Sunday, January 15, 2006

Now there’s a seismic news story: Man Considers Leaving Job If He Achieves Highest Possible Accolade Within That Job. How dare he. What a bastard.

How much effort did the News of the World go to in order to extract the ‘admission’ from Sven-Goran Eriksson that he may leave England if he wins the World Cup? One suspects they were gunning for something rather bigger and had to puff up the laughable notion of him going to Aston Villa and using Middle Eastern cash to transform the club into something akin to the Villa side I’ve painstakingly assembled in Pro Evolution Soccer (Robinson, Riise, Evotargo, Ferdinand, Carvalho, Gerrard, Emre, Park Ji-Sung, Nakamura, Rooney and, er, Johan Cruyff).

I hope this bizarre obsession with Sven’s loyalty doesn’t extend beyond the Sunday press trying to shift a few extra copies,. I don’t remember this happening with any previous England manager, so why does it? It’s tempting to think it’s xenophobia and the press are trying to drive him out, but I think it’s yet another example of England’s twisted self-image. We assume that if any English manager was offered the chance to manage England, they’d sign the contract immediately just as soon as they had been able to wipe away the tears of sentimental pride for long enough to read the small print. In fact, they wouldn’t even bother reading the small print. No clause could bar a true Englishman from doing the job.

However, if a foreign manager wants to do the job, we don’t seem sure why. The very substantial salary Sven is on seems to be a sticking point, leading to the suspicion that that’s the only reason he’s doing it – but the whole point of the big salary is to make the England job competitive with top club management jobs. QED, he could be making as much or more money managing a club, so I think we can assume that he is genuinely interested in the job itself. But nobody quite seems to believe that Sven has anything much invested in England, an impression reinforced by his largely impassive demeanour during matches. But it’s the players who need the passion: the manager’s job is to pick the team, and you can hardly argue he’s putting no effort into that when he’s tried so many different combinations. In fact, shifting the team around is another thing he’s criticised for.

It’s always the way in football, though: in any other profession it’s acceptable – advisable, even – to make yourself aware of what other opportunities might be out there, but do this in football and accusations of disloyalty crash down on your head. Apparently it isn’t enough to merely do your job to a good standard. Anyway, whatever happens, please don’t give Steve McClaren the full-time job. He’s not all that as a manager, and he’s annoyingly smug too.

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