Sunday 24 September 2017

Nothing in Sven's life becomes him like his many departures

Sven-Goran Eriksson
Sven-Goran Eriksson

Dion Fanning

Nobody will be surprised with the news that Sven-Goran Eriksson is eager to return to management in England as soon as possible.

Sven wished everyone at Leicester well after he was sacked last week and was filmed kissing the chief executive Susan Whelan, the woman who had fired him, as he left.

He was at peace but, to paraphrase Wag the Dog, it's no less an accomplishment because he was never at war.

When the time comes to praise Sven for his lifetime's work, they will note his outstanding contribution to the football industry and remark that, unlike other men, he managed to make it through without touching the sides.

Many would claim that Alex Ferguson is their role model but, even with the knighthood, the millions and the glory, it has always been difficult for Sir Alex. There has always been a war to fight and a stance to take.

Sir Alex, you could be sure, would be unlikely to kiss the woman who had fired him on both cheeks. Kissing her on one cheek would also be a bit of a stretch.

He can be commended for this unprejudiced approach to fury. He can hector a woman like Kelly Cates as easily as he can take on a footballer 40 years younger than him. All he sees is an enemy in his path and he has no time to stop and consider if this act of rage, this attempt to conquer and control, is an act of bullying or an act necessary for the advancement of Manchester United. Or both.

Ferguson is unlikely to conclude that the best way to dominate is by a polite kiss on the cheek or maybe a concession that their point of view is also valid. He is unlikely to tell a pressman "that's a very good question" before he turns on him, savages and humiliates him in front of a roomful of colleagues who can't do anything to save him as they are merely overcome with gratitude that this time it's not them.

He has lived his life this way and he has found meaning in every moment. It's not a coincidence that the moment when Ferguson decided he could not retire came shortly after he heard that Sven was being lined up to succeed him at Manchester United.

Everything he's achieved would be washed away on a sea of reasonableness as Sven arrived and departed, kissing the cheeks of those who employed him and would presumably some day have to fire him.

Sven departed Leicester City with great dignity last week. He is a man who has achieved a serenity that only comes with suffering, experience and a series of multi-million pound pay-offs.

Sven glides through life's bad experiences in much the same way as he glides through the good ones, kissing people politely on the cheek.

He has retained this sense of reasonableness which for a long time was mistaken for something more than reasonableness, something like depth.

There are those who say he has been damaged by his failure at Leicester, as he was damaged by his failure in Mexico, his failure at Cote d'Ivoire, his failure at England.

They forget that he has fashioned a policy of utter reasonableness and an ability to see the other's point of view, especially if the other is prepared to encourage their point of view with a large cheque.

He is impressed by wealth and celebrity, something witnessed in his decision to allow the management of the England team to be delegated to a committee headed by David Beckham.

Sven would not have been successful if he was simply just interested in money. There are many people interested in money in football who have been unable to build the career he has built.

Sven is not a cynic when it comes to money. He truly believes in the power of money to make a difference to people's lives or, at least, his own life.

For this reason, he can engage with the rich people he meets. He can sympathise with them and make them feel understood in a world where the last person most people wish to understand is the rich man.

There is a philosophy behind his reluctance to confront and challenge but it is not the philosophy people embrace when they hail Kipling's banality about triumph and disaster and treating them just the same.

This is seen as the state of enlightenment for sportsmen, especially as Kipling's poem is the one most of them have been forced to listen to in team-talks hacked from management consultant books or look at as it is pinned on another dressing-room wall.

Sven appears to have reached this point and yet there aren't many who consider him noble.

There is essentially something joyless in the man who has it all figured out, just as there is something cold in the idea of treating triumph and disaster just the same.

Sven acts as if he has avoided the struggle and the conflict, but without the struggle and the jeopardy there is no story. He knows that with triumph and disaster comes a pay-off so he can shrug them both off, even if one may lead to a bigger bonus than the others.

Ferguson, too, handles them just the same, as he is embittered as much by success as he is by failure, but that may not be what Kipling had in mind.

Sven is the poster boy for this equanimity, this idea that life is about acceptance when it really about joy and tragedy and heartbreak and misery.

He has abandoned these ideas, he has no interest in Conrad's phrase that "the only legitimate basis of creative work lies in the courageous recognition of all the irreconcilable antagonisms that make our life so enigmatic, so burdensome, so fascinating, so dangerous -- so full of hope." Sven has reconciled his antagonisms. He lives a quiet life, stimulated occasionally by the next interesting offer from an interesting multi-millionaire. He'll be back.

dfanning@independent.ie

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