Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Career: The Fortunate Rise and the Inevitable Fall

A wearer of rimless Armani glasses; a multilingual; an owner of over twenty-five designer suits; a possessor of a calm demeanour; a winner of seventeen trophies (became the first ever manager to win a double in three different countries); and the third most successful, record wise, England manager of all-time (played 67, won 40, drew 15, lost 12).

Superficially, Sven-Göran Eriksson looks the part of the wise Professor and his record should be considered among the best managers of the modern era but on closer inspection, the Swede’s achievements and activities leave a lot to be desired of a manager who has coached some of the biggest teams in the world.

Eriksson, certainly in the past decade, has become something of a mercenary and placebo manager, a man who changes very little of the said team’s fortunes and, regardless of the Swede’s already cool demeanour, shows little sorrow upon being sacked from his latest job. Added to this is the Swede’s lack of tactical dynamism during the course of 90 minutes, his poor level of discipline with his players, his obscene off the field activities, his naive media relations, his ill-advised career moves and his self-confessed use of Football Manager and Youtube for scouting players. So, it begs the question, was Eriksson always an average, at best, and lucky manager or did certain environments and situations bring out the best, or worst, of his abilities?

Sven-Göran Eriksson was born in the small town of Sunne in Värmland in west-central Sweden on 5 February,1940. A lover of football from an early age, Eriksson supported Liverpool, like his father, and attended a handful of matches at Anfield in his early life during the Swedish winter break. Despite his decent sporting prowess, from ski jumping 65 meters to playing ice hockey locally, a professional sporting career did not seem likely for the young Swede – particularly in full-time football. Balancing being a PE teacher in Orebro and playing as a right back for lower division clubs, from his local Torsby to KB Karlskoga (Eriksson’s highest level of division two football, where he met Tord Grip) to Gothenburg’s Västra Frölunda Idrottsförening, Eriksson suffered a crippling right knee injury in 1975, at the age of 27, and was forced to retire. It was not, however, the end of his footballing life and he was asked by Grip to become his assistant at Thrid Division side Degerfors IF.

At this time in Swedish football, clubs were open to the English style of football and the likes of Roy Hodgson and Bob Houghton, who were young and up and coming managers that had their respective playing careers prematurely ended, were employed in Sweden’s top divisions. The then 27 year old Houghton managed Allsvenskan side Malmo between 1974 and 1980, having only coached Maidstone United and Hastings United previously, while the 29 year old Hodgson was hired in 1976 by Halmstad after a managerial spell with Carshalton Athletic. What attracted Swedish clubs to these then obscure Englishmen was their qualifications, as graduates of the FA’s technical director Allen Wade’s coaching course and adherents to the legendary FA Guide to Coaching and Training. This breed of English managers were more concerned with shape, rather than individual ability, and an emphasis was placed on defensive and united zonal movement, pressing, counter-attacking and a high offside line.

As seemingly bizarre as it was for two unknown Englishmen to get such high-level jobs in Sweden, Swedish football was in a state of flux. The libero movement under Georg ‘Aby’ Ericson in the early 1970s had seen Sweden finish a brilliant 3rd at the 1974 World Cup, but there was still an English rootedness, fondness and connection with much of Swedish football. After all, English sailors introduced the game to Sweden and the national team’s first coach was George Raynor, an Aldershot reserve team coach, who used the W-M formation innovated by the great Herbert Chapman. Also, following on from Ajax’s and Bayern Munich’s domination of the European Cup in the early ‘70s, English teams, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, were beginning to gain a foothold in Europe with effective football. Eriksson became open to the English style of football once he began his role as assistant coach to Grip at Degerfors, going on coaching tutorials under Terry Venables at Crystal Palace, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan at Liverpool and Sir Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town, as well as keeping in close contact with Houghton and Hodgson.

Grip was also a key figure in Eriksson’s early coaching career and within a year of Eriksson becoming his number two, Grip was approached by George Ericson to become his assistant for the Swedish national team in the run up to the 1978 World Cup. Grip jumped at the chance and left his 29 year old protégé to take over Degerfors. In just his first season, Eriksson helped Degefors to promotion, something Grip failed to achieve, to the Superettan. Much of this early success was owed to Eriksson’s clever appointment of Tom Chadney, a graduate of Wade’s infamous coaching course, as his assistant and the pair were quickly snapped up by Allsvenskan side IFK Göteborg, who were undergoing a barren spell of ten years without a title when Eriksson took over. Considering Eriksson was just 30 and had not yet even managed in the Superettan, his appointment to one of Sweden’s most illustrious clubs was a huge shock – particularly given his early shyness and awkwardness with players and media alike.

