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Monday, January 16, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: February 7, 10:27 AM UK
Sven feeling the sting

Dominic Raynor

'I would like to assure everyone, especially the [England] fans, that I am 100 per cent committed to the England job. I have told the FA this and I value the great support I have received from them.'

Those were the latest reassuring words of 'loyal' England manager Sven Goran Eriksson after a fake sheikh sting by a national newspaper revealed once again that the Swede is all too eager to quit his 4million-per-year England job and return to club football.

With only five months to go until World Cup 2006 kicks-off Eriksson fell for the oldest and most infamous trick in the British tabloid book, Mahzer Mahmood's super-rich sheikh charade, and during a luxury sojourn in Dubai, he suggested that the hoax-Arab could buy Aston Villa for 25million from 'sick old man' Doug Ellis and install himself at the helm for a mere 5million per year. After tax.

Eriksson was lured to a seven-star hotel in the Middle East on the pretence of luxury consultancy work concerning a football academy in the area and during his break, which included a trip on a 72-foot yacht around the Persian Gulf and indulgence in Dom Perignon champagne plus vintage wine, the England manager suggested the Birmingham club was ripe for takeover and divulged personal information about some of his star players with worrying ease.

The 57-year-old intimated that England skipper David Beckham was eager for a move away from Real Madrid and could be persuaded to join him at Villa, that Michael Owen was 'not really happy' at Newcastle and was only there for the money, Rio Ferdinand is 'lazy sometimes', Wayne Rooney is from a 'poor' and 'rough neighbourhood' and that Chelsea's Shaun Wright-Phillips was not worth his 24million transfer fee.

Much has been made of these revelations and while many of them can be easily brushed aside as overhyped tabloidese a few disturbing facts still remain.

It is no surprise that Beckham might consider a move away from Madrid after two-and-a-half trophyless seasons at the Bernabeu, nor that Chelsea's billionaire owner had to pay over the odds for a transfer fee and Rooney won't be too worried about being from the wrong part of town. However, comments that striker Owen is not really happy in Newcastle but is economically sound will confirm suspicions that the 26-year-old is only on Tyneside for the money. Eriksson's indisgression could damage his relationship with the proud Toon Army.

Eriksson has since telephoned the England internationals in question to smooth things over but it will be interesting to see if his relationship with the players, who have backed the manager with an unhealthy level of loyalty so far, has been damaged by his willingness to betray their loyalty and blab their secrets to complete strangers.

The Swede's seeming eagerness to overthrow David O'Leary as Villa manager after the 2006 World Cup finals may also have a detrimental effect on the enthusiasm of O'Leary's fellow Premiership managers to help out the England manager in future. March's friendly against Uruguay will provide a litmus test.

Eriksson has undoubted previous in flirting with Premiership clubs during his five-year reign. In February 2002 he was accused of agreeing to take over from Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. Despite the Swede's denial, Ferguson later said: 'I think they'd done the deal. I think they'd shaken hands'.

In July 2003 Eriksson looked set to quit England for Chelsea when he was photographed meeting with Blues owner Roman Abramovich and the Russian's pet super-agent Pini Zahavi. Caught out, rather than jumping ship, the underfire manager signed a lucrative contract extension until 2008 in an attempt to placate fans.

No sooner have these latest allegations become public knowledge than Eriksson's agent Athol Still attempted to use the same tactics to gloss over the incident and stated that his client might be interested in signing an contract extension until 2010. Please, Lord no!

It would not be unfair of the FA to punish Eriksson's promiscuity by denying him the chance to take England to Germany 2006. It is becoming increasingly clear that the national team has their best chance of lifting the World Cup since 1966 despite Eriksson, not because of him.

The most worrying factors that came to light at the weekend are not realisations that Eriksson is something of a mercenary manager always looking for a big pay day. That is already common knowledge. It is, after all, how England lured him from Lazio. But by falling foul of the fake sheikh's antics and divulging information about players he has proved himself to be highly gullible.

If the World Cup comes down to a battle of wits then Eriksson's opponents may be licking their lips at the fresh meat on offer - just ask Felipe Scholari, who outwitted Eriksson at the helm of Brazil at World Cup 2002 and Portugal at Euro 2004.

The more important concern is a lack of suitable successors to Eriksson, who will now surely depart after the 2006 finals. The Swede has acquired such a list of transgressions, including affairs with Ulrika Jonsson and Faria Alam, that the FA could easily escape paying the 9million compensation for the remaining two-years of Eriksson's contract - if the Swede doesn't defect first - by claiming breach of contract.

The FA's stated aim is to appoint an Englishman to the post but the list of candidates is worryingly dire. England assistant manager Steve McClaren was once favourite for the job but now can't seem to prevent his Middlesbrough side from freefalling into the Premiership relegation battle and recently described a 7-0 drubbing by Arsenal as 'a great experience'.

Alan Curbishley is suffering his own crisis at Charlton Athletic, where their seasonal spring-time capitulation has arrived early, and Bolton Wanderer's manager Sam Allardyce's successful but robust style of football would be unsuited to England's pampered stars.

England playing legend Stuart Pearce is only cutting his teeth at Manchester City and other Premiership contenders such as Paul Jewell and Bryan Robson can be described as outsiders, at best.

Looking at that list of successors Eriksson needs to win the World Cup, not only to redeem himself and enhance his battered reputation, but also so that the English public can safely endure the barren years that follow with the rose-tinted memory of a trophy - much as the have since 1966.

  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.

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