“If you talk about the team we had in the World Cup, I think we should have played the final,” says Sven Goran Eriksson. “We shouldn’t lose against Portugal. I don’t think we were worse than Italy or France, absolutely not.”
In Zurich on Monday, the former England manager spoke publicly about last summer’s World Cup for the first time. The best-paid unemployed person in football gets thousands of pounds a day from England’s Football Association to do nothing. He had come to Zurich to do what a man in his position does: buy a suit, see his banker and speak before a roomful of businessmen at the annual International Football Arena conference.
Eriksson hangs around all day, dutifully attending sessions on topics such as Chinese football business. In between, he wanders the lobby alone.
In this crowd, the bespectacled Swede looks in place: a retired accountant with no friends, perhaps. He spent part of the previous evening moseying in and out of the Park Hyatt hotel bar alone. At the conference, he often makes himself absent to talk on his mobile, always more exciting when
you have recently lost a girlfriend
and need a job. He is opening himself
to the world.
Possibly only Ronaldinho left the World Cup with his reputation as diminished as the Swede’s. Eriksson’s England went out in the quarter-final, as at the two previous big tournaments of his reign, despite having been touted as the country’s best team since 1966.
Yet asked to assess his five years in charge, Eriksson says: “I think we did rather well. Sometimes we didn’t. I think we were unlucky. In the big tournaments we went out against Brazil in Japan. Ronaldinho, how he scored that goal – I don’t know if he crossed, what he did. And twice we went out against Portugal on penalty shoot-outs.”
Does Eriksson regret taking 17-year-old Theo Walcott to the World Cup? Walcott, who had never played in the Premiership, didn’t play a second at the tournament even after England lost their two best strikers. Surely his spot was fatally wasted?
“I think it was the right decision,” says Eriksson. “Where are the other good English centre-forwards? I saw 100, 120 games, Premier League clubs, every year and I couldn’t find out. They talk about Defoe.” Eriksson means Jermain Defoe, Tottenham Hotspur’s striker. “I think he had a very bad season last season. I don’t think he deserved to go to the World Cup. And why not take a young player? We never played him because it was never the moment.” Not even when England’s only other striker still standing was Peter Crouch. Eriksson adds that Walcott’s experience of this summer will benefit England one day.
“We started the tournament so and so, and played better and better,” Eriksson concludes in happy denial.
Does he regret nothing? “If I could replay every football match I lost, I should try to lose in a different way, maybe. Maybe I should have taken in a sports psycholog [he means psychologist], for taking penalties.”
Did the abuse from British newspapers bother him? “I could not care less what they wrote. If you have that kind of a job, you tell your parents, your children, ‘Don’t read it, do like me’. If you are worried about that, every night you will not sleep for five-and-a-half years. I think it’s the only country I’ve been working in they can’t see the difference between professional life and private life.” In England, Eriksson’s love-life was almost as well publicised as his day job.
How did he cope with the stress of the job? “I love it!” he replies, possibly the first sentence he has ever spoken with an exclamation mark. “I miss it. The stress sitting on the bench and trying to be more clever than the other one on the other bench, it’s fantastic. Sometimes,” he concedes, “you are not more clever.”
The moderator, Darren Tulett, begins to say that Eriksson must have had job offers lately when the Swede most uncharacteristically interrupts him: “Some offers, some offers, but not the right ones so far. It’s important that it’s a club or a country with ambitions.
I want to go back into football as quick as possible.” He has been linked with several clubs recently, from West Ham to Dynamo Kiev.
How does a football coach find work? “You don’t look for jobs. You don’t phone up 10 clubs and say, ‘Here I am.’ You are offered the job. I was in Benfica many years ago. I was leaving the training ground and I had a car after me.” Eriksson imitates the car’s noise: “Huu huu huu. It went on for 10 minutes. Anyhow, he stopped and I stopped and he said, ‘I’m from the Italian embassy.’
‘Ah yes, and what do you want?’
‘I want your phone number because Roma wants you as a manager next season.’
“Three months later I was sitting on the bench in Roma. I don’t think the rest of working society works like football. I once signed for Sampdoria. I flew in from Portugal to Monte Carlo and there was the chairman of Sampdoria. After lunch he said, ‘I don’t really know you.’
“I said, ‘You want me to work for you and you don’t really know me?’
“‘No,’ he said, ‘but all my players want you. So I want to tell you how much you will earn’ and he took the serviette,” – Eriksson mimics the chairman scribbling on a serviette – “and he said, ‘This is the sum net per year.’ I looked and I was surprised because it was a lot of money, much more than I earned.
“He said, ‘I can see you’re not happy’, and he took another serviette.” The Zurich audience guffaws.
“Sometimes you have offers from three, four of the best clubs in Europe and if you have a bad season, very seldom the phone phones at all.” Soon Eriksson’s phone will phone but probably never again with offers from the best clubs in Europe.