Sven-Goran Eriksson admits he ‘made a mistake’ in leaving Lazio to take the England job… but after squandering the talents of the ‘Golden Generation’ and stealing the headlines with his romantic trysts, it’s the FA who ended up with the greater regrets
- Eriksson says he ‘maybe made a mistake’ in leaving Lazio for England job in 2001
- The Swedish manager had won several trophies with his talented Lazio side
- But the appeal of becoming England’s first foreign manager proved too strong
- However, Eriksson’s five-and-a-half years as England boss weren’t successful
- England’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ crashed out in three quarter-finals
- And Eriksson’s private life and romantic liaisons chiselled away his credibility
Hindsight is that most wonderful thing but surely it hasn’t taken Sven-Goran Eriksson a whole 20 years to conclude that he should have stayed with Lazio and not succumbed to the lure of managing England.
The Swede admitted on an Italian radio show this week that ‘maybe I made a mistake’ in swapping his stylish and successful Lazio team for what was arguably the most unforgiving job in world football back in 2001.
‘A few times I thought to myself it might’ve been better to stay at Lazio and in Italy,’ he said. ‘But when an offer from the England team comes along, that’s once in a lifetime.
Sven-Goran Eriksson with David Beckham after England crashed out of the 2006 World Cup, losing on penalties to Portugal. His tenure promised so much but delivered little
The Swede, who was the first overseas manager of the England team, settles into his office at the FA’s headquarters in Soho Square after being appointed in 2001
‘I thought that I couldn’t say no and would’ve regretted it for the rest of my life if I had turned it down.’
Well, Sven, it’s probably fair to say that lingering feeling of regret is mutual. England expected much of you but the overwhelming sensation, looking back on that five-and-a-half year tenure, is one of crushing disappointment.
All one of the most gifted collections of English footballers ever assembled had to show for that era of apparently boundless promise were three quarter-final tournament exits.
Somehow, this assortment of genuinely world class footballers, who frequently excelled for their clubs and were serial winners of major prizes, regressed into playing hopelessly sterile football whenever they slipped on an England jersey.
England may have lost just one qualification match during Eriksson’s tenure yet were reliably afflicted with stage fright whenever a fixture of importance and high-pressure arose at a tournament.
The optimism of Sven’s early months, peaking with that electrifying 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, soon faded into the usual going-through-the-motions ennui witnessed under so many managers that had come before.
Eriksson was a popular figure at Lazio, having guided them to a series of major prizes
Eriksson waves farewell to the Lazio faithful at the Stadio Olimpico before heading to England
Eriksson was greeted with a man dressed as John Bull as he arrived for his first day at work
Sven at Lazio
July 1997-January 2001
Win percentage 57.35
Serie A 1999-2000
Coppa Italia 1997-98, 1999-2000
UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup 1998-99
UEFA Super Cup 1999
UEFA Cup runner-up 1997-98
It was reflected in the manner of the man himself. That ice cool Swedish persona was seen as a virtue initially but there were more lively water bottles in England’s dug-out and it really didn’t sit well with a country that demands a bit of passion and engagement from its national team boss.
There was also Eriksson’s stunning ability to turn those long, dull gaps between international fixtures into a tabloid feeding frenzy by embarking on various romantic trysts that ultimately destroyed any public respect for him.
If it wasn’t for the achievements of Gareth Southgate these past two years, however, Eriksson’s England legacy would have continued to be embellished.
His appointment certainly wasn’t the only one the Football Association blazers came to regret.
Eriksson is the centre of attention ahead of England’s World Cup qualifier with Germany
Michael Owen’s hat-trick earned England one of their greatest victories of modern times
England’s unforgettable 5-1 win in Munich offered hope Eriksson could deliver success
Sven’s England record
Win percentage 59.7
World Cup 2002
Lost 2-1 to Brazil in quarter-final
European Championship 2004
Lost on penalties to Portugal in quarter-final
World Cup 2006
Lost on penalties to Portugal in quarter-final
At least Sven ensured England reached tournament finals, unlike Steve McClaren, and at least he could communicate with his players, unlike Fabio Capello.
Roy Hodgson fared no better in his tournament track record but had a far inferior crop of players to work with and the less said about Sam Allardyce the better.
His win percentage of 59.7 from 67 games in charge certainly stands up to scrutiny. Only Sir Alf Ramsey can better it over such a lengthy period of games.
But all considered, given the lack of achievement and paucity of performance coaxed out of the stellar players at his disposal – David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Ashley Cole to name a few – Eriksson might as well have stayed at Lazio.
In a 2013 interview, Eriksson revealed he had only one regret about his time as England manager. ‘I should have taken mental help, sports psychology for penalty shoot-outs, but I didn’t because I thought for 2006 we wouldn’t need it. Big mistake.’
David Beckham’s last-gasp free-kick against Greece sent England to the 2002 World Cup
Eriksson with a rare glimmer of emotion as he salutes the Old Trafford crowd after qualification
It was a mistake, given the considerable collection of penalty shootout-related scars on the Three Lions, but if that’s his only regret then Sven has a very different memory to everyone else.
It’s long forgotten now just how Eriksson’s appointment in January 2001 – four months after Kevin Keegan offered his resignation in the Wembley toilets after losing 1-0 to Germany in the old stadium’s farewell game – was.
On his first day in the job, Eriksson was greeted by a John Bull character outside the FA’s headquarters in Soho Square. Wearing a Union Jack waistcoat, he held up banners reading ‘FA, hang your heads in shame,’ ‘No surrender’ and, bizarrely, ‘We wanted Terry Venables.’
