Here are a few reasons why the Football Association should have sacked the manager of England, Sven-Goran Eriksson.
1. Allowing England to lose to one of the worst teams in the world, Northern Ireland, in a crucial World Cup qualifying game.
2. Spending what seems to have been most of his free time attempting to find even more lucrative employment elsewhere.
3. Failing to get past the quarter finals of both the European championship and the World Cup despite possessing the most talented and competent English team for more than 40 years.
4. Preparing the ground to take over as manager of an English Premiership team, Aston Villa, and implicating the England captain, David Beckham, in his machinations.
5. Presiding over the heaviest England defeat in 25 years (4–1 to Denmark, in case you’d forgotten) and our first defeat by those footballing giants, Australia.
6. Being tactically inept; not knowing how to defend a one-goal lead against moderate opposition. Not knowing how to change the course of a match at half-time. Thinking that Peter Crouch is an England player.
7. Degrading the institution of international friendly matches by taking the entire England team off at half-time during such games and replacing them with people who may well be valuable, intrinsically decent human beings, but are not very good at football.
These seem to me fairly major transgressions, the most important of them, in my opinion, being 1, 3 and 6. They seem a greater cause for dismissal or resignation than, for example, having a six-month affair with a rent boy regardless of whether a ‘bizarre and degrading’ sexual act took place during these liaisons, which is what did for the briefly famous Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten. However, one way or another, Sven has now been sacked: ‘sacked’ is not what he calls it, nor was it the term used by the FA, but that is what it amounts to. He will get only a comparatively small proportion of the money owed to him on his contract, which lasts until 2008, and he has apparently forfeited the right to seek legal redress against the FA. The important word in that previous sentence is ‘comparatively’ — the amount coming to him is still in the region of three million quid.
Instead, the thing which seemed to have got the man sacked is his inadvertent revelation to a Sunday newspaper that the English Premier League is a corrupt institution, with managers taking ‘bungs’ from agents for transfers right, left and centre — and, further, naming a couple of the most venal and grasping of those managers. Certainly, the announcement that Sven would not be managing England after the forthcoming World Cup in Germany came one day after the aforesaid article in the News of the World. All of which seems simultaneously perverse and, it being the FA, rather predictable.
Not so long ago Sven, a single man, found himself in trouble for the ‘crime’ of having sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his regular sexual partner. I mentioned in these pages at the time that it would be something like this that would see Sven’s contract torn up, rather than defeat in an important World Cup game against, say, Wales. I have a fervid and sometimes warped imagination, but it did not even occur to me that we would ever be defeated by Northern Ireland, a team which, frankly, the Spectator XI could see off, assuming we all got through the drugs-testing OK. But it wasn’t a girl who convinced the FA that Sven should no longer be England manager; it was the fact that he’d done us all a service by revealing the very depths of venality within the top division of English football. And now the FA has been forced to investigate. Why is that a transgression? It may well be that we all suspected as much and even thought we knew as much — but now it looks as if Sven will be asked to provide the evidence. For that, at least, he deserves praise.
Meanwhile, England travel to Germany with a coach who has been told he will be out of a job even if we win the competition. In most cases one might question the psychology behind such a strategy — if one can describe the FA’s decision thus — but with Sven I suspect it does not matter one bit, and may even be useful. As a Swede he is not possessed of a burning national pride on behalf of the English team — he is, typically, neutral. However, the size of the contract he can expect to trouser from a league club in the summer will surely be affected by England’s performance in Nuremberg and Frankfurt. Finish bottom of the group following a humiliating defeat by Trinidad and Tobago (a team which might well struggle against a New Statesman XI) and Sven might find several noughts omitted from the offers rolling in from Villa Park, the Riverside and so on. So he has a powerful financial incentive to ensure England do well — the only incentive that ever really mattered to Sven, if we’re honest.
Meanwhile, the FA must find itself a new manager for the national team. There is a mood within the country that the next appointment should be an Englishman, which rules out the most competent likely candidate, the Dutchman Gus Hiddink.
The worst-case scenario is that we end up with the current England No. 2, Steve McLaren, the manager of Middlesbrough — a team which is, on paper, top-six material but now resides fourth from the bottom of the Premier League. This is an unspeakably awful prospect. In my dreams I can hear the perpetually pink-faced McLaren explaining why we lost at home to St Kitts and Nevis, something about not getting ‘the rub of the green’ and ‘carrying a couple of injuries’ but ‘I couldn’t ask for more from the lads’. God, please, forbid such a thing.
You may not care one way or the other. I am well aware that association football is not The Spectator’s sport of choice, much though I might fight its chavvy little corner from time to time. But the more one reads and hears, the more one comes to the conclusion that The Spectator is right and the rest of the country, rest of the world really, entirely wrong — this is a game where the leading players and managers are not possessed of even the slenderest vestiges of club or national loyalty and, you have to say, decency. A game where inarticulate, thick-as-mince players employ image consultants, agents and other such parasites, while the hard-working fans count for nothing.