Join the Circus

Door Joebill gepubliceerd op Tuesday 21 April 16:09

With the book now closed on the new England manager, Shep says good riddance to Sven and tips a 100/1 shot for the job

When he formally announced his departure from the England job, Sven Goran Eriksson warned his successor that the biggest downside was the circus that surrounds the position. Eriksson had a gripe that ultimately his demise was caused by one scandalous newspaper headline too far. Yet who really turned his reign into a circus?

Who was the serial philanderer? Who kept on flirting with other jobs like those at Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa? Who more than flirted with a string of fillies, including Ulrika Jonsson and Fariah Alam, to ensure embarrassing tales of the boudoir for the tabloids? Who showed such a lack of judgment that he allowed himself to reveal his true thoughts about certain England players and the state of the English game to a fake sheik he had barely met just because there was the potential of another contract on the table?

Yes it was Eriksson who caused all the side shows, created the circus by variously playing trapeze artiste, juggler and clown. And so England bet on World Cup finals they ought to stand a great chance of winning in a state of chaos. What a cock up. But Sven knows all about those.

Clown alley

There are those who still argue he should be judged by what happens on the pitch, not off it. They have a point, but when off-field activities turn the position into farce, how can a manager demand the trust and respect of his players? Eriksson claims the players are behind him... but some who he has upset, including Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Rio Ferdinand, could be excused for standing there with a sharpened knife the second things start to go wrong.

And if you focus on what has happened on the pitch, his record in competitive games is misleading. When it’s come to the crunch, Eriksson has lost the plot. In the World Cup quarter-finals in Japan he had no solution for how to outwit ten-man Brazil.

In Euro 2004, unbelievably, he handed back the initiative to a beaten France by taking off Rooney. Then against Portugal he flunked again, following an injury to the same player.

He was the wrong choice from day one, in my opinion. I was against the idea of appointing a foreign coach, but those of us who went down that line were accused of being xenophobic at best. Now men of such standing as PFA boss Gordon Taylor points out that Brazil, Germany and Italy would never deign to trust their team’s fortunes in the hands of a foreigner.

I can’t deny it would be fascinating to see what Anglophiles Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger (Eriksson calls himself a European) would do in charge of the England team. And FA chief executive Brian Berwick, while saying he would prefer an Englishman, hasn’t closed the door on the foreign option.

That is why Guus Hiddink and Ottmar Hitzfeld are strongly fancied at 8/1. I wouldn’t put my money on either. Hiddink has already intimated that, while he would be interested, he would want to continue with PSV for the remaining year of his contract. Oh, so he wants to turn it into a part-time job, does he? Mind you, I guess Eriksson did, given his energy for off-field activities. As for Hitzfeld, well I am sorry, but who could really back a German to be England boss? My choice, as it was when Kevin Keegan walked out, would be Terry Venables, who, apart from his obvious assets, is available.

He’s been there, seen it, done it pretty well, I reckon, but was ousted by politics, as was Sir Bobby Robson, who I’m afraid is simply too old now. Venables’ detractors argue that he still carries too much baggage, as they did five years ago. Not half as much as Eriksson, though, who might as well have been sponsored by Louis Vuitton. Best online bookies quote Venables at 100/1. Given Barwick worked with him in TV, it would not be the most silly punt.

Roll up, roll up...

Venables’ own recommendation is Alan Curbishley. Five years ago, just after Keegan had walked out, I was in Finland, where Howard Wilkinson took temporary charge. I got a call from my sports editor who asked: ‘If Venables was a no go, who would it be?’ I was laughed at when I put Curbishely’s name forward. But the job he’s done at Charlton is extraordinary.

Ditto Sam Allardyce at Bolton. Big Sam is current favourite at 4/1, just ahead of Curbishley at 5/1 – the same odds as Steve McClaren, who I hear doesn’t want it. Allardyce does, but he does not have overwhelming support at Soho Square and, when the dust settles, the FA may use Eriksson’s exit to subtly change the structure of the job. Don’t be surprised if Sir Trevor Brooking takes a more hands-on role to help Curbishley cope with the circus.

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