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After the formation of The English Football Association in 1863, it is insane that the nation that gave the greatest sport to the world could not find a native, adequate enough at the art of coaching, to take charge of the national team in 2001.

 The Panenka looks at the outcome that having a foreign manager had on the already damaged psyche of the England team in the period between 2001 and 2006.

On Saturday October 7 2000, England delivered a performance of such stupefying disappointment it forced a speechless and emotional Kevin Keegan to resign from his post as England coach. England had of course just lost 1-0 to old rivals Germany in the final game at what has now become known as ‘The Old Wembley.”

An early goal from Dietmar Hamann thanks to a David Seaman blunder forced Keegan’s farewell and the FA’s hand to appoint their first ever non-native coach. The choice was of course none other than Sven-Goran Eriksson where Peter Taylor, Steve McClaren and Brian Kidd would accompany the Swedish manager on the coaching team after the then Lazio coach agreed a five-year contract with FA chief executive Adam Crozier.

Sven Goran Eriksson could have been a lot more endeared by the English footballing world thanks to his penchant for deploying a good old 4-4-2 and attacking style. He even left his post with Lazio early to ensure England’s 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign stayed on the right track.

However, the embarrassment of having to admit that the standard of English coaches had reached such a dramatic low, that not one home grown manager was good enough for the Three Lions hot-seat, meant that many in the country simply could not accept the principal to having a foreign manager. This led to some all too familiarly xenophobic and hostile campaigns from the British press and paparazzi who ultimately had the last word.

As some sort of sweet retribution for the aforementioned Wembley defeat, England travelled to Munich to face Germany in the return qualifier. England produced possibly the finest display of football since the 4-2 humbling of Holland back in 1996. After going behind, England recovered through the help of a Michael Owen hat-trick after Steven Gerrard’s equalizer to run away 5-1 winners on an unforgettable night for English football, even Heskey scored.

Sven and England qualified for the 2002 World Cup with thanks to a David Beckham free-kick in the final moments against Greece at Old Trafford which ensured automatic qualification giving the country yet another moment to savior. At the tournament itself England met Sven’s homeland Sweden, which finished 1-1, old foes Argentina whom they defeated 1-0 and Nigeria where the Three Lions unconvincingly drew 0-0- to ensure qualification o the knock-out stages.

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Captain David Beckham celebrates after his free-kick gave England safe passage to World Cup 2002.

A familiar pattern laid it’s seeds here as England reached the quarter-finals after dispatching Denmark 3-0 with three first half goals. In the quarters England faced Brazil where they appeared toothless in spending the majority of the second 45 minutes in their own half, despite taking the lead in the opening 23 minutes. Even when Brazil were reduced to 10 men with 30 minutes to play England were unable to make another dent.

So, this time it would appear that there were no excuses. As England were beaten by a Ronaldinho free-kick that no one was even sure if he meant it or not, the lads did their best but in the end it wasn’t quite enough and maybe, Brazil, who went on to lift the 2002 World Cup were simply a better team. However, that type of logic has no place in the English game and England’s entitled excuses kept coming as heckles aimed at Eriksson began to get louder.

As England gave their all in Shizuoka the press began to ask questions, what did Sven do? When David Seaman was beaten by a fluke goal, what did Sven do? And when England were handed a man advantage against a shaky defense, what did Sven do? The answer is that he sat meekly on the bench, arms folded, legs crossed resigned to his fate. The Sven naysayers had all the ammunition they needed to start their campaign to oust the foreigner.

The media circled with accusations such as, Sven-Goran Eriksson doesn’t understand the English mentality, he doesn’t posses the famed ‘bulldog spirit’ to be England boss or his tame Swedish personality just isn’t enough to motivate our boys.

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David Seaman’s fragility when dealing with aerial balls was exposed by Ronaldinho at World Cup 2002.

In the run up to Euro 2004 England coasted to qualify for the tournament but some unfavorable media distractions and as well as a defeat in a friendly would end up questioning the England manger’s credibility as well as his suitability to the position.

Mostly friendlies are pretty meaningless but there are a few opponents you just don’t lose to as an Englishman, Australia is one of them. Australia stunned England to win 3-1 in Australia’s first win over England as goals from Tony Popovich and Harry Kewell gave the Socceroos a deserved 2-0 lead at Upton Park. England pulled a goal back when Francis Jeffers headed in a Jermaine Jenas cross in the 69th minute but a late Brett Emerton goal put the game beyond doubt.

The already sharpened knives where most certainly out to get the Swede now, does he not understand the tradition of The Ashes and the rivalry between Australia and England? At the time it was just about the only sport England could consistently claim to be better than the Aussies and now the country didn’t even have that, thanks a lot Sven.

