Stereotypes are often harsh, but always fun. Especially in sport. And Sven-Göran Eriksson has experienced more than most the effects of such stereotypic nonsense.
Whether it was as a cheque book manager, an untrustworthy one, a clever one, or a deviant one, Eriksson has always had his niche in the media. Despite protestations to the contrary, the press love him. They always have. And now, in the unlikely surroundings of Notts County’s modest Meadow Lane ground, they had confirmation- as if it were needed- of his latest guise, the megalomaniac.
Smiling his typical smile, Eriksson was introduced to the assembled press by County chairman Peter Trembling (and he was) and manager Ian McParland as the Magpies’ new Director of Football, a man who “knows the world game, who has coached at the highest level, who has the contacts…” Impressive to say the least, and fans of England’s oldest professional club can have reason to be optimistic, if naturally a little sceptical.
It hasn’t been the best few years for Eriksson in terms of football. The perceived failure of England’s “Golden Generation” at the 2006 World Cup in Germany hurt the Swede (honestly, he does have feelings), and he spent a year, albeit well paid by the FA, out of a job. He was back the following summer, spearheading an exciting new project at Manchester City and armed with tapes of players from all round the world.
It started promisingly enough, Elano & Martin Petrov looked the real deal and City were almost unbreachable at Eastlands, but as ever with the club, there was a fall to come. His last game in charge was an almost comical 8-1 defeat against Middlesbrough, a game so strange that Afonso Alves picked up a hat trick and Fábio Rochemback bent in a simply phenomenal free kick. But the truth was that whether City had lost 8-1 or won 8-1, Eriksson was on his way out. The club were in the process of replacing one strange and ambitious owner- Thaksin Shinawatra- with another- Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Swede simply didn’t fit in with the new owner’s plans.
Not to worry of course, Eriksson was just a third of the way into a three year contract, so would receive a healthy pay off from City, and a day after his departure was confirmed he was named as the new manager of the Mexican national team. Now Mexico is fiercely patriotic, and therefore appointing a non-Mexican, non-Latin to take it further afield, was always going to ruffle a few feathers. Especially as this non-Mexican showed his willingness to exploit FIFA loopholes and handing out caps to players such as Matías Vuoso, Lucas Ayala (Argentinean by birth) and Leandro Augusto (born in Brazil), distancing himself further from the passionately Mexican supporters of “El Tri”.
He probably would have gotten away with a few loosely Mexican players however, had results been acceptable, but defeats to the USA, El Salvador & Honduras in the second round of qualification for the 2010 World Cup have left Mexico in a perilous position and the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación, under enormous pressure from fans, removed Eriksson from his post in June. Not before time, according to those who had seen this talented side lose to Jamaica and Honduras (again) earlier in the qualification process, and draw with the mighty Canada. Another not-insignificant compensation package was agreed, and the Swede was on the prowl for a new job again.
Portsmouth were linked. Their proposed takeover at the hands of Arab businessman Sulaiman Al-Fahim seemed likely to appeal to Eriksson, as did the chance to return to the Premier League (“the best league in the world”, according to Sven today”), but alas it was Notts County and their new owners, Munto Finance Ltd- which has links to the Al Thani Group, a Dubai-based property group headed by Qatari tycoon Abdullah bin Saeed Al Thani (confused yet?), who secured his services, and delighted they are too.
Eriksson spoke openly about the fact that his phone has been “hot” with calls from agents wondering about County’s increased spending power, and was quick to stress that he would be moving to Nottingham permanently to oversee the development of the Football Club as a whole. First on the agenda seems to be a new training ground, County’s current facilities are at Nottingham university, and both Eriksson and Trembling spoke of the need to set up a new facility, complete with a youth academy, as soon as possible. In recent years it has been County’s neighbours Nottingham Forest who have hoovered up the best of the area’s young talent, a fact which Trembling & Eriksson are keen to change.
And so to the current squad. Only an idiot would expect to see a glut of big name arrivals at Meadow Lane- new investment or not- but McParland’s knowledge of the lower leagues looks shrewd, and with Eriksson’s contacts thrown into the mix, County have been swiftly installed as favourites for League Two next season.
The current team already boasts the talents of skipper John Thompson, an Irish international defender, Matt Hamshaw, who came through the ranks with distinction at Sheffield Wednesday, and Premier League experience in keeper Russell Hoult and defender Jamie Clapham.
This summer has already seen Shrewsbury’s talented captain Ben Davies added to the ranks, as well as defender Graeme Lee from Bradford. Two shrewd acquisitions that will stand the Magpies in good stead as they look to take the first steps on the road to the long term aim of Premier League football “within five, six, seven years” according to Eriksson.
It might be fanciful, it might be slightly unethical, but you can’t argue that Notts County are a club with high-ceilinged ambitions, and with the stereotypically smiling Swede on board for the ride, it is sure to be an interesting project down at Meadow Lane.