January 5th, 2001 – Sven-Goran Eriksson officially starts his new job as manager of the England football team. Eriksson is the first foreigner to hold this position.
It didn’t really go to plan, did it?
Svennis flew into England on this day 21 years ago to take on the ‘hardest job in football’ having been asked to leave Lazio seven months earlier than had been originally planned.
The appointment and the backlash
His appointment wasn’t exactly popular with the traditional press – the Daily Mail, always ones to make the position very clear, said: “We’ve sold our birth-right down the fjord to a nation of seven million skiers and hammer throwers who spend half their life in the dark.”
Eriksson’s 18 club trophies up until this point hadn’t got them very excited, then.
The Sun weighed in with: â€œWhat a climbdown. What a humiliation. What a terrible, pathetic, self-inflicted indictment.”
Eriksson knew the criticism was already out there, responding: “I will prove my critics wrong with good football and good results” adding, “I have to defend myself with good football, good results. If results come, no-one cares about the nationality of the manager.”
Yeah, about that…
Eriksson had actually been announced in the October of 2000 by the FA’s Scottish Chief Exec, Adam Crozier. He was very bullish, as you’d expect, in the press conference.
The Guardian reported;
“Sven-Goran Eriksson was the unanimous choice of our selection team. He is one of the best coaches in the world. At no stage did we approach any other manager. He was, and is, our number one choice,” Crozier admitted at a press conference this afternoon.
“We’ve taken our time over the last three weeks to be clear that Sven was our number one priority,” he continued. “Everything was not tied up last night. It was only after final discussions this morning that it was finalised.
“Sven is extremely excited by the challenge. He didn’t take a lot of convincing about the job. And we are very hopeful that we will be able to manage the team for the World Cup qualifiers in March and June.”
Asked what he would say to people who believe the England manager should be English, Crozier replied: “I can understand why different people have different opinions. But we’ve got to do the right thing for English football. We mustn’t kid ourselves about where we are now.
“We said from the very start we wanted to get the best man for the job. Sven-Goran Eriksson, Peter Taylor, Steve McClaren and Brian Kidd is as good a coaching team as it is possible to assemble.”
England had been looking for a new permanent manager ever since Kevin Keegan resigned in the toilets of Wembley followingÂ that defeat to Germany. Despite Crozier’s claims that Eriksson was first choice, it was reported that Roy Hodgson had turned the gig down as he’d already signed a contract with FC Copenhagen of Denmark. Not that backing out on a signed contract was something that bothered Svennis – he’d previously agreed to take over at Blackburn in 1997 only for a better contract to be put in front of him at Lazio. Blackburn agreed to release him from the signed deal (and appointed Hodgson instead).
The theory of appointing a foreign manager was all around England’s style of play and the perceived lack of tactical masterminds swimming in the English coaching pool. Kevin Keegan had very much been a personality manager who, by his own admission, was lacking in tactical nous.
When you look at the English managers in the Premier League for the 2000/01 season, you can almost start to see their point.
John Gregory, Aston Villa. Alan Curbishley, Charlton. Jim Smith, Derby. Peter Taylor, who looked after the team for one game against Italy in 2000 and made Becks captain, Leicester City. Joe Royle, Manchester City. Terry Venables and Bryan Robson, joint managers at the time at Middlesbrough. If Venables hadn’t been brought in to save Robson, maybe Robbo could have been in the running. Stuart Gray, Southampton. Peter Reid, Sunderland. Glenn Hoddle, Tottenham. Glenn Roeder, West Ham. And, of course, Bobby Robson, Newcastle United.
The sad thing here is that there were three former England managers who would have bitten the FA’s hand off for a second go at the job – all of which had left the role through the FA’s mismanagement of situations. Robson knew he wasn’t going to get a new contract so accepted another job ahead of Italia 90. Venables wasn’t offered a new deal ahead of Euro 96 as the FA didn’t like the noise around him. Hoddle – well, after his comments in an interview with Matt Dickinson, he gave the FA the chance to push him as results weren’t amazing at that exact moment.
