Aidan Smith: Do we want Sven to whip us into shape with birch twigs?
I’m talking about the spoof documentary Sven: The Coach, the Cash and his Lovers, shown on TV in 2006 as Eriksson was leading England to the World Cup in Germany. Swedes, famous and ordinary, must have winced at the satire of his tabloid-friendly lifestyle.
The programme was the work of Alison Jackson who was highly successful at mimicking CCTV and telephoto intrusion to capture the “private moments” of the rich and famous. So we saw a Sven lookalike at home in his underpants grappling with Ulrika-ka-ka Jonsson (Swedish cliché: sex) while the blonde femme fatale (another cliché) smeared him with the contents of his fridge, including herring (yet another cliché). This was my favourite scene in the film until the later one where the Sven stooge was in the sauna (cliché time again) with David Beckham and demonstrating that his love for the England captain may have been greater than his love for Ulrika-ka-ka as he gently caressed Becks’ expensively-insured thighs with (cliché alert) birch twigs as he adjusted the superstar’s diamond earring to its twinkliest setting.
Swedes may have done more than winced. They may have wanted to throw themselves off the nearest bridge (one more for the cliché-hopper). But the rest of us chuckled because the programme summed up the ridiculousness of Eriksson at that time. And I’m sorry, Sven, but I can’t help thinking back to these comical scenes as you get quoted with an interest in the Scotland job.
Earlier last week Neil Lennon said that our national team should be managed by a Scot. I’d have Lenny in charge tomorrow but that’s not going to happen. Then Steven Gerrard concurred. This was after the news that Eriksson might be interested in the gig, with the Rangers boss claiming that while he had “no regrets” from having played under Eriksson at England, and the same with his successor Fabio Capello, he hoped the SFA would “go domestic and put a Scottish manager in charge who would be given patience and time to blood [the country’s] youngsters and make the national team stronger”.
Regarding Eriksson, this conflicts with what Gerrard, pictured, said back in 2006 in his autobiography, when half the team were signed up to write memoirs with the hope there would be a happier outcome for England than Wayne Rooney standing on some Portuguese testicles and a quarter-final exit on penalties. Back then, Gerrard voiced his unhappiness at being played in the wrong position when handed the No 9 shirt for a warm-up game. “Get real,” he wrote, “I’m an attacking midfielder, not an emergency striker.”
You might remember that Gerrard was part of a conundrum which puzzled the whole of England, leading to a stock market crash and the downfall of the government. Why couldn’t Gerrard and Frank Lampard play in the same team together? This was Eriksson’s responsibility, and despite a salary of £4.5 million, forty-five times that of the prime minister, he failed in it. Eriksson in 2006 was at the supposed peak of his powers, having been handed a group of players who were hailed as England’s golden generation, and even though those talents weren’t quite as heaven-sent as the hype suggested, he failed to meld them into a proper team which could have achieved more. Instead he gave in to celebrity culture and allowed egos to run wild.
That was the World Cup of the wags, the players’ wives and girlfriends cleaning out Baden-Baden of bikinis and bellinis. Victoria Beckham packed 60 pairs of sunglasses and significantly added to her collection as the girls shopped and bopped til they dropped. Their gallivanting became the story of that tournament, and a distraction for the team and their efforts to win it. Eriksson should never have allowed that to happen.
My problem with him managing Scotland is not that he’s Swedish, any more than Dirk Advocaat, another who’s been mentioned in dispatches as the SFA seek Alex McLeish’s replacement, is Dutch. It’s that Eriksson is like Capello and Louis van Gaal and– once his membership’s been fully ratified – Jose Mourinho. They’re all part of that international gentlemen’s club of managers, smart of suit, knowing of smirk and long of track-record, but whose best days are behind them as they continue to shuffle around Planet Football, occasionally bumping into each other at important conferences and in executive lounges, their designer man-bags full of outmoded ideas and philosophies.
Scotland, if they went for the likes of Eriksson, would be buying the name, the reputation, the past glories, the swank, but with very little suggestion he would know how to solve the Andy Robertson-Kieran Tierney puzzle any more than he did the one involving Gerrard and Lampard. Would they really go for Eriksson? “I never heard about it,” he says of the speculation. Okay, but how does it make him feel? “Of course I’m honoured. Scotland is a big job, a big football country.”
So what does he know about this big football country? “I haven’t followed Scottish football for some years. I’ve seen some games and know some players but, no, I’m not a specialist.” So, just to confirm, what is the state of this? Is there a possibility that Retired Improbable Love God Sven could come along to whip us into shape with herring or birch twigs or somesuch? “We’ll see what happens, if there is something behind it or not … ” Or not, indeed. Eriksson is no doubt happy being talked about. Better than not being talked about, as they say. And maybe some of us are happy to be talked about in the same breath as one of these big game hunters of football management, thus the quotes have been lent a positive spin. But this probably won’t happen and, no offence intended to Sweden, it shouldn’t.