I opposed the appointing of Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager at the time and nothing that has happened since has convinced me that I was wrong to take that view. With two games remaining to secure qualification the FA should make the change now.
Leaving aside the tactics and the Swede’s befuddling obsession with playing players out of position – it was the absence of guts and passion that were so noticably lacking from England’s abysmal display last night in their 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland and those missing elements are the main reasons why he should go.
International football is no longer the pinnacle of the game, even if we all enjoy our World Cup finals. The Champions League and the big four leagues in Europe all offer a higher standard of competition that provided by national teams. The job of coaching a national side is therefore an odd one – you have a few days to weld players from different clubs into a fighting unit. With no real financial incentive for the players you rely on pride and honour and your own abilities to motivate and gel a team together. You need to be a coach who get more out of a side than the sum of its parts. Eriksson has proved to be unable to do that – his team was beaten by a Northern Irish line-up mostly featuring players who can only dream of playing in the Premiership. Lawrie Sanchez showed he could get the very best out of modest resources. Eriksson’s England makes good players look bad.
There are two reasons why Eriksson has survived so long in his job. Firstly, there isn’t an obvious replacement. Secondly, it will cost millions in compensation to cancel his multi-million pound, long term contract.
That latter factor is no longer relevant. Eriksson’s bosses at the FA know that failure to qualify for the World Cup will cost them millions in lost sponsorship and marketing revenue. There may still not be an obvious quality man to replace Eriksson but he must be replaced – and, I would still argue, be replaced by an Englishman.
It needs an Englishman who can come in and shake up the players, make them fight for 90 minutes, restore the pride in the shirt and the desire to give their all. Did you see the tv image of Eriksson as his team were so obviously running out of ideas and totally lacking inspiration? He was sat back on the bench in his suit sipping from a bottle of mineral water.
The job requires an Englishman with a record of getting the very best he can out of the resources avaliable to him. Stuart Pearce has the passion and would be a great choice if he had a few more years experience under his belt. Steve McLaren may be a fashionable choice among FA functionaries and the broadsheets but he is tainted by his time alongside Eriksson and hasn’t developed as well as many expected. One could argue that Terry Venables should never have been sacked but his moment has gone.
There is however, in my opinion, a man who could do the job. Sam Allardyce has shown at Bolton that he can get great results out of modest players, thrown together by his imaginative transfer policy. He may seem like an ‘old school’ coach but he is a keen follower of sport science and his team has matched the best tactically. He is the man for the job.