Sven philosophical ahead of showdown with former club and protege
Desire to keep moving helps gypsy Sven maintain sense of Zen on eve of intriguing Cup clash with Mancini's City
Published 08/01/2011 | 05:00
You wonder how he does it. Sven-Goran Eriksson has had to put up with some stick: the furore over a foreigner being appointed England manager, the tabloid intrusion, the debacle at Notts County last year. Take your pick. Yet somehow the Swede retains the serenity of a Zen master.
Nowhere was worse than at Manchester City under former owner Thaksin Shinawatra. What Eriksson had to endure during the 2007-08 season at Eastlands after stepping down as manager of England is encapsulated in a story told by some of those on the club's end-of-season tour of Thailand.
Thaksin took the squad to a karaoke bar in downtown Bangkok and, in front of Eriksson, sang a song for his manager. His selection? The Clash's 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go'.
You cannot imagine many men taking that in good humour, yet incredibly, Eriksson remained dignified. Like a pebble, the 62-year-old just lets water rush over him, and seems to get even smoother in the process. Even now he says of Thaksin: "I think he was a good man."
Now manager of Leicester, Eriksson faces Manchester City for the first time since being sacked in such unceremonious style, in the FA Cup third round tomorrow.
Even in the warped world of Premier League football management, Eriksson's dismissal after a season in Manchester made little sense. The fans even marched for him.
After all, by Christmas Eriksson had taken the club into the top four. Even after a poor second half to the season they still finished ninth.
Eriksson says: "They never told me why I was sacked. I asked a couple of times, but they never told me. Anyway, that's history. I've normally been very lucky, but I came to City a couple of years too early. The Manchester City of today is very different."
Indeed, the ambition is even greater. Eriksson agrees, and accepts that his chances of managing at Wembley for the first time -- the stadium was under reconstruction throughout his six years in the England job -- are not improved by the demands on Roberto Mancini to conquer all.
"If you can spend all these millions, then to be satisfied, you have to win," he explains. "You have to win titles. Second is not good enough for City in this moment. Mancini needs to win trophies, so he will not give away the FA Cup. No chance, he will come here with the big guns. He has already told me."
That might seem strange, one manager warning another that he will show no mercy, but Mancini is Eriksson's protege, having played under Eriksson for eight years at Sampdoria and Lazio, then spending a year as his assistant. The two men still speak once a week. "He doesn't need any advice any longer. The only advice I've given him is to come with the reserves! And he said no."
Eriksson's respect for his opposite number is clear: "As a player he was fiery, against his own players and the referee." He makes the noise of a kettle coming to boil. "He was absolutely inspirational. A real No 10. He could win games by himself, and he saw things quicker than anybody else. He told (Gianluca) Vialli many times, 'You just shut up and run, and the ball will come to you'. As a manager he is getting more and more relaxed."
Though Eriksson talks about Mancini having mellowed since stepping into management, you could not imagine two more different styles. But when Mancini's uncompromising training methods come up in conversation, Eriksson shakes his head.
"You want them to come on time, you want them to work hard," he says. "You want them to be concentrated during the one or two hours you work with them every session. He is no different that he should have that regime."
What is the Eriksson way, then?
"Respect for me is a very important word," he says. "And flexible. You can damage yourself. Long-term you can change, you can buy, sell, make players adapt to different positions. Sorry, but short term you can't do that. You have to be flexible, absolutely."
Leicester are his 13th club, a statistic many see as a cast iron sign of a mercenary. Eriksson's explanation is that football is a drug. In a career that began in 1976, he has had only one year off, which he described as "awful".
He insists he is genuinely motivated by challenges, the type that brought him to Leicester in October.
"That makes me happy every morning. You take jobs for these challenges. I do, at least. It is much better for me to take a team up than have as a target survival in the Premier League. It can't give you the same satisfaction as taking a big step up."
The sceptics will continue to question Eriksson and his motives. He left Sweden in 1982, and has been moving ever since. He has moved into a local apartment, a sign that he is happy to settle, but he knows better than most about the risk of making long-term plans.
Perhaps that was why he never moved out of his hotel when he was Manchester City manager.
"I need to move around," he says. "It is beautiful. I'm a gipsy in that. That is one of the beauties in life. I'm a Swede, but living in Portugal, Italy, England, Mexico. Fantastic. The day you tell me I won't move any more, I will go crazy."
Crazy? That is hard to believe. They do not come much more Zen than Sven. (Daily Telegraph, London)
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