In 2002 the promise of Sven Goran Eriksson’s bright new era was scythed down by what would become familiar stumbling blocks: the quarter finals of a major tournament and defeat to Luiz Felipe Scolari. Big Phil’s reputation as one of the best coaches in the world was confirmed, leading in 2008 to his instalment as the conductor of Chelsea’s new rhythm and blues combo, offering fresh promise of a return to the glory days of Mourinho with added charm and stylish football.
As Big Phil’s dream crumbled around him and Chelsea, sitting being Aston Villa in fourth place locked themselves in their panic room, we wonder what might have happened had David Seaman been equal to Ronaldinho’s looping freekick in the 2002 World Cup Quarter Final against Scolari’s Brazil…
June 21 2002 — In the 50th minute, with the game poised tentatively at 1-1, Ronaldinho attempts an outrageous lob catching Seaman off his line. Seaman back pedals frantically and manages to acrobatically tip the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner, Seaman’s punch is collected near the centre circle by Heskey, who holds the ball up. With Brazil having pushed men up for the corner, Trevor Sinclair makes a scorching run to his right and Heskey lays the ball off. Roberto Carlos tracks Sinclair, but bedazzled by his dribbling the Brazilian falls over, leaving Sinclair to round the keeper and restore England’s lead. Eight minutes later Ronaldinho is sent off for leaving a foot trailing after challenging Danny Mills, and Brazil, stifled by Nicky Butt, struggle to create chances and crash out. Big Phil resigns immediately.
Seaman says after the game that after being lobbed by Nayim in 1995 he practices back pedalling regularly in training to avoid it ever happening again.
Ronaldinho becomes a national hate figure in Brazil and turns to partying in Paris, drinking heavily and getting fat. The press take to him, styling him ‘The Brazilian Gazza’.
June 26 2002 — With Germany waiting in the final, England face Turkey in the semis. With Owen out injured, Darius Vassell starts and scores after ten minutes with a cheeky back heel to give England the lead. He adds a second mid way through the second half, racing on to Heskey’s knock down, and after Turkey pull one back with 5 minutes to go Heskey restores the two goal advantage, chesting the ball down on the edge of the box before volleying into the top left corner.
June 30 2002 — England face Germany in the final. Germany, mindful of their 5-1 defeat in Munich less than a year ago, sit back and play for penalties, and England struggle to break them down. After a tense, goalless period of extra time, penalties ensue. After 6 straight penalties converted by either side, Dietmar Hamann rifles one down the middle and Seaman saves with his legs. Up steps Danny Mills, and after an extra long run up he looks to blast it before releasing the most delicate of chips. Khan, committed to the dive, grasps at mid air from the floor and the ball loops over him to win the World Cup for England.
Danny Mills breaks down in tears, telling TV cameras he always knew this was his destiny. The whole squad are knighted, and ‘Three Lions‘ by Baddiel and Skinner and the guy from the Lightning Seeds replaces ‘God Save Our Queen’ as the National Anthem.
Gary Lineker signs off from the BBC coverage with a quip. “England are World Champions,” he smiles, “but they didn’t half put us through the ‘Mills’“, before the BBC cut to slow motions replays of the Danny Mills penalty.
The German FA bans its players from playing in the English League, reasoning that Hamann had become infected by the English disease of missed penalties from his time in England. His protest that that wouldn’t make any sense, since the English were now themselves very efficient at penalties, falls on deaf ears.
July 2002 — Eriksson resigns, claiming a desire to bow out at the top. The FA, following the French example of replacing World Cup Winning coach Aime Jacquet with his assistant Roger Lemerre, appoint Steve McClaren to widespread acclaim. McClaren repays their faith, and like Lemerre, goes on to win the European Championships 2 years later. Emile Heskey is player of the tournament, with six goals in the campaign. “Ever since Michael got injured,” he explains, “ I’ve started scoring more regularly. It’s like Sven and Steve were saying all along — I’m really big and strong, and I’m a striker, so why not score some goals?“
June 2004 — Eriksson replaces Ranieri at cash happy Chelsea and declares himself “the special one.” Nobody argues. After considering a wealth of foreign stars amongst which are rumoured the likes of Drogba, Robben and Kezman, Eriksson places his faith in his World Cup winners. Abramovich funds his spree, capturing forward pair Sir Emile Heskey and Sir Darius Vassell for £24m and £5.4m respectively, £18m winger Sir Trevor Sinclair, £10m midfield maestro Sir Nicky Butt, and a combined £35.2m on Leeds pair Sir Jonathan Woodgate and Sir Danny Mills. The twin jewels in the crown, however, are £28m Sir David Beckham and £35m starlet, plain-old Wayne Rooney. The latter is believed to have been convinced to eschew Old Trafford when he has a home-cooked meal with Sven and partner Nancy Dell’Ollio in their London home. “She cooks a great bolognese,” Rooney enthuses, “and she’s become like a grandmother to me“.
