Eriksson and England

England's Wayne Rooney vents his ire after being shown the yellow card in the match against Northern Ireland, even as David Beckham tries to pacify him. Rooney's frustration could well have stemmed from the fact that he was not being handled properly by the manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson.-AP

ERIKSSON should go; that's obvious. But Eriksson can't go, cannot be got rid of, because the asinine Football Association cannot afford to pay him off. The taciturn Swede has inexplicably and fatally been given a �4 million a year contract which runs, Heaven help us, till 2008! When you remember how he got it, words may fail you. It happened hard on the heels of it being disclosed that he had secretly and surreptitiously been talking to Chelsea, who wanted him to leave Soho Square and come to Stamford Bridge!

Would that he had! Instead the asinine chief executive of the F.A., Mark Palios, who would later betray the Swede over the squalid Faria-Gate affair (or affairs!), promptly raised his salary to �4 million. And this before the European Championship finals took place in Portugal, where just as in the 2002 World Cup, Eriksson, under quarter-final pressure, was found sadly wanting.

To remind you of the wretched story of how Palios tried to double cross Eriksson, it occurred when both men, it transpires, had been amorously involved with a secretary at the F.A., Faria Alam; first Palios, apparently for some months, then Eriksson; notorious for his previous embarrassingly publicised liaison with the publicity seeking television presenter and fellow- Swede, Ulrika Jonsson.

In a crass and devious attempt to protect himself, Palios as we alas know, then persuaded the F.A.'s Press Officer, Colin Gibson, to approach the News of the World, which was about to publish the whole sordid story, asking them to keep Palios' name out of it at the expense of the Swede. Which they refused to do.

So Palios went — inexplicably compensated with no less than �600,000 — but Eriksson survived. You might perhaps be ready to ignore his erotic shenanigans were he only able to deliver a decent and successful England team. Instead, two dreadful performances — first in Cardiff, then in Belfast — actually endangered England's chances of even qualifying for the ensuing World Cup finals from a group which seemed just about the weakest in all Europe.

You might say that Beckhamitis is at the bottom of it. Eriksson seems obsessed by a player whose value to the team is less and less evident. To the extent that both in Cardiff and Belfast, he used him in a role which radically compromised the working of the team.

We know all too well by now that Beckham is no true right winger; while little Shaun Wright-Phillips unquestionably is. Beckham has a superb right foot, which, up to a point, can compensate for his lack of pace and elusive skills, but he never gets to the goal-line as a classical winger should. Eriksson is too fearful to grasp the nettle and drop him. So he elected in those games to use him in a hybrid position, which could only harm the running of the team. That is to say as a kind of quarter-back, functioning, if that be the word, centrally in front of the back four, though with none of the ability to screen and protect them of a Claude Makele, who does the job so well for Chelsea. Instead, when under scant attacking pressure from inferior teams, Beckham simply becomes a luxury, a player with super abundant time and space to spray long passes around. One of them in Cardiff, it is true, set up Wright-Phillips to make the winning goal for Joe Cole, but it was hardly enough to justify the utter unbalancing of the England side, with the two other central midfielders, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, continually bypassed by Beckham's passing.

England, in fact, have had three shocking exhibitions in a row, the first, when Beckham was used in a more orthodox role, in Copenhagen, they crashed 4-1 to modest Denmark. Wales would probably have managed a draw had it not been for a glorious save by the England 'keeper, Robinson, from John Hartson's header. And in Belfast, total ignominy, defeat by a Northern Ireland side ranked so low in the international ratings that you almost needed a submarine to find them.

There is no doubt that the Irish played with a high morale, a burning determination, which enabled them to minimise the difference in sheer class, between the two teams. Eriksson has in my opinion properly been criticised, as indeed he first was by his own men after Brazil with 10 men knocked England out in Japan, for failing to motivate his team. A counter-argument has been that footballers playing for their country should not need motivation. In an ideal world, that might well be so, but it begs the question of the effect of Eriksson's inept tactics on his men. Not least on Wayne Rooney, half Bob Wonder, half Dead End Kid, gloriously talented, alarmingly combustible as indeed he was in Belfast, where his crude fouls could have got him sent off and he swore at anyone, player or coach, who tried to restrain him.

But sheer frustration was surely at the core of it; thanks to Eriksson's fatuous decision to play Rooney out on the left flank, away from the action. Michael Owen, returning to competitive football after weeks of kicking his heels, was isolated in turn, in the middle.

If England do get to Germany under Eriksson's aegis, what logical hope is there of getting beyond a third consecutive quarter-final? Sven-Goran, in a match, not least when things go wrong, sits on the bench as passive as a dummy. His coach Steve McClaren, hardly to be exonerated, has to do all the stand up shouting and exhorting. If Eriksson, for financial reasons, cannot be dismissed, perhaps the sole solution is to appoint a part time assistant manager, maybe Alan Curbishley of Charlton or big Sam Allardyce of Bolton, effectively to take over the reins, while Eriksson continues to sit in silence. But what of Beckham?