The Swede even began to doubt himself, after losing his first three games, and offered to resign but spurred on by his players, who quickly warmed to the Swede’s empathetic and easygoing man management style, Göteborg finished the season 2nd and won the Swedish Cup. While this was a decent turnaround, Eriksson’s ‘English’ style of football was winning him few admirers, particularly with Hodgson and Houghton departing for Bristol City in 1980 and the English era being then deemed over, and average attendances dwindled from 16,450 to 13,320 at Göteborg within a season. While 1981 was a trophyless season, 1982 would prove to be the groundbreaking campaign of Eriksson’s career. After qualifying for the UEFA Cup from again finishing as runners-up in the Allsvenskan, Eriksson led Göteborg to an unprecedented treble of league, cup and UEFA Cup. Göteborg were an unstoppable force in Europe, with the steel of Glenn Hysén, Conny Karlsson, Stig Fredriksson and Glenn Strömberg brilliantly propping up the prolificity of Dan Corneliusson and Torbjörn Nilsson, but for the most part, it was a massive shock for them to hammer Dinamo Bucharest (4-1 on aggregate), Valencia (4-2 on aggregate), Kaiserslauten (edged 3-2 on aggregate) and Hamburg (a 4-0 final win over the international-laden German giants).

For this, Eriksson deserves immense credit for giving his fairly obscure, aside from a handful of Swedish internationals, side the belief to beat some of Europe’s top sides. Having achieved all he could with fairly limited resources, Eriksson left for the mighty Benfica. Unlike his first season at Göteborg, the now 34 year old Eriksson, one of the hottest young managers in European football, did not require a bedding in period and won the Portuguese League in 1982/1983 (double with the Portuguese Cup) and in 1983/1984. However, a defeat to the talented Anderlecht in the 1983 UEFA Cup final prevented Eriksson becoming the first manager to win back to back European titles with different clubs. Still, though, Eriksson had achieved a remarkable rise from part-time footballer to multiple title-winning coach in just nine seasons and a move to one of Europe’s most competitive leagues seemed inevitable. Roma, who finished 2nd in Serie A in 1983/1984 and who made the final of the 1984 European Cup, duly obliged after Eriksson received the warm backing of outgoing manager and fellow Swede Nils Liedholm.

Unlike at Göteborg and Benfica, Eriksson had a host of international stars and resources at Roma. The likes of Franco Tancredi, Dario Bonetti, Aldo Maldera, Sebastiano Nela, Ubaldo Righetti, Carlo Ancelotti, Ruben Buriani, Toninho Cerezo, Bruno Conti, Falcão, Giueseppe Giannini, Roberto Pruzzo and Francesco Graziani were all of an international standard and like when he first began his career at Göteborg, Eriksson had to earn the respect of his players – regardless of his previous achievements. It took Eriksson time to adjust to this new and higher standard, finishing 7th in his opening season in 1984/1985, but Roma finished 2nd behind a supremely talented Juventus side in 1985/1986 and beat Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia final in the same season. However, the Swede failed to deliver in 1986/1987 and Roma finished a dismal 7th. A mutual termination of Eriksson’s contract was agreed, with mid-table Fiorentina immediately waiting in the wings to appoint the Swede as their manager.

While not as blessed with as many stars in every department as at Roma, Eriksson could call upon the incredible natural talent of Roberto Baggio and was also able to bring in his former captain, Glenn Hysén, from Göteborg. Again, though, Eriksson’s tactical dynamism left a lot to be desired against the might of Arrigo Sacchi, Ottavio Bianchi, Vujadin Boškov and Giovanni Trapattoni. Nonetheless, Eriksson led Fiorentina to decent 8th and 7th place finishes in 1987/1988 and 1989/1989 respectively. Sensing that he needed to hone his skills at a lower league again, Eriksson was still only 41 after all, the Swede returned to Benfica. Again Eriksson was a massive success: leading a fairly unfancied, despite their array of internationals (Silvino Louro, Ricardo Gomes, Aldair, Vítor Paneira, Valdo Filho, Mats Magnusson and Jonas Thern), Benfica side to the 1990 European Cup final against Milan and winning the 1991 Portuguese League. A winning reputation restored, Eriksson headed back to Italy to coach a blossoming Sampdoria side.

