.

If a newspaper can expose a pedophile ring, a corrupt politician or a drug baron with reporters going undercover that is first-class journalism, but to go underground to entice a football manager to speak with loose tongue . . .?

The NOTW has hardly helped England's World Cup cause by the way it set up Eriksson, even if the Swede should have been more discreet.

Yet it was not so much calling Rio Ferdinand "lazy," saying Wayne Rooney comes from "a poor family" or that Michael Owen went to Newcastle "only for the money," that prompted English football to join forces against Eriksson.

It was mentioning that there is corruption in English football with three managers he knows of taking bungs that saw Eriksson fall on his sword.

Forget that such a remark was about as surprising as night following day and something just about everyone in the F.A. talks about on a regular basis.

The only difference is that Eriksson was taped and exposed by a fake sheik, and he has initiated legal proceedings against the newspaper.

"It's a scandal," said Eriksson. "It could only have happened in this country, for sure."

Eriksson will not receive a penny in compensation from his contract which ran until 2008 if he is employed elsewhere, as seems likely, after Germany 2006.

Intriguingly, it was revealed that he had spoken to F.A. chief executive Brian Barwick a year ago about the possibility of leaving after the World Cup.

"We had a private agreement that, more or less, I would be allowed to leave if I wanted," said Eriksson. "The only ones who knew were myself, Brian and my agent."

Yet Athole Still, Eriksson's agent, said a couple of weeks before it was confirmed his client would move on this summer, that the Swede wanted to stay "until 2010." Hmmm.

Barwick maintained -- unconvincingly -- that the latest NOTW revelations had nothing to do with this week's announcement that Eriksson would leave in July -- so presumably the timing was just a coincidence then.

The Premier League moved quickly to instigate an investigation on transfers since January 2004, in the wake of Eriksson's "corruption" allegations.

Whether the new inquiry will fare better than the previous one in 1993, which took five years to complete and found only two people to charge -- the Arsenal chief scout and a Nottingham Forest coach -- remains to be seen.

Breath should not be held, though.

AND SO TO Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor, with Guus Hiddink, the PSV and Australia coach, gaining support. The English options are few.

Sam Allardyce has done magnificently to establish Bolton as a leading Premiership club, but he has done this with mainly overseas players and a style of football that at times borders on brutal, lacking respect for opponents and officials.

Alan Curbishley has made Charlton a Premiership force to be reckoned with on a small budget but has never even managed a team in Europe, let alone at international level.

Steve McClaren, one of Eriksson's coaches, has spent a king's ransom at Middlesbrough, which plays uninspired football and is currently battling relegation.

Manchester City's Stuart Pearce effectively ruled himself out of the reckoning because of his inexperience.

Hiddink, who this column has long championed, has the best qualifications of all the candidates. He has been successful in Holland, Spain and with South Korea, which he led to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.

"If anyone asks me, I would say 'Just take the job,' " said Eriksson. "It's a huge job but a fantastic one. I always liked it and still do, though, I did get fed up with reading about my private life, and I think people got fed up with reading about my private life, too."

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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