‘I asked what Sven-Goran Eriksson’s weakness was – “it’s women”, his agent warned’ – David Dein reveals the truth about the ex-England boss… and how he considered Sir Alex Ferguson for Arsenal just months before he arrived at Manchester United
- I was told that Sven-Goran Eriksson’s main weakness was women
- Eriksson caused chaos when discussing Chelsea job while England manager
- He lost his temper in a row with Sir Alex Ferguson regarding Wayne Rooney
‘Women,’ replied Athole Still, simply. Now that was a reply I wasn’t expecting. I’d just asked the charismatic agent whether his esteemed client had any weaknesses.
Athole’s one of the good guys. I had no idea he was an opera singer. I was just as surprised at his information on the FA’s No 1 target as England manager.
Women! ‘OK,’ I said to Athole. ‘We can live with that, I guess!’
I was informed by his agent that the main weakness of Sven-Goran Eriksson was women
For me it was clear Eriksson was the only man to choose in order to take England forward
Sven certainly lived up to the reputation over the next five years.
I love times like this when you have to be decisive. It’s the national team here, so who’s going to be the best person to take the country forward?
For me, there was only one man. Sven-Goran Eriksson.
He eventually resigned from his job with Lazio on January 9, 2001, and soon arrived in London. ‘Come to a game as my guest at Highbury, Sven,’ I told him. ‘You’ll enjoy it.’ And I noticed he did!
When Sven came into the boardroom, I was standing with my wife Barbara and one of her attractive friends, Sarah, who happened to be divorced.
Sven was quick out of the box and immediately asked Sarah what she did for a living. ‘I design lampshades,’ she said. Sven answered with a smile: ‘I need some lampshades!’
I said: ‘Sven, you’re living at the Royal Lancaster hotel!’ Athole was right in tipping me off!
After England’s 5-1 win against Germany in Munich, Eriksson was public hero No 1
After England’s 5-1 win against Germany in Munich the following September, Sven was public hero No 1, even more so after David Beckham’s amazing free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford that took England to the 2002 World Cup.
After a difficult period, everything on the inside with England was measured and positive.
External distractions, though, were not so controllable. The Ulrika Jonsson story broke before we went to the World Cup in Japan.
Sven was involved with the Swedish TV presenter, and her au pair duly came out with some revelations about it. His relationship with Nancy Dell’Olio became front-page news, particularly when she showed up at a cocktail party at 10 Downing Street in a fire-engine-red catsuit. She palled out with my wife Barbara and David Davies’s wife Susan and the three of them really got on well.
The relationship between Eriksson and Nancy Dell’Olio became front-page news
The story regarding Eriksson and Ulrika Jonsson (left) broke just before the 2002 World Cup, while his relationship with Faria Alam (right), David Davies’ PA, attracted plenty of headlines
Sven took all these headlines in his stride. When things started getting lively in his private life, he just laughed at the reaction.
When a door closed on one drama with England, another opened. I knew how bothered the FA were when reading of Sven’s dalliance with Chelsea a couple of months later. They got a tip-off that The Sun was about to run a story that Sven met Chelsea’s chief executive Peter Kenyon to discuss becoming their manager. Seriously? Where’s the loyalty? I went to Sven’s house in Regent’s Park, north London, to find sheer pandemonium outside with reporters and TV crews; you could hardly move.
We’d had a challenging Friday evening and Saturday morning, as Sven had his phone turned off until mid-morning. When reached at last he had advised people at the FA he was going to leave for Chelsea. Sven seemed completely unperturbed by all the fuss. I sort of admired how he could rise above all the chaos — chaos he had caused.
Sven just told us he was flattered by Chelsea offering him a lot of money. We worked on him and managed to convince him that he still had plenty of work to do with England. Sven committed to stay.
Eriksson caused chaos by meeting with Peter Kenyon to discuss becoming Chelsea manager
The News of the World had chapter and verse on Sven’s relationship with Faria Alam, David Davies’s PA. It wasn’t a secret that Sven was attracted to her. Every time I went to Soho Square to see David, Sven was always hanging around in his office. I didn’t need to be Poirot to detect what was going on.
Faria told the FA that nothing was going on and an official statement on the Monday afternoon rubbished the story. David Davies contacted Sven, who also said: ‘It’s nonsense.’
Sven felt his private life was his business and I had some sympathy, but this was directly impacting on the FA.
Anyway, it seemed to go quiet but my peace was disturbed on July 25 by the News of the World headline: ‘I bedded Sven and his boss.’ I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Faria had also slept with Mark Palios. It was such a mess. Sven was typically unperturbed as we headed to the pre-season Amsterdam tournament to watch Arsenal.
I found Sven and got him up to my room. ‘Sven, this is serious, I’ve got to ask you straight, are you having an affair with the FA secretary?’
Sven’s eyes rolled. ‘No, but I’d like to.’
Eriksson clashed with Sir Alex Ferguson over the decision to play star striker Wayne Rooney (above) at the 2006 World Cup in Germany
Ferguson was furious England were gambling on Rooney’s recovery from a broken metatarsal
The only time I ever saw Sven annoyed was when Sir Alex Ferguson called him at our World Cup base in 2006.
Fergie was furious that Wayne Rooney was going to play at the World Cup, with England gambling on his recovery from a broken metatarsal.
‘You’re finished,’ he screamed. Sven lost it. ‘F**k off,’ he said. ‘Alex, I will pick Rooney. Have a nice holiday. Ciao, bye.’
Overall, I believe Sven was a success. Of course, he wasn’t perfect. He was flawed — as we found out.
My dream ticket was Ferguson and Graham
I had this idea to get Alex Ferguson to succeed Don Howe, while another board member suggested George Graham. George did tick a lot of the boxes. He looked the part and, as a former player from the 1971 double team, he knew the Arsenal values.
That held a lot of sway with the board. Some notably bigger names were mooted, including Terry Venables and Johan Cruyff, but in the end it was really between Alex and George. The board thought George could do the job. He was young, aspiring and hungry. He was elegant and always well turned-out. He started lower down to learn the ropes of management.
I had the idea of getting Sir Alex Ferguson to succeed Don Howe as Arsenal manager
He knew a lot of the lower-division players, which was an asset in England, to try to mould something with smart recruitment.
But while George had the Arsenal connection, he had yet to cut his teeth in the big time. He was at Millwall in the lower divisions and that was his first managerial job. I thought it might be a risk. Alex, on the other hand, had more experience and more success.
His Aberdeen team had been a revelation and won impressively, including in Europe. So I floated the idea of a double act — that we bring Alex in as No 1 with George to be his No 2.
The idea was for Ferguson to be appointed with George Graham named as his assistant
The combination could be a dream ticket, the two Scotsmen combining a lot of qualities with the potential to be even more ambitious in the top division in England. I knew Alex and knew the chairman of Aberdeen, Dick Donald. I sounded him out delicately to see if Alex would be interested.
In the end, I went along with the decision to appoint George. He wanted more money than we ended up offering. I remember him saying: ‘This is not what I was looking for but if I am successful, then I won’t be cheap!’
True to his word, he would come to the office the day after winning a trophy to remind us.
l Adapted from Calling the Shots: How to Win in Football and Life by David Dein, to be published by Constable on September 15 at £22. © David Dein 2022. To order a copy for £19.80 (offer valid to 24/09/22; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937
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