Football: As Nation Loses Faith in Eriksson, Can ; Sven's Influence over His Men in Terminal Decline
Townsend, Nick, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
After '78 years of hurt', which, according to the Belfast Telegraph headline, the local side had suffered since their previous triumph over the old enemy, Wednesday night was a mighty dose of analgesic. You could fully comprehend the ensuing paroxysm of pleasure through which Sven Goran Eriksson traipsed alone at Windsor Park, demonstrating, as usual, nothing less than utmost decorum: shaking hands with the opposition, both players and officials, then over to the referee and assistants.
Michael Owen passed by him, yet so oblivious was the England coach that he was barely aware of one of his key players. Eriksson raised his hand in acknow-ledgement, but by then the striker was already long gone. Witnessing Eriksson's demeanour, it recalled one of those infuriating luminous 'active' touchline adverts in use that night (so distracting to spectators, and presumably to players, too), promoting George A Rom- ero's film Land of the Dead. As the coach depar-ted the pitch, there was a decidedly zombie-like look about him.
Of rather greater concern is that he will lead England towards their still-probable destiny of next year's World Cup finals like one of the undead; unwanted and unloved by many, except by a select fraternity of international players and a Football Association hierarchy, although one suspects even the blessing of those two groups is becoming ever more tenuous.
'You forgive and move on.' Not the FA's reaction to their coach's position in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's defeat by Northern Ireland, but Nancy Dell'Olio's reaction to her partner's peccadillos, although it could have been, such has been the FA's public preparedness to back 'the best man for the job', as their chief executive, Brian Barwick, injudiciously expressed it, albeit just before the Denmark dbcle. Both Ms Dell'Olio and the FA must be questioning their judgement following recent events. The former has her own reasons for steadfastness; where Barwick and Co are concerned, the retention by Eriksson of his lucrative seat is partly the result of prudence, part pragmatism.
On the assumption that England will account for Austria and then overcome Poland in the final qualifier, the expectation of the FA suits is that the momen-tum will carry the squad through to a productive finals. From a balance-sheet perspective, qualification would produce an income of anything up to pounds 100 million for the FA; Eriksson's dismissal now would mean putting a match to much of that with a costly pay-off, with all the added disruption the head- hunting of a new coach would produce.
And just who might that be, anyway, from an English list of Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley, Steve McClaren, Steve Bruce, Peter Taylor and Bryan Robson which scarcely engenders great confidence, and a highly rated 'foreign' list of Arsne Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, Guus Hiddink and Martin O'Neill, who would require, for different reasons, rather more persuading than the FA could probably muster.
If anyone is awaiting magnanimous gestures, they will be frustrated. …