Despite having credentials for defensive solidity throughout his whole career, Eriksson’s Sampdoria were a permeable outfit in his first season, with the goalscoring exploits of the likes of Attilo Lombardo, Vladimir Jugović and Roberto Mancini proving fairly ineffective with a defence that conceded 48 goals in 34 Serie A matches in finishing 7th. The 1993/1994 season was a remarkable improvement, with David Platt and Ruud Gullit proving to be brilliant signings, and Sampdoria finished an impressive 3rd and won the Coppa Italia. Unlike his previous jobs, Eriksson saw no reason to leave after two seasons and planned for the long-term goal of winning the Serie A within the next three seasons. It never happened however, with a failure to hang on to the likes of Platt, Jugović, Lombardo, Gullit and later Clarence Seedorf and Christian Karembeu, and Sampdoria finished 8th,8th and 6th in Eriksson’s final three seasons up to 1997.  After building an impressive goalscoring dynasty and dealing with departues and transfers remarkably well, with ‘finds’ like Juan Sebastián Verón and Siniša Mihajlović, Eriksson was headhunted by the resourceful title challengers Lazio.

Eriksson with Cragnotti, football's first sugar daddy

Intriguingly, at the same time, Eriksson came very close to joining Blackburn Rovers, who had fallen badly under Ray Harford after the spending success of Kenny Dalglish. However, Lazio came in with an offer before Eriksson signed a contract, having previously shook on an agreement with Jack Walker, with Blackburn. As well as being offered more money and a bigger transfer budget, Eriksson cited the intrusive English media and his family’s rootedness in Italy as reasons to remain in Serie A. Lazio, armed with Sergio Cragnotti’s seemingly endless supply of money, were an attractive and new-style of project to Eriksson and he was able to enlist his friend Tord Grip, whose managerial career paled in comparison to his protégé’s, as his assistant. Eriksson went on to spend some £274 million in just four seasons under Cragnotti, a then unprecedented outlay in world football, with the likes of Giuseppe Pancaro, Matías Almeyda, Mancini, Jugović and Alen Bokšić all arriving in his first season – which saw Lazio finish a disappointing 7th, but make the UEFA Cup final against a Ronaldo-inspired Internazionale and win the Coppa Italia against Milan.

Encouraged, the frivolous Cragnotti sanctioned even more spending for the 1998/1999 season, with Mihajlović, Fernando Couto, Lombardo, Sérgio Conceição, Dejan Stanković, Marcelo Salas and Christian Vieri all arriving. The then near world-record arrival, for £17m (50 billion lira), of Vieri perfectly summed up the lack of a financial structure under Cragnotti. Eriksson rang Cragnotti after the 1998 World Cup asking to take Vieri ‘home’ from Atlético Madrid and refusing Cragnotti’s pleas to offer players in part-exchange – with Cragnotti, eventually, not arguing with Eriksson’s ‘out of the sky’ valuation of Vieri at 50 billion lira. This scenario was then repated a year later, but in the opposite direction, with Eriksson requesting that Cragnotti ask Massimo Moratti for an astonishing £31m (90 billion lira) for the sale of Vieri. Despite being horrified and fearful that the incredible valuation would scupper the £24 million world-record fee that had been previously touted, Cragnotti begrudgingly went with Eriksson’s ‘logic’ and Lazio made a whooping and implausible £14m profit.

Lazio finished a respectable 2nd in 1998/1999, much-owed to Vieri’s and Salas’ array of goals, but Eriksson finally managed to shed his nickname of perdente di successo (the successful loser, following his failure to win a major trophy with any of his four Italian sides up to this point) after winning the Serie A in 1999/2000. By winning the UEFA Super Cup, having won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1999, and claiming just their second ever Serie A title, Eriksson had established himself as one of Lazio’s most successful managers of all-time and as one of Europe’s most coveted coaches at 54 years of age. Looking at establishing Lazio as European Cup winners in the 2000/2001 season, Angelo Peruzzi, Dino Baggio, Karel Poborský, Claudio López, Hernán Crespo (world record £35m signing) and Fabrizio Ravanelli were all recruited. However, the resignation of Kevin Keegan as England manager on 8 October, 2000 shook the foundations of world football.