It’s easy to forget how breaking a 130-year run of only having Englishmen pick the England team to appoint a foreigner was a divisive issue at the time.
But the FA were chuffed to attract a manager of such impressive pedigree. Not only was Eriksson svelte, unruffled and urbane, with a CV that spanned three countries, he’d previously won something (unlike Keegan) and didn’t hold controversial views about reincarnation (unlike Glenn Hoddle).
Rumours of Eriksson’s relationship with TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson emerged in 2002
Eriksson returned to his long-term partner, the Italian lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio
Eriksson said this week his Lazio side ‘were one of the best in the world’ and he was probably correct.
With the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron, Diego Simeone, Alessandro Nesta, Marcelo Salas, Pavel Nedved and Sinisa Mihajlovic in their ranks, they’d won Serie A, two Italian Cups and the last ever European Cup Winners’ Cup.
But that ‘once in a lifetime’ chance to manage England, and the £3million salary that came with it, proved too good to turn down.
Eriksson soon revitalised a long-failing England side, that thumping win over Germany offering great optimism and flipping the qualifying group for World Cup 2002, even if it took Beckham’s last-minute free-kick against Greece to avoid a tricky play-off with Ukraine.
But there’s always some distraction in the lead-up to England playing at a tournament and this time it wasn’t just Beckham’s broken metatarsal.
Eriksson was out of his depth as England crashed out of the 2002 World Cup to 10-man Brazil
David Seaman’s horrendous misjudgement of Ronaldinho’s free-kick cost England in 2002
(Left to right) Nicky Butt, Michael Owen, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand after England’s exit
The intimate details of his affair with TV host and compatriot Ulrika Jonsson dominated front and back pages for weeks before Eriksson scuttled back to long-term partner Nancy Dell’Olio, an Italian lawyer.
Eriksson demanded his private life should remain private but the job was too much in the white hot glare of the spotlight for that to wash.
On the pitch, England laboured through their World Cup group but gathered momentum by battering Denmark.
In the quarter-final with Brazil, England led through Owen but David Seaman’s hapless misjudgement of Ronaldinho’s flighted free-kick five minutes after half-time saw them trailing.
Eriksson reacts during England’s quarter-final loss on penalties to Portugal at Euro 2004
Hopes had been high for England’s talented ‘Golden Generation’ at the tournament in Portugal. Back Row left to right: Michael Owen, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Sol Campbell, Wayne Rooney, David James, Frank Lampard. Front Row, left to right: Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville
Beckham reacts after missing his penalty kick in the shoot-out defeat to Portugal in Lisbon
‘We wanted Winston Churchill and we got Iain Duncan Smith,’ Southgate famously said of Eriksson’s limp half-time team talk but it was his dithering over subs and tactics when Ronaldinho was sent off with 33 minutes left that ultimately cost England.
England will likely never have a better chance to win a World Cup. If they’d overcome 10-man Brazil, they would have faced Turkey in the semi-finals and a Germany team they’d recently thrashed 5-1 in the final.
Eriksson’s affair with FA secretary Faria Alam was all over the papers during 2004
Eriksson continued but a year later was spotted with Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, leading to paper speculation he was about to reap the rewards of Roman Abramovich’s arrival.
In the end, the FA were the ones that panicked, tabling an extended contract until 2008 at £5m-a-year.
And when an England side that were booed off at Upton Park after losing a friendly to Australia and could only draw 2-2 at home to Macedonia before scraping qualification for Euro 2004, the omens weren’t good.
So it proved. Recovering from opening night defeat to France, a team powered up by 18-year-old Rooney swept aside Switzerland and Croatia to set up a quarter-final with hosts Portugal.
Again England squandered an early lead given them by Owen before Sol Campbell saw a goal disallowed in extra time and the inevitable exit on penalties.
The talents of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ were patently going to waste but sacking Sven was too expensive for the FA to contemplate.
He laboured on but when details of his affair with FA secretary Faria Alam emerged two months after the tournament, another chunk of credibility was chipped away.
There was an easy tabloid contrast to be drawn between his impassive observations from the bench and apparent energy behind drawn curtains.
The 2006 World Cup saw England crash out again to Portugal after Rooney’s red card
The ‘Golden Generation’ had seen their best chance of winning a tournament fade to dust
By the time the 2006 World Cup rolled around, Eriksson had been duped by the News of the World’s ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mazher Mahmood, betraying confidences about players and clubs.
FA chief executive Brian Barwick cut short Eriksson’s contract, with a reduced pay-off, and told him to deliver success in the tournament in Germany.
By this time the likes of Gerrard and Lampard should have been at their peak, driving England to glory, but instead Eriksson’s tactics were conservative and predictable, the performances lacklustre.
He never did solve the puzzle of how to squeeze his best midfielders into the same side, even though Scholes retired from international football in 2004.
Eriksson scratches his head as the loss to Portugal signalled the end of his time with England
Amid a WAG circus that overshadowed the on-pitch action, it was Portugal who put paid to England’s dreams, again in the quarter-finals and again on penalties.
Remarkably, they scored just one of their four kicks with both Lampard and Gerrard missing and the best hopes of the ‘Golden Generation’ had turned to dust. That night in Munich seemed a lifetime away.
‘I always thought I did a good job with England,’ Eriksson would say almost a decade after his exit. ‘But people at the time didn’t think so. They had had enough of the Swedish guy only making the quarter-finals.’
In reality, that was only the half of it.
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