Jose Mourinho, fresh from a failed interview at Stamford Bridge, finds a route into the Premier League on a big money contract at Tottenham Hotspur. David Pleat moves back upstairs to work as Director of Football. Mourinho, having won the Champions League with Porto, announces that he is “the Special One.” The press conference is stopped and Mourinho is taken back stage by Tottenham officials. He reappears 30 minutes later and apologises to the press and to Sir Sven for the slur, acknowledging Eriksson as the true special one and admitting he is actually just “the better than average one.”
August 2004 — Luiz Felipe Scolari returns from the managerial wilderness, replacing Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle. Asked if he thought the job was a poisoned chalice, he replies that there is no such phrase in Portuguese so he is not worried.
Mark Palios and Faria Alam have an affair. Since Sven has no involvement at all, it goes largely unnoticed.
October 2004 — It’s a month in which old rivalries come to the fore. Eriksson’s Chelsea travel to St James Park in hot form, and despite a moment of genius from Scolari’s first signing, Ronaldinho, which sees Newcastle lead, the side is overwhelmed by goals from Rooney and a penalty from Sinclair following a rash challenge. Mourinho continues his winning streak against Sir Alex Ferguson with a 1-0 result coming courtesy of a sharp header from Ricardo Carvalho. Ronaldinho-no-not-again! cries the Sun, while the Times produces a ‘specialness’ table with Ferguson sat just below Mourinho, who retains his place at Eriksson’s feet.
March 2005 — The Brazilian Gazza storms home to Brazil after a heated exchange with Scolari. “He said if I signed that Ronaldo would follow for £85m. Well, where is he? The sooner someone like Mike Ashley takes over this club, the better.” Results don’t pick up for Scolari despite a reluctant return from Ronaldinho, and at the end of the month Scolari is dismissed. The manager blames the language in part for his failure – “In Brazil I learn my English from man from Kent. What are canny tactics anyway?”
May 2005 – Chelsea storm to the title and Eriksson is hailed for his English transfer policy, tactical genius and his icy cool demeanour, refusing to be drawn into mind games with Ferguson, who finishes second. They also sweep to the Champions League trophy, and Chelsea become everyone’s second-favourite team. Mourinho leads Spurs to a widely-acclaimed third.
May 2006 — The season ends with an extraordinary show of dominance for English clubs. All four semi-final spots in the Champions League are occupied by English sides. Mourinho guides Spurs into the final at Manchester United’s expense by virtue of a Drogba strike, but Chelsea are this time undone by a Liverpool goal that never was from Luis Garcia. Chelsea fade badly in the league, and the squad and its manager both appear to have a lack of hunger, having now won everything and anything of any importance. Danny Mills embodies the worst of this complacency, insisting everyone call him Sir Danny Skills and changing the lettering on his shirt. Mourinho capitalises to register Spurs’ first Premiership title. In the Champions League he is less fortunate, and a Gerrard-inspired Liverpool win Benitez’s first major trophy.
June 2006 — England start the World Cup as favourites, but a Chelsea-rich side continue their lacklustre form, and after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Sweden, the team are snapped by photographers getting drunk with the WAGs. Sir David Beckham is particularly reckless, getting into difficulty on a canoe in the Mummelsee Lake. The press dub the incident ‘Lakewater-gate.’ England fail to qualify from their group, and Steve McClaren is unceremoniously dismissed.
Rich is one of the founders of Sport without Spin which pokes fun at the contradictions, illogicalities and chat that sporting coverage in the media creates.