Up to this point, international management had been seen as a retirement home of sorts or for average managers who were of the same nationality as the international team they were managing. Very few international managers were recent title-winning managers, outrageously well-paid or under the age of 60. The FA’s appointment of Eriksson on 31 October, 2000 completely changed the status quo of international management. The FA was headed by Adam Croizer, a sharp and dynamic individual who was cut from the same cloth as Tony Blair with regard to recognising and promoting the multi-national metropolis that England’s main cities had become, who set the tone for the future of the FA as a commercial organisation. Having been the head of Saatchi and Saatchi advertising, Croizer improved sponsorship and advertising for the England team tenfold and made it a lot more open to the media with the FA’s headquarters being moved from the decrepit Lancaster Gate to the buzzing Soho Square. Still, though, Croizer was the key figure behind making sure Wembley was rebuilt on the exact site that the Two Towers had been demolished and removed Ken Bates and any fears of selling the site for retail purposes very quickly.

From his footballing passion, Croizer sought to bring something different to the English set-up: their first foreign manager. Horrified by the legacy and shambles of Graham Taylor’s kick and rush football and the ‘do I not like that era’, and the failures of Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan after the successful interlude of Terry Venables from 1994 to 1996, Croizer sought to bring ‘thinking football’ to the English national team. With Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Leeds, Ipswich, Chelsea, Everton, Coventry and Bradford all managed by foreigners, nearly half the league’s total coaches, and only Alan Curbishley looking like a viable domestic appointment, the FA were left with little other choice – particularly when considering the mystique of Eriksson. After all, the Swede spoke of his love of Tibetan poetry in his interview and seemed like the perfect Professor to bring culture and class to English football after Keegan’s directionless 21 months in charge of The Three Lions.

Eriksson initially planned to take over England after the end of the 2000/2001 campaign with Lazio, but with a £4.5m a year salary on offer, an unprecedented amount for a manager, he resigned early into the season and officially began his reign as England’s manager in January, 2001. With England 17th in the world rankings and already in danger of failing to make the 2002 World Cup, following a home defeat to Germany and a 0-0 draw away to Finland under Keegan, Eriksson was quickly under pressure to earn his astronomical salary. He soon proved himself as a substantial improvement on Keegan, with comfortable wins over Finland (2-1), Albania (1-3), Greece (0-2), Germany (1-5) and Albania (2-0) before a winner takes all match against Greece at Wembley on 6 October, 2001.

Having been bold enough to appoint David Beckham as his captain, epitomising the modern and laissez faire set-up of the English side which had seen Eriksson lead the way with an affair with Ulrika Jonsson, Eriksson’s judgement was continually questioned by the media. While the 5-1 victory over Germany, admittedly a woeful and stale German outfit, is always remembered fondly, the 2-2 draw with Greece at Wembley was the pivotal moment of Eriksson’s early reign: Beckham scoring a 25-yard free-kick deep into stoppage time to send England to the World Cup. Inevitably, the media hype was stoked when the seemingly infallible Eriksson proclaimed that England could win the tournament and after qualifying from a tight group of Argentina, Nigeria and Sweden, and then hammering Denmark 3-0, a seemingly beatable Brazil awaited.

Despite Eriksson’s proclamation, England were yet to develop into the set of world-class individuals that they were soon to become. David Seaman was 39 and Danny Mills (who, admittedly, filled in for the influential and injured Gary Neville), Nicky Butt, Trevor Sinclair, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell were not of an international standard. Still, though, the win over Denmark, following painful 0-0 draws against Nigeria and Sweden and a 1-0 edging over a poor Argentina side, left England confident – particularly when Brazil were not among the pre-tournament favourites. With England 1-0 up after a 23’ Michael Owen goal, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s outfit did not seem a daunting prospect to the fired up English. However, Eriksson’s decision to take Beckham, who had barely recovered from a metatarsal injury, to South Korea and failure to build on the 1-0 lead, instead cautiously sitting back, saw England soon flag.

