He has returned. Controversial, but highly successful across Europe, one of the biggest names in football management is back in the dug-out. Sven-Goran Eriksson is the new manager of... erm... Guangzhou of the Chinese Premier League.
What on earth happened to Eriksson? For all the jokes and innuendo, for all of his recent failures, this was once one of the elite managers in Europe. Oh, there are those who have suggested that he was little more than a 4-4-2-worshipping figurehead who spent other people’s money wisely, but you do not rise from the lower leagues of Swedish football to the top of Serie A if you’ve only got one trick. There must have been something there to sustain him on his voyage across the continent. Where did it go?
Sven, despite being widely pilloried at the time, was a very good England manager. He rescued the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup, spanked Germany until their cheeks tingled, topped the group and was only denied a place in the semi-finals by a ludicrous goal from Ronaldinho. In 2004, England’s progress was blocked by an untimely injury to Wayne Rooney, a disallowed goal and a David Beckham penalty that was missed when the ball moved before it was struck.
The 2006 World Cup campaign was rather less impressive, but it was far less horrific than the wretchedness of Fabio Capello’s class of 2010. Sven’s most heinous sin, in the eyes of many of his critics, was that he didn’t ‘show passion’, as if England would have won something if he’d only lost his temper and sworn more.
He even looked to have settled nicely when he left the Football Association and retuned to club management. The first half of his only season with Manchester City was so good that a push for a Champions League place seemed likely. These days, we’re quite accustomed to the sight of City at the top, but in 2007 it was as wild a proposition as seeing Sunderland up there. And then it all went wrong. City’s form collapsed, Sven was sacked and his wilderness years began.
He took over at Mexico, where his preference for the prosaic was disastrously unpopular and he lasted less than a year. He got himself involved with the catastrophic attempt to propel Notts County to the Premier League. He joined up with the Ivory Coast for the 2010 World Cup, presumably without realising that they had been drawn with Brazil and Portugal. He went to Leicester City, spent big and achieved little. He went to Thailand, to the Middle East, always flitting, never settling. And now China. After this, what is left for him?
What happened? Where did his abilities go? Is it true that he traded his talent in a Faustian pact with the devil for a crack at Ulrika Jonsson? Was it worth it? Only Sven will know.
But I miss the little Swede in his stacked heels. I miss his quiet charm and squirrelish intelligence. I miss him being good at his job. Just take a look at that CV. To paraphrase the man himself, “First half good, second half bleeding awful.”
Come back soon, Sven.
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