John Sturgis

Sven-Goran Eriksson made English football

He professionalised the game

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty Images)

The former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has terminal cancer, he says he expects to be dead before the year is out. In an age when such grim diagnoses are usually kept private until their morbid predictions have come to pass, it was characteristically candid of the 75-year-old Swede to go public like this, even though doing so inevitably invited a fresh round of media scrutiny of a life that has already been scrutinised intensively over many years. 

He treated players as grown-ups, even though they often weren’t

Any England football manager gets attention – it comes with the territory. But when you start having public relationships with a flamboyant Italian lawyer, a prominent TV presenter and even your boss’s secretary, as Sven famously did, then inevitably the attention will increase to the point of frenzy. Sven was once almost as regular a subject on the front pages as he was on the back ones. In response to his grim news, his ex-girlfriend, fellow Swede Ulrika Jonsson, posted that Sven is ‘not a decent person’ – something that she evidently soon thought better of and deleted, a reminder of Sven’s spell as a subject of endless tabloid fascination. 

Unlike coverage of the death of one of his predecessors as England manager, Terry Venables, which focused on his achievements as a manager, most of Sven’s pre-obits were more about his colourful lifestyle. If we can put aside his romantic adventures, and his decency or otherwise in this context, it is to Sven as a football manager that I would like to pay tribute – and, as I suspect, that he would prefer to be remembered. 

In that context he continues to be severely under appreciated, as the recent flurry of coverage only reconfirmed. Typical was Jawad Iqbal, writing here in The Spectator last weekend, who concluded of his spell as England boss: ‘He never made any progress, not really.’

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