In the run up to Euro 2004 one sex scandal after another involving the Swede made the headlines. First the manager’s fling with fellow Swede and television personality, Ulrika Johnson caused little stir as the bravado shown in bedding a celebrity actually somehow bought him some kudos.

Secondly, Eriksson’s affair with FA secretary Faria Allam was quite a lot more serious and nearly brought down the age old FA institution. The appearance of a corrupt coach lying about the affair but keeping his job became one thing, but when the new Chief Executive Mark Pallios, who had also bedded Allam, and the secretary herself were removed from their positions it really dragged Eriksson’s integrity down along with his ailing reputation.

Eriksson didn’t confine himself to being unfaithful to his long-term girlfriend Nancy Dell’Olio, he also cheated on the England job too. He allowed himself to be seduced by Manchester United, where he agreed to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, and Chelsea with whom he was papped meeting by the all too grateful tabloids. The English take pride in their work, they are honest, they are hardworking, Sven-Goran Eriksson had a sign painted on his back that read unfaithful.

Furthermore, despite all this and much to the disdain of many, Erikson was given the vote of confidence by the decision makers at the FA. He was offered bumper contract after bumper contract and it has been reported that over 5 years with England he earned around $30 million, enough to pay for the shelved England training and development complex. So not only was he not delivering on the pitch with the best crop of players England’s disposal for maybe 40 years, his salary demands were holding England back from developing another.

At Euro 2004 England’s first game pitted them against France. The British press love the sport as war analogy so they dusted off their history books to evoke the sprit of the Napoleonic war and the battle of Waterloo in the month long build up to the tournament.

Napoleon’s invasion of what is now present day Belgium in 1815 is something Eriksson, and probably most nations other than the British, was undoubtedly not privy to, but when England conceded a late penalty to draw 1-1 against the French the Swede predictably became foreigner without a sense of the English national pride once again.

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Zinedine Zidane converts a late equalizing penalty in the Euro 2004 group stage.

In the remaining two group games a 3-0 drubbing of Switzerland and a 4-2 victory over Croatia set up a quarter-final against hosts Portugal where a familiar story emerged as England were knocked out on penalties. Eriksson would however have one more opportunity to prove that a foreign coach could succeed in the most important job in the country.

In the run up to the 2006 World Cup Sven-Goran Eriksson had his reputation tarnished both on and off the pitch once more but still had his contract extended to and beyond Euro 2008.

In September 2005 Eriksson’s England lost a World Cup qualifier to Northern Ireland, the first time they had lost to the nation since 1972. The loss once again stoked accusations of the coach having the wrong personality and lack of understanding of the English identity to do the job, despite it being only Eriksson’s fifth defeat during his tenure. Even with the Swede’s record on paper making good reading, it was the papers, who had been out to get Eriksson from the very beginning, that delivered the final nail in the coffin.

In January 2006 Eriksson revealed to an undercover reporter that he would be prepared to leave the hallowed England job to join Aston Villa as part of a Dubai based takeover of the Birmingham club. The entrapment now almost seems unreal, as a News of the World journalist, dubbed ‘The Fake Sheik,” dressed in typical Arabian clothing while posing to be a rich Arab businessman to trick the then England manager into surrendering his job. I doubt he’d understand the metaphor but, to use a cricket reference, Sven had just been dealt a googly.

The FA’s immediate reaction was to reveal their support for the England boss as he delivered a relay of pathetic excuses to the FA, his players and the media. Then, around a week later, it was announced that Sven-Goran Eriksson would leave his job after the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with the ‘Fake Sheik’ debacle being one of the prime reasons for his departure.

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Eriksson (left) was accused of not planning for the future during his England tenure. Stewart Downing (right), Wayne Bridge and Theo Walcott were some of only a few youth players he promoted to the senior side.

At the 2006 World Cup, armed with the mercurial talents of Wayne Rooney who had introduced himself to the world at Euro 2004 two years previously, England again failed to meet expectations. Without a performance worth noting England found themselves in the quarter-finals up against Portugal once more, and once more they found themselves dumped out a major competition on penalties.

Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign as England manager came to an end as Steve McClaren’s chapter was just beginning. In what was supposed to be a glorious era, with a golden generation that included Owen, Rooney, Neville, Lampard, Gerrard, Hargreaves, Ferdinand, Terry and both Coles. His reign came to a close with yet another tame elimination by Portugal in the quarter final of the World Cup in 2006.

So England’s lions once again limped home form the field of battle with their mercenary general slain. The new general, supposedly in tune with his troops after a similar upbringing, had been promoted through the ranks to guide them to the next battle at Euro 2008. Or, as it would turn out, not.

Read More

England’s Excuses Part One: The Heat

England’s Excuses Part Two: “That” Red Card

England’s Excuses Part Four: An English Manager