Why Eriksson must be changed midstream

AFTER England's recent flaccid display in Cardiff against Wales — who would even have taken the lead in that World Cup eliminator were it not for a sensational one-handed save by England keeper Paul Robinson from John Hartson's header — one put forward a plan. That the unimpressive manager Sven Goran Eriksson should be kept in place till England in their very modest group qualify for the German finals; then be replaced by another coach. Ideally one would have liked this to happen long since. After England's failure to beat a ten-man Brazil in the World Cup finals of 2002 in Japan, when they were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Or when they again went out at the same stage in Lisbon in the 2004 European Championship.

Passivity under pressure has alas been a persisting theme in Sven Goran's uneven stewardship. Both in the Brazilian debacle and in Lisbon, he failed to put on as substitute Joe Cole, the most creative player he had available to him. In Japan, an England defender remarked hopelessly that at half time, "We needed Winston Churchill and we got Ian Duncan Smith."

More recently came the crash in Copenhagen, a 4-1 thrashing by a far from irresistible Danish team albeit in a friendly. England simply collapsed in the second half when Eriksson, as is his wont, sent on a great posse of reserves. Including, against all sense and logic, the goalkeeper David "Calamity" James, who a year earlier had with his inept performance condemned England to a 2-2 European draw against Austria in Vienna. James duly gave another wretchedly error prone display in Copenhagen arguably costing England three of the goals. And little better was the form of the substitute right back Glen Johnson, no more than a Chelsea reserve now, always so much better going forward than fulfilling his primary role as a defender.

I wasn't in Copenhagen but I was in Cardiff where one had to have some sympathy for Sven Goran over another flaccid show by his supposedly commanding central defenders, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Yet why was Spurs' Michael Carrick unused in either game; a midfielder who actually likes to screen his defence?

Again, Eriksson could scarcely be impugned for the wretchedly shaky form of Rio Ferdinand, the centre back who reportedly demanded �120,000 a week from Manchester United, in Denmark; though he did settle down to a more solid game in Cardiff.

But looming over the whole sad scene is the persistent problem of the seemingly untouchable David Beckham. In Cardiff we saw once again that the obvious outside right is little Shaun Wright Phillips with all the winger's traditional gifts denied so plainly to Beckham: pace, ball skills, the ability to get outside the full back, reach the line and pull the most dangerous ball of all into the middle. And as he so vividly showed on his debut versus Ukraine in Newcastle, he can also go right on and score goals. That's not Beckham's game.

But like the poor in the Bible, he is always with us. Accommodated in Cardiff in the bizarre role of (supposed) defensive screen. True he did make one valuable intervention when the Welsh right back went through. True he also gave Wright Phillips the elegant pass, which enabled him to set up Joe Cole for the solitary goal. Yet overall his display was self indulgent and you can even say privileged, rather like the quarter back in an American gridiron team. Seldom if ever did he bother to break forward. Most of his passing, however precise and handsome, were no more than exercises in the void. It was widely pointed out that against major opposition England just couldn't afford him in the role.

Eriksson could and arguably should have gone on a couple of occasion when he was caught bang to rights, surreptitiously dealing with Chelsea, evidently with a view to leaving the England job for Stamford Bridge. On the second occasion, the asinine chief executive of the Football Association Mark Palios, instead of giving him the boot, raised his pay to �4 million a year!

But not long afterwards, when both men were embarrassingly involved with the secretary, Faria Alam, Palios outrageously and clumsily tried to put all the blame on Eriksson, persuading his chief Press Officer, the journalist Colin Gibson, to try to persuade the News of the World who had the story to mention Eriksson but not Palios. They mentioned them both.

Not that the successor to Palios — who inexplicably and scandalously received a �6000,000 pay off when he went — looks much better. Brian Barwick was a leading TV executive, who recently announced, with odd fatuity, that he and Eriksson got on very well which was "significant." Significant of what you might well ask?

Are there precedents for changing horses in midstream or even later? Yes, not least from the Dutch; twice. And twice they went on to the World Cup Final, which they lost but should have won. In 1974 all was chaos; greedy players threatening mutiny. Then in came formidable Rinus Michels, fresh from winning the Spanish league with Barcelona. Order was restored; in West Germany, Cryuff and Co. reached the Final. Four years later it was the former Austrian star defender Ernst Happel, then a club coach, who came in very late but steered his team to the World Cup Final in Buenos Aires, where they were so unlucky to lose to Argentina. And, after all, England themselves lost Kevin Keegan after defeat at Wembley by Germany in a World Cup eliminator in the 2002 competition. Howard Wilkinson gloomily replaced him in Finland; then along came Eriksson, Germany were thrashed 5-1 in Munich, England went on to qualify. And now?