Who after Eriksson?

Published : Feb 11, 2006 00:00 IST

Sven-Goran Eriksson will continue as England manager till the end of this year's World Cup in Germany.-AP
Sven-Goran Eriksson will continue as England manager till the end of this year's World Cup in Germany.-AP

Sven-Goran Eriksson will continue as England manager till the end of this year's World Cup in Germany.-AP

Guus Hiddink, who took South Korea to the semifinals in the last World Cup, is the favourite to take over the job from Eriksson.

Well, Eriksson is on his way; not a moment too soon, in fact much too late. England are still stuck with him till they inevitably and predictably drop out of the quarter-finals of the ensuing World Cup. That's if they don't succumb to the hosts Germany in the previous round. I am more optimistic than some critics, believing that Germany, with their semi-absentee manager Jurgen Klinsmann visiting them from California just twice a month, are no better than mediocre nowadays.

Eriksson, just as Tony Blair is a lame duck British Prime Minister, having announced his intention to retire, is now alas a lame duck manager and his foolish indiscretions when duped by that fake sheikh in Dubai will hardly help him. All very well for him to say that he has sorted things out with Michael Owen, whose confidence he betrayed in reporting how reluctant the England striker had been to join Newcastle United for anything but the money, Rio Ferdinand, whom he called lazy — and who has suddenly found a vigorous new lease of life in the Manchester United midfield — and Wayne Rooney whom he called "rough." What would he logically have expected them to say when he phoned to apologise, seeing that for better or for worse, that he still picks the team.

You might have thought that this was still another good chance for the Football Association to get rid of him, but inevitably I suppose they have come out with the nonsense about not wanting to rock the boat so soon before the World Cup finals. To which you might ask them just how far Holland rocked the boat in 1974, when Rinus Michels took over just a few weeks before the tournament began while still the manager of Barcelona or in 1978 when the Austrian Ernst Happel briefly left Bruges to take them over. They reached but narrowly lost the World Cup final each time. And in 1970 Brazil actually won it, though Mario Lobo Zagallo had stepped in to relieve Saldanha, who had committed the unforgivable heresy of wanting to axe Pele! Though it would never be entertained, I would favour some kind of compromise, whereby Eriksson was flanked not by an ineffectual coach like the present Middlesbrough manager, McLaren, but by a superior, in the shape of a football director, or whatever you wish to call him.

Meantime it is reported that Eriksson would be ready to spend a million pounds — which thanks to the misplaced generosity of the FA he has certainly got — taking the News Of The World to court. But on what grounds? Invasion of privacy, as one hears? It surely doesn't rank as a cause for action in England. Besides which, there is the danger that if it all came to court, no matter how devious a trick the paper played on Eriksson and his two equally gullible colleagues, he would become still more of a laughing stock. The manifest favourite is Guus Hiddink of Holland who took South Korea, albeit with a little bit of help from referees, all the way to the semi-finals in 2002 though of course they were playing at home. He has recently stepped in — part time, you will again notice — to guide Australia to their first finals since 1974 at the expense of the World Cup weathered Uruguayans. He has managed Holland and is at present impressively in charge there of PSV Eindhoven. It looks as if he would be keen to come and I for one would be immensely keen to welcome him. Xenophobia is here and there in evidence: "We want an Englishman." It was also quite prevalent when Eriksson was appointed and I have to confess that in this instance it had a basis in reality. But Eriksson had never coached at international level and Hiddink is a very different breed of cat.

Besides, there seems no clear candidate among the current crop of English managers, even if you set aside the demand in some quarters that any new manager of England should have international experience. Note pray that Alf Ramsey didn't when he so notably succeeded the long lasting but tactically naive Walter Winterbottom in 1962; he was then the highly successful manager of Ipswich Town, which he had brought all the way up from the Third Division South to the championship of the League. And even he wasn't first choice. The job in fact had initially been offered to my old friend Jimmy Adamson, still the captain of Burnley then and England number two coach in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile.

Various names have been advanced including that of an Irishman in the shape of Martin O'Neill — currently taking time off because of his wife's serious illness — who has had much success in Glasgow with Celtic. I admire Martin's talents, though Alan Smith, the ex-Arsenal and England striker, feels he isn't really a coach. Big Sam Allardyce of Bolton would like the job but his Bolton teams are essentially functional and somewhat negative. He tends to get by on his skill in finding foreign talent at bargain prices. I, like Alan Curbishley, the long reigning manager of Charlton, would have any of these ahead of Eriksson in Germany; but afterwards?

I'd pitch in two other names, one of which, clever Steve Coppell at Reading, has not yet been mentioned. Trevor Brooking, an ex-England star like Brooking, is now high up in the FA but showed how well he could manage when he briefly took over his old club, West Ham. Coppell had an excellent first managerial spell at Crystal Palace and has transformed Reading, at long last poised for the first time in their long history to enter the top division. Brooking has calm authority and tactical intelligence. But Hiddink is surely the top candidate.

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