After Beckham jumped out of a tackle with Roqúe Junior, Ronaldinho was set free and quickly set-up Rivaldo for Brazil’s equaliser on the pivotal 44’ mark. With Ronaldinho brilliantly putting Brazil 2-1 up on 50’, with a looping free-kick, but then getting himself sent off for a challenge on Danny Mills, Eriksson failed to react and push on for an equaliser. England were out and Eriksson cited fatigue and their lagging fitness after a long season, following the failure of England to score in the second half of any of the five World Cup matches. Interestingly, with Sir Alex Ferguson planning to retire from football in the summer of 2002 at the age of 61, Eriksson had been approached by Manchester United to take over from the Scotsman after the World Cup.

Eriksson shook on the deal despite his four-year contract with the FA, according to Ferguson before his u-turn on retirement in February 2002, but Ferguson was quick to distance himself from sanctioning the Swede’s appointment:

 I think Sven would have been a nice easy choice for the United board in terms of nothing really happens, does it? He doesn’t change anything. He sails along, nobody falls out with him. He comes out and says ‘the first half we were good, second half we were not so good. But I am very pleased with the result.

Instead, remaining with England and hoping to build on his solid start, Eriksson became one of the first managers to use international friendlies for utilising all 22 of his players, disrupting the game as a consequence, and the net result of this were games like the embarrassing 1-3 home defeat to Australia at Upton Park on 14 February, 2003 – leading to the precedent of the English fans booing their team off after a poor result.

Still, though, Eriksson delivered on the qualification front for Euro 2004, remaining undefeated in a group with Turkey, Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, and with the emergence of the precocious Wayne Rooney, hopes were high for the tournament in Portugal. However, a demon that had dogged England during the ‘90s returned: penalties. After drawing 2-2 with Scolari’s Portugal in the quarter final, England lost 7-6 on penalties (with Eriksson’s favourites, Beckham and Vassell, missing their kicks). Again, though, having taken a 3’ lead through Owen, Eriksson missed the chance to kill off the game and Hélder Postiga equalised on 83’.

It had been a much different English outfit, on paper, to the one that played in the 2002 World Cup with the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Rooney all starting – but Eriksson’s regrettable use of Paul Scholes out of position on the wing led to England losing one of their most underrated, understated and influential footballers of all-time and added to the Gerrard/Lampard conundrum dominating England’s preparations for the best part of a decade. Before Eriksson could move on and focus on the 2006 World Cup, however, off the field incidents dominated the following 24 months. First was the revelation in August 2004 that Eriksson and Mark Palios had separate affairs with Faria Alam, a FA secretary. Then, Eriksson met with Chelsea Chief Executive Peter Kenyon about the Chelsea job, while Claudio Ranieri was still in charge of the Blues, which led to the Swede being handed a desperate 10% wage rise to £5 million by the FA from 2004-2006.

For such a seemingly uncharismatic individual, Eriksson then caused yet more embarrassment to the FA when Mazher Mahmood, the News of the World’s ‘Fake Sheikh’, offered Eriksson the chance to manage Aston Villa when his proposed takeover was completed in January, 2006. Eriksson agreed, if England won the World Cup and planned to sign Beckham as club captain, but went on to make regrettable comments on the backgrounds of the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard. This, as well as an embarrassing 1-0 defeat (Eriksson’s only ever qualification defeat in five years of managing England) to Northern Ireland, certainly played a part in the FA, despite a Save Our Sven (S.O.S) campaign by many England fans, announcing that Eriksson would not be offered a new deal. With Steve McClaren appointed as Eriksson’s successor, just a month before the World Cup, by the aloof FA head Brian Barwick, England’s preparations were not ideal.

However, Eriksson had laid the foundations for a serious assault on the 2006 World Cup, with the ‘Golden Generation’ of Paul Robinson (27), Gary Neville (31), Rio Ferdinand (28), John Terry (26), Ashley Cole (26), David Beckham (31), Frank Lampard (28), Steven Gerrard (26), Joe Cole (25), Wayne Rooney (21) and Michael Owen (27)/Owen Hargreaves (25) all reaching their peak years. England easily had the most high-profile eleven individuals on paper in the tournament, even dwarfing Brazil’s ‘Magic Square’ of Roberto Carlos, Kaká, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, but as a team, performances to match were not forthcoming – the late 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago was an example of the flawed packing of individuals into a basic 4-4-2 system, with Gerrard and Lampard constantly getting in eachother’s way. The English media were at pains to say that this group of individuals would eventually click, with Eamon Dunphy commenting that, the usually cynical, Garth Crooks’ lauding of Eriksson’s 4-4-2 system in an interview after the 1-0 win over Ecuador in the second round was “the first time he had seen two men having sex on the BBC.”

