In the last few years Sven Goran Eriksson has been one of the most constantly vilified men in football. Since he took over as England manager in 2001, his critics have taken every opportunity to have a dig at the Swede, whether for professional or personal reasons. However, despite all the bad press and the complaints concerning his handling of the England team, Eriksson’s rejuvenation of Manchester City has forced football fans and sports pundits alike to take notice and eat their words.
The beginning of a legend
Eriksson had an unspectacular playing career as a right back in the Swedish lower leagues before a knee injury forced him into premature retirement in 1975. A career-ending injury is a low-point for any professional sportsman, but this one was a blessing in disguise. It ended a mediocre playing career and marked a new beginning for one of the most successful managers in modern times.
In 1976, he took up the role of Assistant Manager at Degersfors IF in the Swedish Second Division. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to Head Coach. It quickly became obvious that he had found his true calling and some of Europe’s big boys were showing an interest in the newest next big thing in management. Despite the overtures of many of European football’s top table, Eriksson decided to stay in his native Sweden. To say this was a good decision would be an understatement. Between 1979 and 1982 he guided IFK Gothenburg to the Swedish league title, two Swedish cups and UEFA Cup glory, beating Germany’s Hamburg 4-0 in the final.
Eriksson had thoroughly proved himself in his home country and the time was right for a move to the loftier heights of European football with Benfica of Portugal in 1982. In two years, the Lisbon club won two league titles and the Portuguese cup, before Eriksson was tempted to Italy to take over at AS Roma. In a three year spell in Rome, he added the Italian Cup to his quickly growing trophy cabinet. Two years at Fiorentina followed, before the Swede returned to Benfica, adding another Portuguese league title to his collection.
In 1992 Sampdoria came calling and Sven jumped at the chance of a return to Italy. A five year stint saw the club win the Italian Cup in 1994, before Eriksson was once again lured by the bright lights of Rome. This time, Lazio was his club of choice, where he enjoyed the most successful three years of his glittering career. Between 1997 and 2000, he led his side (which boasted such stars as Pavel Nedved and Juan Sebastian Veron), to six trophies. The 1999 Cup Winners Cup triumph was the first European trophy the club had won in its 99 year history and Sven furthered this achievement by leading Lazio to only their second ever Italian Serie A title during their centenary year in 2000.
Into the Spotlight
After a career in club management spanning nearly 15 years and 16 trophies, Eriksson was unveiled as England’s first ever foreign manager in January 2001. Seen by many people as the biggest job in football, the England post has turned out to be more like a poisoned chalice for many managers and despite some wonderful results, Eriksson suffered a similar fate. In 38 competitive matches over six years, Sven’s England team only lost three. However, the timing and nature of these losses ultimately cost the Swede his job and, along with it, his reputation.
After a poor start to the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign under his predecessor, Kevin Keegan, Eriksson turned around England’s fortunes. He led the nation to qualification with an emphatic 5-1 hammering of Germany in Munich on September 1, 2001. This memory, along with David Beckham’s last-gasp free kick against Greece, was a highlight of Eriksson’s reign as England manager.
Despite being drawn in "the group of death" at the World Cup, alongside old enemy Argentina, Eriksson’s native Sweden and the unpredictable Nigeria, England advanced to the second round, where they duly dispatched Denmark 4-1. This set up one of those football matches which gets fans all around the world buzzing: England v Brazil. England lost the World Cup quarter final 2-1 thanks to a Ronaldinho brace and Eriksson was forced to switch his attention to the European Championships in 2004.
England’s qualification campaign for Euro 2004 was a typical rollercoaster ride but the team came through in the end and found themselves drawn in a group with France, Croatia and Switzerland. The team advanced with six points, but the hopes of the nation were again dashed at the quarter-final stage, against Portugal.
England topped their qualifying group to book their place at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, although the campaign included a loss to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1972. The team finished top of their group at the tournament, which contained Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago but were again faced by Portugal in the quarter-finals. After 120 goalless minutes and a Wayne Rooney sending off, England’s hopes were yet again ended by a penalty shoot-out defeat, in what was to be Sven’s last game in charge.
Eriksson’s tenure as England manager, seen by many as a professional failure, was made worse by the many controversies surrounding his personal life. Shortly before the 2006 World Cup, Sven was caught up in the "Fake Sheikh" scandal, in which he stated he would leave England to take charge of Aston Villa if his team won the tournament, after being tricked into believing a wealthy Arab was buying the club and wanted him as manager.
Furthermore, Eriksson’s personal relationships have been anything but private during his time in England. Hardly a day seems to go by without a new twist in the controversial story that is the Swede’s love-life. Affairs with TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson and former FA secretary Faria Alam were scandalously uncovered in the press and Eriksson’s long-term on-off relationship with Nancy Dell’Olio was never out of the public eye. Since their latest split on November 9, 2006, Eriksson has been linked with a number of women, not all of them single.
Sven and the City
Eriksson was appointed as the new manager of Manchester City in July 2007, following the successful takeover of the club by controversial former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra. With a three year contract under his belt and Mr Shinawatra’s money in his back pocket, the Swede went on a spending spree to rebuild the under-achieving City squad. He brought in eight new faces, including the high-profile signings of Elano, Rolando Bianchi and Vedran Corluka.
The decision to install Eriksson as manager has been justified by the club’s explosive start to the 2007/08 Premiership season. After the opening 13 games of the season, the club lie in third place with 26 points, and qualification for the lucrative Champions League is set firmly in their sights. The restoration of Eriksson’s professional reputation and his return to the top table of European management has begun.