There is one story which sums up Sven Goran Eriksson. The former England manager was on a summer tour to Thailand in 2008 with Manchester City – his employers at the time – when he found out he was going to be sacked.
His German midfielder Dietmar Hamann was relaxing in the morning sun when he looked up from his lounger to see Eriksson appear with a silver tray, two glasses and a bottle of champagne.
“What are we celebrating?” asked Hamann, surprised at the prospect of a 10am tipple. “Life, Kaiser,” answered Eriksson with a smile. “We are celebrating life.” Sadly, Eriksson’s is drawing to a close after his admission this week that he has been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer. No-one can say it has not been a full one.
If he had enjoyed the same success with England’s golden generation as he did with his unlikely romantic successes, the long wait for a major trophy would long since have ended.
Unfortunately like so many before and after, England’s first foreign coach fell short. Although he won a healthy 40 of his 67 games in charge and oversaw that profoundly satisfying 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, three tournament quarterfinal exits in succession were an underachievement with the talent he had available.
Of the six men who have followed him in the role, five have been home-grown – Fabio Capello being the exception.
The FA’s preference, when Gareth Southgate’s tenure ends – most probably this year – is to appoint another Englishman. There is hardly a cast of thousands queuing up.
Of the six Englishmen managing Premier League clubs, five are currently in the bottom half with the exception – Newcastle United – one of the season’s biggest underperformers. While Eddie Howe remains one of the leading candidates, there is no standout English option.
Wolves’ Gary O’Neil is probably the domestic manager of the season so far but it would be hard to envisage him receiving a call from the FA.
Michael Carrick is doing well at Middlesbrough having guided them tantalisingly close to a Wembley final but he has yet to manage in the Premier League. There is always Graham Potter but he is yet to remount the horse after his stock fell at Chelsea.
The FA could be tempted to go in-house and promote Southgate’s No 2 Steve Holland or the under-21s boss Lee Carsley but they are unproven as top level managers too. The lack of clarity beyond Southgate may persuade the FA to shop abroad again.
It is partly about who is available of course and who actually wants the job. The scrutiny on an England manager is intense as Erikkson found out when he embarked on his headline-grabbing affair with TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson.
Top-level club football management pays better too. But let us indulge ourselves and imagine everyone wants to manage England.
Who should succeed Southgate? Pep Guardiola would be the perfect appointment for many – a proven winner at the highest level whose teams play beautiful intricate football.
Learning Guardiola’s meticulous patterns would be difficult in the brief windows allocated to the international side. It can take Manchester City signings a season to adapt or, in the case of Kalvin Phillips, it may never happen. If you are playing fantasy management Jurgen Klopp would be a better fit.
Beating City to the Premier League title in 2020 was an incredible achievement. The Liverpool reboot this season has been skilfully orchestrated. Besides which, Klopp gets the English football mentality in a way not all overseas managers do.
Imagine England playing the front-foot Liverpool way. What a ride that would be. It would certainly be wilder than Eriksson’s rigid approach.
It was somewhat ironic that when the FA chose to take the plunge and scour the big world outside our little island they landed on a manager wedded to 4-4-2.
His understated, urbane manner was about as far away from the hairdryer-dispensing British stereotype as it was possible to imagine though. He brought a touch of class to the role.
It is sad to think of him now, struck down by illness and on his last lap but Erikkson can look back and smile at the memories, for sure.
After surveying that glorious view with Hamann, champagne in hand, the incorrigible Scandi Casanova declared: “You know Kaiser, I like this place. I think I will manage for another five years and come back here and live with two women. Yes, I think I need two beautiful women…”
Good week – Eric Dier
Harry Kane to Bayern Munich was an understandable move for the Bundesliga giants but Eric Dier? Talk about landing on your feet.
With things not working out at Spurs under Ange Postecoglou, there was every chance of a career tailspin for a player who has disappeared off the England radar since the World Cup. He turns 30 tomorrow and that is a significant milestone for any footballer.
As a career restart – and a different football and life experience – a move to Bavaria is perfect for Dier. Now all he has to do is get into the side.
Bad week – Bill Belichick
The legendary New England Patriots coach exited after an extraordinary 24-year tenure on a low.
Finishing bottom of the AFC East after 13 losses – the worst season of Belichick’s career – was an inauspicious way to go.
The reality is that every road has an end though. He will be remembered as one of the great NFL coaches after six Super Bowl wins.
He was lucky to have Tom Brady as his quarterback of course but Brady was lucky to have Belichick as his coach too. His maxim – ‘talent sets the floor, character sets the ceiling’ – is one every team should live by.