With Rooney lacking fitness, it was clear that his loss for the warm-up games to a metatarsal injury, a la Beckham in 2002, was unfortunate – but should it have been an issue with Peter Crouch playing so well in his absence? A penalty defeat to Portugal in the quarter-finals was marred by Rooney’s inexperience and his immaturity. Like Beckham in 1998, Rooney’s ‘honesty’ showed on 62’: after an intense 10 second battle and shielding of the ball with Ricardo Carvalho, Rooney stamped on Carvalho’s groin after a niggling challenge. It resulted in a red card but unlike when Beckham was sent-off, the English media were at pains to excuse Rooney due to Cristiano Ronaldo’s pleas to the referee and wink to the Portuguese bench. In truth, the uninspiring Eriksson failed to rally his players in what in hindsight, despite Scolari’s hoodoo over Eriksson, was a beatable Portuguese outfit. A 4-1 penalty loss followed, with Lampard, Gerrard and Carragher missing their respective spot-kicks, and the Eriksson and Beckham era, that had promised and spoofed so much, ended flatly.

On paper, Eriksson’s record with England was admirable: a rise from 17th in the World Ranking in January, 2001 to 5th in July, 2006; a consistency in being the only manager, along with Alf Ramsey and Terry Venables, to guide England to the knockout phase in all of the international tournaments (3) he entered; losing only three competitive matches (excluding extra-time); and qualifying automatically for the three international tournaments England played in under the Swede. Still, though, Eriksson’s off the field scandals, poor tactics and big wages meant that big projects were not as forthcoming for the then 59 year old Swede and it was not until July, 2007 that he got his next job: Manchester City. With City taken over by the notorious Thaksin Shinawatra, Eriksson, on a £2 million per year contract, must have harboured dreams of a Lazio-like assault on the title with the backing of massive resources. However, the scale was not the same and the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool were miles ahead of City – especially with the miniscule, given what he had previously promised, investment from Shinawatra.

Eriksson started the 2007/2008 season well, leading City to 3rd by November with some free-flowing displays, but fell badly by spring with a poor run of just one win in five games. Shinawatra, who had sanctioned the fairly unglamorous ‘Eriksson signings’ of Vedran Ćorluka, Javier Garrido, Gelson Fernandes, Elano, Geovanni, Martin Petrov and Rolando Bianchi, quickly lost patience and vowed that Eriksson would be dismissed at the end of the season. Despite a string of protests from the City fans, with a similar S.O.S campaign to the England fans of 2006, and the players effectively working to rule rather than going on strike, as was seen in the 8-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, Eriksson was sacked. Despite achieving UEFA Cup qualification, beating Manchester United home and away (first time in 38 years) and an admirable 55 points (City’s joint-highest total in the Premier League era up to this point), Eriksson was eventually dismissed and Shinawatra set a dangerous level of expectations that would haunt City’s future coaches.

A day after ‘a mutual consent’ termination of the remainder of his two-year contract, Eriksson quickly dusted himself down, in now characteristic fashion, and took the Mexico national job. Clearly seeing a decent paycheck, with deep divisions within the Mexican FA and the playing squad making it an incredibly difficult job despite the seemingly lower standard of football in North American World Cup qualifiers, Eriksson ignored Mexican fans’ protests to his appointment. Eriksson’s competitive record with Mexico was abysmal, winning just one out of seven World Cup qualifiers, and caused a lot of controversy with the unprecedented selection of naturalised Mexicans. The Swede was sacked in April, 2009, leading to a mass victory rally of 30,000 Mexican fans.