The public wanted Venables, as ever – PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, claiming: â€œTerry Venables is not considered because they have put criteria down that maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury wouldnâ€™t meet.â€
â€œThe appointment of a foreign coach beggars belief. This is another example of us giving away our family treasures to Europe,â€ said League Managers Association head and former Wolves boss John Barnwell.
Yet, we ended up with Eriksson – on a five-year deal and the highest-paid manager in England’s history at that point.
Personally, I remember wanting Venables – knowing that there was no chance of a Hoddle return.
England had only one once in their previous seven matches, so a 3-0 friendly debut win at Villa Park against Spain at the end of February got a few people on side early.
Beating Germany 5-1 in Munich helped too – suddenly, England were moving from bottom of their 2002 World Cup Qualifying Group to the top and being talked up as potential winners (yes, more than usual).
Admittedly, they needed a performance of super-human levels from Beckham against Greece to get the team there, but winning the 2002 World Cup felt like a genuine possibility.
What could possibly go wrong? England had a cool new manager, were playing like world beaters and suddenly 4-4-2 was OK again! What could go wrong? Well, we will come on to the off-the-pitch stuff in a bit as no piece on Eriksson can leave that out. But on the pitch?
Eriksson himself says that he didn’t think they’d win the 2002 World Cup – England lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals with Ronaldinho curling a free-kick high above a stranded David Seaman after Michael Owen had given us the lead. Beckham’s metatarsal had been the biggest football worry ahead of the tournament – though the absence of any other right-back than Danny Mills and Steven Gerrard also out didn’t help.
He was more of the belief that the 2004 Euros were the time for this team, especially with the added bonus of a young Wayne Rooney.
England lost to Portugal in the semi-finals, an injury to Rooney killing the momentum of the team as well as the perennial inability to win a penalty shoot-out.
Eriksson was certain we’d win the 2006 World Cup.
This time it was Rooney’s broken foot that was the drama – plus Theo Walcott being taken along for the ride ala Ronaldo in 1994. England were beaten on penalties again by winking Ronaldo’s Portugal – after Rooney saw red.
There would be no major honours for England under Sven. He was sacked after the World Cup.
Ah, the press – was Sven sacked just because he had failed to win the World Cup or did the press play their part?
Well, what do you think?
Ahead of the 2002 World Cup we found out every last detail of Sven’s affair with weathergirl Ulrika Jonsson. In later years, there were public dalliances with clubs rather than TV personalities. Svennis never really played the media game – weirdly, the one thing I did kind of respect him for.
In the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup campaign, there was a newspaper ‘sting’ where Sven was caught chatting to a fake Sheikh.
Eriksson says the reason he lost the England job was two-fold – not winning the World Cup and the newspaper sting.
How should we look back at Eriksson’s time as England manager?
Being honest, for me it is a case of “look at what you should have won”. The players Eriksson had at his disposal in their supposed prime – even counting for the English tax of every player being a world-beater when really, they are not – suggested we should have got to a final at the very least. Not win something, no – but a final.
And why did we not?
Sure, we were unlucky that we had key injuries going into each of the three main tournaments – but show me an England manager who didn’t suffer from that?
I always felt that England were tactically naive under Sven. We’d brought in a foreign manager (no issues with that here, by the way) to move us forward as a footballing force and found a guy that loved to play 4-4-2 only more than two out of the three previous England managers.
The issue was in midfield – how to get the best out of Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard. Not to mention, Joe Cole or Michael Carrick.
Eriksson felt he had to pick the first four names – and it always left it open to the “can Gerrard and Lampard play together?” debate.
Could he have experimented with playing Beckham centrally and behind those two? Maybe. Could he have been super-brave and dropped Beckham and played Scholes as the 6 with Gerrard and Lampard pushing on? Most certainly. Could he have balanced the fact we still didn’t have a proper left-sided superstar and gone three at the back with Ashley Cole and Beckham as wing-backs with Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard in the middle?
You know what, we’ll never know – but had he done that I suspect England might have reached a final way ahead of Euro 2020.
But Eriksson didn’t think the players were capable, saying: â€œYou should make it as simple as possible. You see the players very seldom. Donâ€™t complicate things. Put players in the positions they feel comfortable in, in a system they feel comfortable with. They responded with good performances quite quickly.â€
Maybe, just maybe Sven needed to feel comfortable.