Within just three months, Eriksson was again back in a job. As bizarre as the Mexico appointment was, given that a mild-mannered Swede was being sent out to a country ravaged by crime and inner conflict, Eriksson’s role as Director of Football at Notts County was even more shocking. On £2 million per year, backed by the Middle Eastern Munto Finance, Eriksson played a huge role in the coup signings of Kasper Schmeichel and Sol Campbell but after details of County’s debts and an unpaid tax bill emerged in February 2010, Eriksson resigned. Again, within a short period of time and ridiculing the idea of gardening leave that is always cited by out of work managers, Eriksson quickly returned to management: taking over the Côte d’Ivoire for the World Cup from 28 March, 2010.

Again on a reported £2 million contract, but this time for just a handful of matches, Eriksson hoped to lead Côte d’Ivoire to at least the quarter-finals – given that they were, on paper, Africa’s strongest set of individuals. A tough Group G with Brazil and Portugal made this difficult, however, and despite a 3-0 win over North Korea, the 3-1 defeat to Brazil and the 0-0 draw with Portugal saw Les Éléphants fail to make the knockout stages. Even though this finish may seem somewhat disappointing, the Côte d’Ivoire players spoke of their disappointment that Eriksson’s short-term contract was not renewed, proclaiming that he had performed miracles in balancing out the side. Within three months, Eriksson took the 13th job of his 34-year management career with the relegation-threatened Leicester City on 3 October, 2010. Leicester were, initially, a hark back to Eriksson’s real comfort zone, a la Göteborg and Benfica with just average expectations and limited investment under Milan Mandarić, and the Swede’s clever use of the loan system led to Leicester finishing 10th and performing admirably in a 2-4 FA Cup 3rd round defeat to the mighty Manchester City.

The arrival of Vichai Raksriaksorn and the Thai King’s Power Group in August, 2010 gave Eriksson a potential route back into top-level football but like at City, inflated expectations from increased transfer spending again caused his downfall – with £10 million, a Championship record, spent on the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Lee Peltier, Sean St. Ledger, Matt Mills, Paul Konchesky and Jermaine Beckford. Eriksson, seemingly, could not cope with the need for literal instant success, despite Leicester being just two points off the play-off places but admittedly eight points off leaders Southampton, and was sacked on 25 October. While a rumoured appearance on Strictly Come Dancing can presumably be ruled out, Eriksson’s options do not look great.

Blackburn Rovers have been touted, but Sven-Göran Eriksson may find obtaining a job in Europe increasingly difficult – given that his last great success, a title win at Lazio, came over ten years ago. The Middle East may be the 63 year old’s only viable option due to the success of the Swedish national team under Erik Hamrén, Eriksson’s wage demands and his poor overall record in England and Italy. Also, when one considers the work-ethic, honour, respect and admiration Eriksson’s generation of managers command and the legacy that they will leave, including Arsene Wenger (61), Ottmar Hitzfeld (62), Luiz Felipe Scolari (62), Carlos Bianchi (62), Marcello Lippi (63) and Guus Hiddink (64), it seems the world has woken up to the fact that Eriksson was, for the most part, an incredibly fortunate spoofer.

The Author

Ciaran Kelly

Sports writer and author of José Mourinho: The Rise of the Translator, featuring exclusive interviews with key figures not synonymous with the traditional Mourinho narrative and Johan Cruyff: The Total Voetballer, an ebook which peaked in the Top 40 of Amazon's top 100 Sports Books' chart. I have also written for Britain best selling football magazine, FourFourTwo and other British publications. I am a fully qualified reporter with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism and a Masters degree in Sports Journalism from St. Mary's University, London.

4 thoughts on “Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Career: The Fortunate Rise and the Inevitable Fall

  1. Well written, well researched article on an iconic figure of modern football…

    The only tiny mistake is that Vieri was purchased for 50 BILLION Lira, not 50 Million…it sounds even crazier…

  2. The Italian part is mostly arbitrary if not inaccurate…Dario Bonetti and Ubaldo Righetti of international standard? Top tier players would be generous already.
    The likes ¨Ottavio Bianchi, Vujadin Boškov and Giovanni Trapattoni¨ are examples of old managers still using man marking in the 80s/90s, how could they been seen an example of better tacticians of Eriksson is difficult to believe.
    Argentina side of 2002 managed by Bielsa was underperforming but definitely not poor. Bielsa itself describes it as the failure of his career.
    When I read the team with Rivaldo and Ronaldo was ¨a seemingly beatable Brazil¨, I stopped going on reading.
    Never been a fan of the Swede but this article is just a personal attack

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